NCF On The Trail: De'Anthony Thomas

When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
Whether it is because of his early commitment to Arizona State, his more high-profile teammates boasting offers from the likes of Alabama and USC or his small frame, athlete Jaleel Wadood (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) has spent much of the spring under the radar.

After an early commitment to the Sun Devils -- where his brother Rashad is a defensive back -- the younger Wadood has received increased interest from programs throughout the West. Oregon is one of those programs and the Ducks were a childhood favorite of the versatile Wadood. In fact, Wadood is the only one of the Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco stars to hold an offer from the Ducks.

Throwback Thursday: Athletes

May, 2, 2013
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In this edition of Throwback Thursday, Tom Luginbill takes three ESPN 150 athletes and looks at which former college standouts the prospects remind him of.

ESPN 150 targets: Oregon 

April, 18, 2013
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With the release of today's ESPN 150, here's a look at 10 top targets for Oregon in the 2014 class.

1. CB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
5-foot-11, 183 pounds
ESPN 150 Rank: 5

[+] EnlargeAdoree Jackson
Blair Angulo/WeAreSC.comWhether he's lining up on offense or defense, Adoree' Jackson has game-breaking speed that calls to mind De'Anthony Thomas.
Why they want him: Probably the smoothest athlete in the West since Oregon star De'Anthony Thomas, Jackson could be an elite corner or a game-changer in the slot. A truly elite two-sport athlete, he has said he won't even look at a school that tells him he can't run track. He can at Oregon and would be a huge boost for the Ducks on the field and the track.

Who else wants him: Arizona State, Boise State, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC, Washington

Odds they get him: 10 percent

2. LB Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County)
6-2, 249
ESPN 150 Rank: 15

Why they want him: The Ducks are looking to get bigger on the second level and McMillan fits the bill. His size doesn't take away from his athleticism in the least, which is why he holds offers from the top programs in the country.

Who else wants him: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC

Odds they get him: 1 percent

3. WR Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East)
5-10, 180
ESPN 150 Rank: 22

Why they want him: Along with Jackson, Quick is the best athlete in the West. He could fill the role of De'Anthony Thomas in the slot or Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at corner. Quick has yet to receive an offer, but the Ducks are keeping tabs on him. An offer is likely at some point, but the Ducks better make a move on the talented two-way star sooner than later.

Who else wants him: Alabama, Arizona, Cal, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon State, UCLA, USC, Washington

Odds they get him: 20 percent

4. RB Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford)
5-10, 202
ESPN 150 Rank: 35

Why they want him: Thomas is among the top backs in the country and has the Ducks in his top five. He would be a great complement to the all-around running of Byron Marshall and game-breaking abilities of Thomas Tyner. He is tough to bring down in space or in traffic, yet has the speed to break a long one every time he touches it.

Who else wants him: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Tennessee, USC.

Odds they get him: 10 percent


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After a standout performance at the Memphis NFTC over the weekend, safety Mattrell McGraw (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) picked up yet another offer. The latest one came from Michigan and has to be considered important for the talented McGraw, who has expressed his desire to leave the area. The offer from the Wolverines could add to an already busy offseason full of unofficial visits for the hard-hitting athlete.

Before any potential trip to Ann Arbor, however, the 6-foot, 190-pound athlete will head west for a quick trip to Eugene, Ore., to check out a school that has definitely grabbed his attention.


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The One Who Got Away: RB Thomas 

January, 31, 2013
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In a topsy-turvy recruiting season that has had Trojans fans teetering on the brink of insanity with the decommitments of one-time USC verbals Eddie Vanderdoes, Max Redfield, Eldridge Massington, Sebastian LaRue and Kylie Fitts -- not to mention the uncertain status of others such as Jalen Ramsey and Torrodney Prevot -- it’s worth taking a quick look back to signing day 2011. While the saga of the Class of 2013 has been filled with plenty of drama, nothing compares to the way Lane Kiffin and his staff were rocked by the last-second defection of De’Anthony Thomas.


