NCF On The Trail: Oregon Ducks

The linebacker position doesn't often receive much attention during 7-on-7 events, where quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs dominate headlines. But with hundreds of players descending upon Las Vegas for the Pylon Elite 7v7 event this weekend, Caleb Kelly and Lokeni Toailoa -- the top outside and inside linebackers in the West region -- were among several must-see prospects on hand.

Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
Not all recruitments are created equal, as some see prospects commit to their dream school early and never waver, while others have more twists and turns than a Formula 1 race. Taking a look through the recently released 2015 Ultimate 300, we spotlight five of the more interesting recruitments in the Pac-12, alphabetically by prospect.

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A quick check of the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300 reveals a strong Pac-12 quarterback presence toward the top of the list. The three conference quarterbacks in the top 25 are tied for the most players at one position from one conference.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.

With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.

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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is loaded with 14 Pac-12 prospects who didn’t make their respective ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 rankings, so trimming that list to the top five who outperformed their initial rankings and became surprise stars at the college level wasn’t easy. The state of Oregon led the way on this list, but Arizona State and Stanford were also home to a few college stars who didn’t receive the same level of recruiting attention as others.

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Pac-12 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.

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2016 recruits to watch in the Pac-12 

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
Signing day for the Class of 2015 just wrapped up, but coaches have been hard at work on the 2016 class for months. Oregon and USC each already have three ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed, and UCLA holds a commitment from the No. 53 overall prospect, tight end Breland Brandt.

Here are five uncommitted 2016 prospects to watch in the West region who will be of particular interest to Pac-12 programs.

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EUGENE, Ore. -- No news is good news ... at least for Oregon on signing day.

"I think we hit today with no surprises, in terms of good or bad," Oregon coach Mark Helrich said. "Which is always kind of maybe your goal on signing day."

Unlike a few of its Pac-12 brethren, the Ducks weren’t waiting on some last-minute commitments from top recruits. The only activity of late was a few other schools coming on hard to some of Oregon’s commits, and the visit from Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams last weekend.

However, even with that action, there were no changes in the class and the Ducks signed 22 players -- two junior college transfers and 20 high school seniors. Of those players, five have enrolled in Eugene.

Headlining the class and the early enrollees is five-star defensive end Canton Kaumatule, who could add immediate depth to the Ducks' pass rush this fall. Their second-highest signee is running back Taj Griffin, whose brother Ty is already on the roster. Griffin will add depth to a loaded Oregon backfield.

Oregon also added depth (both on the roster and height-wise) to their wide receiver and tight end groups. Both 6-foot-2 wide receiver Alex Ofodile and 6-foot-5 WR/TE hybrid Jake Breeland could see early playing time because of injuries and transfers.

Though the Ducks did manage to address a few areas of need with this class, the big question remains at quarterback: Who is going to replace Heisman winner Marcus Mariota?

Signee Travis Waller will arrive on campus in time for spring football, so he will be competing for the starting spot. At 6-3, he matches Morgan Mahalak as the tallest quarterbacks in competition, but Mahalak has the advantage of a year of training under Mariota in Oregon’s scheme.

But all of these names and heights and weights are old hat to most Oregon fans, who have been aware of these players for the past few months.

So what is it about the Ducks and their program that caused them not to have any late additions or subtractions?

"I think we’re honest -- it’s a very simple way to put it," Helfrich said. "I think there’s a lot of guys that love the sales aspect and the recruiting aspect. ... If we see you at this position, we’re going to be honest with you. It’s not the end all, be all, but we talk about how hard it is to play here and that, in the end, gets the right guys."

"We got some guys in this class because we deal with guys very honestly, and we lost some guys in this class because we deal with guys very honestly," Helfrich added.

Helfrich’s consistency in his personality and attitude has been talked about at length throughout this season as one of the reasons why his team was able to bounce back from an early loss to Arizona and make it to the national title game.

It appears that same attitude exists in recruiting, too. And Helfrich said "derecruiting," -- the idea that when a four- or five-star player gets to campus he needs to be reminded that he isn’t all that -- just doesn’t happen with him because he never starts by telling a recruit he is all that.

"We don’t go into a tailback’s home and say, 'Hey, man, you’re going to carry the ball 35 times a game, you’re our bell cow, boom, let’s go,'" Helfrich said. "That never happens. They’re a part of something great."

Completed class: Oregon Ducks

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
Oregon has announced its 2015 class:

Canton Kaumatule DE -- Punahou School, Hawaii

ESPN 300
Taj Griffin RB -- McEachern High School, Georgia
Alex Ofodile WR -- Rock Bridge High School, Missouri
Kirk Merritt ATH -- Destrehan High School, Louisiana
Malik Lovette ATH -- Redlands East Valley High School, California
Zach Okun OG -- Newbury Park High School, California
Travis Waller QB-DT -- Servite High School, California

Ugo Amadi CB -- Overton High School, Tennessee
Jake Hanson OT -- Eureka High School, California

Jake Breeland WR -- Trabuco Hills High School, California
Shane Lemieux OT -- West Valley High School, Washington
Brady Aiello OT -- Acalanes High School, California
Gary Baker DT -- Upland High School, California
Jihree Stewart CB -- Centennial High School, California
Calvin Throckmorton OT -- Newport High School, Washington
Fotu Leiato OLB -- Steilacoom High School, Washington
Rex Manu DT -- Mililani High School, Hawaii
Drayton, Californiarlberg DT -- De La Salle High School, Minnesota
Dylan Kane S -- Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii
Paris Bostick OLB -- Santa Monica College, Florida
Gus Cumberlander DE -- Cedar Grove High School, Georgia
Jonah Moi OLB -- Riverside Community College, California

Scout's Take: Kirk Merritt to Oregon 

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
The Oregon Ducks put a premium on speed and their latest addition, ESPN 300 ATH Kirk Merritt, is one of the fastest and most dynamic players in the nation. On last year's combine circuit, Merritt ran an electronic 4.46 40-yard dash and registered a ridiculous 148.83 SPARQ Rating.