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Signing day primer: Oregon 

January, 23, 2013
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With national signing day exactly two weeks from today, DuckNation looks ahead to what Oregon has coming and who the Ducks still need and why.


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After days of speculation, Oregon recruits were relieved to hear reports that coach Chip Kelly would be spurning the NFL to return to Eugene in 2013.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesOregon's recruits are thrilled that Chip Kelly decided to pass on the NFL and return to the Ducks.
“Him staying just shows how tight of a family it is in Eugene, and I can’t wait to be a part of it,” kicker Matt Wogan (Indian Trail, N.C./Porter Ridge) said. “Just extremely happy to see everything stay the same.”

A year after turning down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kelly interviewed with the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles before deciding to remain at Oregon. He will return to a team that currently has the nation’s No. 22 recruiting class and is coming off another big BCS bowl win.

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JC S Al-uqdah looking for more offers 

December, 15, 2012
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After winning back to back Los Angeles City Section Championships while playing alongside the likes of De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon), Greg Ducre (Washington), Hayes Pullard and Marcus Martin (both USC) at Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw, one of the legendary team's late-bloomers is getting his chance.

After earning Second-Team All-League as a defensive back, S Esston Al-uqdah (Wilmington, Calif./Harbor College) has had schools from around the country checking in with him. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Al-uqdah currently holds offers from South Alabama -- which he officially visited last weekend -- and Illinois.

Al-uqdah ended the season with 49 tackles, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, seven pass breakups and four INT, two of which he took back for TD. Playing alongside such a talented roster in high school prepared Al-uqdah for the next level. Now that he is playing alongside future BCS level players such as new Oregon LB commit Joe Walker (Wilmington, Calif./Harbor College), Al-uqdah understands and embraces the hard work and talent it takes to get to the next level.

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LB Myles Jack to visit Oregon 

December, 11, 2012
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Despite a being a long-time commit to UCLA, one of the top players in the Northwest has been open to other schools continuing to recruit him. LB Myles Jack (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) recently helped Bellevue -- one of the nation's top teams -- to another state title. Now that his senior season is complete, Jack appears to be turning all of his attention to the recruiting process.

The US Army All-American LB is happy with everything about UCLA but wants to explore what other programs have to offer. After earlier flirting with the Oregon Ducks, the two seemingly parted ways over the past couple of months. Ducks' LB coach Don Pellum visited Jack last week, and the two realized that both sides deserve another look.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound three-star prospect recently set four official visits that will all be taken after his trip to San Antonio, Texas, for the U.S. Army All-American Game. Jack has settled on official visits to Arizona State, UCLA, Washington and Oregon.

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Ducks' success catching on with recruits 

November, 21, 2012
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Coming off three straight recruiting classes that have loaded Oregon roster with talent and an undefeated season so far, the Ducks are in prime position to close the 2013 recruiting cycle with a bang.

[+] EnlargeMax Redfield
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comAnother great season for Oregon has the Ducks primed to take advantage come signing day, when they hope to ink former USC commit Max Redfield.
Since Chip Kelly's arrival in 2007, Oregon recruiting has taken things to a whole new level. Three consecutive league titles -- and the subsequent BCS appearances -- have helped place the Ducks in the midst of recruiting battles with some of the top programs nationwide. They way they have dismantled every opponent this season has them squarely in the sights of several top prospects from across the country.

While Kelly has built his program by turning unheralded and under-the-radar prospects like Marcus Mariota and Kenjon Barner into stars, he has shown an ability to battle the big boys for top recruits. In each of the past two years, the Ducks have used late pushes to sign California's top prospects -- De'Anthony Thomas and Arik Armstead -- away from USC.

Despite an upset loss to Stanford, the Ducks have had another outstanding year, putting Oregon in position to close strong yet again. The Ducks currently have the nation's No. 23 recruiting class but are still in the mix for several ESPN 150 recruits, including Georgia's Montravius Adams, California's Max Redfield and Florida's Leon McQuay III. Redfield decommitted from USC in early November and is now considering Washington and LSU in addition to the Ducks.

Kelly's crew hung historic numbers on USC (62 points, 730 yards) in front more than a dozen elite 2013 and 2014 recruits. The long-term results remain to be seen, but the immediate reaction of recruits seem to signal that Oregon's Pac-12 dominance is starting to gain traction with recruits in Southern California. Not only did Redfield decommit from the Trojans the day after USC's loss, but several Los Angeles-area prospects from the Class of 2014 came away in awe of what the Ducks accomplished.


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Could Conley be the next Ducks flip? 

November, 15, 2012
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Under Chip Kelly, the Oregon Ducks have arguably become the hottest program in college football, both on the field and in recruiting.

Since Kelly first arrived in 2007, the Ducks have flipped LaGarrette Blount (Florida State) Darron Thomas (LSU), De'Anthony Thomas (USC) and Bralon Addison (Texas A&M) in recent years, proving they can go against the best and convince some of their top prospects to switch their commitments and ultimately sign with the Ducks.

Gareon Conley
Courtesy Conley FamilyCould Ohio cornerback Gareon Conley decommit from Michigan and sign with Oregon?
The Ducks have become the trendy program out West, if not the entire country. By playing hard to get, or as Kelly calls it, "doing our due diligence," the Ducks leave kids yearning for an offer and a visit to campus.

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Unheralded recruit Mariota leads Ducks 

November, 14, 2012
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In June 2010, a pair of overlooked quarterback recruits committed to the Oregon Ducks within three days of each other. Two years later, they have taken the college football world by storm.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireNo one has been able to catch Marcus Mariota and the Ducks this year.
In August, few outside of College Station, Texas, had heard of Johnny Manziel. Outside of Eugene, Ore., even fewer knew about Marcus Mariota. Now in November, Manziel is generating Heisman buzz after a historic upset of Alabama, while Mariota is piloting a Ducks squad that seems destined for the BCS title game.

Manziel and Mariota committed to the Ducks within days of attending Oregon's summer camp, but neither raised so much as an eyebrow. Instead, Ducks fans were more focused on Jerrard Randall, a quarterback rated No. 126 in the 2011 ESPN 150 from Florida who committed in mid-June. Randall was the No. 8 QB in the class, while Manziel was No. 39. Mariota? He was ranked 123rd and had only a Memphis offer before the Ducks came calling.

ESPN's National Director of Recruiting, Tom Luginbill, said in 2011 that Mariota was raw but had the potential to grow as a quarterback.

"He is the perfect example of the inexact science that evaluating 16-year-olds truly is," Luginbill said. "It can be easy to focus on the ESPN 150 or ESPN 300, but the reality is that players 301-1,000 are what make up most college rosters. They are the hardest to project and, in Mariota's case, even hard to find."

It’s hard to blame the scouts and coaches for missing Mariota. As a sophomore and junior, he had to fight for playing time with Jeremy Higgins, now a quarterback at Hawaii.


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USC commit Nico Falah (Bellfower, Calif./St. John Bosco) had planned to take an official visit to Oregon on Sept. 21 in spite of his firm commitment to the Trojans but will no longer make the trip.

It seemed as if he was done with his recruitment once he committed to USC in July, but decided he wanted to officially visit both Oregon and California. The problem is the Ducks don't allow recruits committed to other schools to visit at the expense of their recruiting budget.

With that, Oregon and Falah have mutually agreed to cancel the official visit.

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Visit keeps Ruffin solid to USC 

January, 16, 2012
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After what happened with De'Anthony Thomas last year, any late-January official visit to Oregon is viewed as potential treason by many USC fans. And until last week, USC linebacker commit Jabari Ruffin (Downey, Calif./Downey) was being watched with great interest by that same group of people.

Though Ruffin committed to USC in the spring, a potential late trip to Oregon was on the horizon. That is, until Ruffin cancelled it last week. As a result, instead of preparing to see the Ducks before signing day, Ruffin took his final official visit to USC this past weekend and came away certain that he made the right decision.

"It's been locked in my mind that I'm going to be a Trojan," Ruffin said. "That's why I'm not taking any more visits. But this trip reminded me that this is what I'm going to be a part of for the next four years."

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