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Best of the visits: Pac-12

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
The final weekend for official visits before signing day saw some big trips taken to Pac-12 programs and a few important commitments, while one program got started in earnest on 2016 recruiting.

Beavers bag two

Oregon State coaches have rallied their class after taking over in early December. With several top prospects following former head coach Mike Riley to Nebraska and others leaving or being nudged out of the class, Gary Andersen and staff have done a nice job rebounding and filling their 2015 class. The top five commits have all made their pledges since Jan. 17, and two of those came this weekend in running back Deltron Sands and linebacker Christian Folau.

Folau is a former Stanford commit who also looked hard at Oklahoma State, Utah and Wisconsin. He is now the top-ranked prospect in Oregon State's class, while Sands continues the Beavers' reach into Florida. He is the fifth Sunshine State prospect in this class and the fourth to commit to Andersen.

UCLA's final push

The Bruins had several of their committed prospects on campus for official visits this weekend, including cornerback Colin Samuel, who received a strong late push from Michigan in an attempt to bring him out on an official visit. Samuel instead opted to firm up his commitment to the Bruins. He visited UCLA this weekend along with two significant Bruins targets in ESPN 300 cornerback DeChaun Holiday and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Joseph Wicker, both pictured alongside Samuel in this tweet.

Holiday is scheduled to announce his commitment later Sunday, and it would be a huge surprise if the standout defensive back lands anywhere other than UCLA. Wicker will announce on signing day and is down to Arizona State, Texas Tech and UCLA -- but again, he is likely to wind up with the Bruins.

Oregon's other visitors

Plenty of attention was paid late last week to Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams, who could very likely become an Oregon quarterback in the near future. Adams took a visit to Oregon this weekend and has an opportunity, should he choose to take it, to transfer schools without having to sit out a year as a graduate student.

But the Ducks are also looking to finish out the 2015 class at the linebacker position and have their sights set on Washington State commitment Jonah Moi.

This Ducks jumped on Moi in a big way after missing on a few other targets throughout the process and should have a good shot at flipping the junior college defender.

Oregon also got a visit this weekend from a standout 2016 talent in ESPN Junior 300 athlete Taylor Rapp, who already holds offers from Arizona State, Boise State, Northwestern, Oregon, Washington and Washington State.

USC's junior day

USC held its first junior day for 2016 recruits on Saturday, and many of the top prospects in the West region were in attendance. News and photos seemingly came from every recruit in attendance. All told, at least five prospects received offers from USC, including linebackers Curtis Robinson and Krys Barnes, defensive backs Jordan Parker and Shurrod Thompson and wide receiver N'Keal Harry.

Gardena (Calif.) Serra was well represented, with Oluwole Betiku, Brandon Burton, Blake Walls and Khalil Tate in this photo. Betiku, Burton, Tate and fellow 2016 Cavalier C.J. Pollard already held USC offers before the visit.

Burton is the nation's No. 76 overall 2016 prospect and part of what is going to be an absolutely loaded class of wide receivers in California.

ESPN Junior 300 defensive backs Treyjohn Butler and D.J. Morgan were also in attendance, with both waiting on offers from USC.

The state of Arizona was also well represented, with ESPN Junior 300 cornerback Byron Murphy joining Harry, along with former Arizona and current San Marcos (Calif.) Mission Hills quarterback Dakota Miller.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30

It's the final weekend for official visits before signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 4, and Pac-12 programs are looking to make that final in-person push as they close in on finishing out their classes. We take a look at the top three visit weekends in the conference.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27

It was a busy weekend in the conference, as 14 prospects made commitments between Friday and Monday night and several others backed out of Pac-12 recruiting classes. It looks as though this could be a sign of things to come, as the conference recruiting race is heating up with little more than a week until signing day.

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It's tough to imagine a more exhausting and stressful conclusion to a recruiting process than the one Iman Marshall orchestrated. Over the past 10 days, Marshall has taken official visits to Florida State, LSU and Michigan, as well as hosted several coaches at his home and school. But just like on the football field, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect doesn't appear to be fazed at all by what's being thrown at him.

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Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26

Here's a look at how programs in the Pac-12 are faring on the recruiting trail heading into national signing day on Feb. 4.


Commitments: 28

ESPN 300 commitments: 1

Who they have: The Wildcats hit it big with their top two commitments in ESPN 300 offensive tackle Keenan Walker and ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Anthony Fotu. Arizona also will add four-star tackle Cody Creason, three-star tackle Harper Sherman and three-star guards Alex Kosinski and Nathan Eldrige to the offensive line. There are a number of skill players on both sides of the ball, including running backs Orlando Bradford and Darick Holmes Jr., cornerbacks Shun Brown, Anthony Mariscal, Samuel Morrison and Dane Cruikshank, wide receiver Cedric Peterson and athletes Antonio Parks and Brion Anduze.

Who they want: There aren't many spots left in this class for the Wildcats, but there are a few important names left on the board. The wide receiver spot could see another addition with Jaylinn Hawkins, though rival Arizona State will put up a fight there. Arizona also will look to continue its run of success in Louisiana, as teammates Arthur McGinnis and Darrell Clark (New Orleans/Warren Easton) are two of the top prospects left for the Wildcats, as well as teammates of Arizona commit Kendal Franklin.

To read the rest of our Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns, click here Insider.