The 2014 recruiting season marked the first full year that Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich held full control of the recruiting reins after taking over late into the process last year when Chip Kelly left for the NFL. On Wednesday afternoon, Helfrich met with local media to discuss the 2014 edition of National Signing Day.
This year, the Ducks weren't able to reel in a single 5-star recruit, leading to a lower than usual ranking. Rivals.com ranked Oregon's 2014 class at No. 26 in the nation, quite the low ranking for a team that can seemingly offer the world to high school kids around the nation. However, the Ducks still brought in a number of promising recruits that fans should be excited about. All 21 recruits are listed at the end of the article.
One of the toughest things about the recruiting process is logistics. Coaches have to travel all across the country, visiting countless numbers of homes in just about every region as they attempt to find the next Marcus Mariota, Josh Huff or Michael Clay. This year, Helfrich stated that his staff visited over one thousand high schools in 31 states.
“We tried to line that up and orchestrate that as efficient a manner as possible,” said Helfrich.
Hope you used your travel rewards credit card for all those miles, fellas.
Of course, many wonder what role the new facilities would play on the recruiting class. This year was the first that coaches could show recruits more than just digital renderings of where they would spend much of their time here in Eugene and the Hatfield-Down Complex. Helfrich stated that while it helps, there's much more than just the bells and whistles.
“What we tell our guys when we recruit them is that we are going to work unconventionally and we’re going to support you unconventionally,” said Helfrich. “We have a lot of great stuff around here, a lot of shiny great things, but the people those guys are around on a daily basis is what matters most.”
Despite having perhaps the nicest facilities in the nation, Helfrich and his staff are forced to deal with the hurdle of distance and proximity to home. It's not easy to convince a 17-year old kid to pack his bags and move across the country for this football team. According to Helfrich, proximity plays an even bigger role in a recruit's decision process than winning does.
“Distance is still the biggest factor that we have to overcome," said Helfrich. If you ask around the country, that’s the number one factor in why a guy chooses a place; distance number one, winning number two.”
It's always tough when looking at a list of recruits to tell who will be making an immediate impact in 2014 for the Ducks. Some could explode onto the scene, while others might transfer after the year. To no surprise, Helfrich stated it would most likely be the junior college transfers who would be most likely to make a splash right off the bat.
"When you’re recruiting junior college guys, there’s obviously a need at that position," said Helfrich. "I think that all of those guys are physically, mentally and psychologically close. As for the rest of them, we’ll never limit a guy or preordain a guy that they’re going to be the man. We’ll find out, that’ll all play out."
Of course, Oregon has also had to deal with the losses of guys like De'Anthony Thomas and Terrence Mitchell, as well as the retirement of former defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. But, according to Helfrich, what spoke volumes was who stayed with the program at the end of the day.
"The proudest thing for me, and I’m not a very proud guy, but to have Marcus Mariota, Ifo (Ekpre-Olomu) and then about eight coaches that could be in a lot of other places, stay here, that means a ton for this place," said Helfrich.
The Ducks also snagged a couple bigger (literally) guys in Tyrell Crosby and Braden Eggert at the offensive line position. Crosby (6-5, 290) and Eggert (6-7, 305) have the potential to play a key role in protecting both Mariota and fellow recruit Morgan Mahalak, a quarterback out of Marin Catholic High School. Helfrich wants plenty of options up front and was excited about both linemen.
“We want to be versatile up front,” said Helfrich. “We want five guys that can play five different positions. Then you can be interchangeable. You can get your best guy as your first sub into the game, rather than your backup left tackle, he might be your 10th best offensive lineman down the line.”
Another big addition for the ducks was running back Royce Freeman out of Imperial, California. Considered to be one of the top running back recruits in the country, Freeman racked up 2,824 yards and 41 touchdowns on the ground during his senior year. On three different occasions, Freeman ran for over 300 yards, including a 340-yard performance with five scores. Freeman (6-0, 327) can provide the Ducks with a more powerful option on the ground, especially useful in short yardage situations.
"Having a little bit more of a thumper absolutely can help you in goal line situations, short yardage situations and just being a heavy change up," said Helfrich.
Of course, signing day doesn't come without disappointments. One of those letdowns for the Ducks was 5-star athlete John "JuJu" Smith choosing USC over Oregon. When asked about his thoughts on Smith committing to the Trojans over the Ducks, Helfrich provided us with the early frontrunner for the, "Quote of 2014" award.
"I'm sure my wife sits around wishing she married George Clooney or Brad Pitt. She moved on, we will too."
Below is the full list of Oregon's 2014 recruiting class, including transfers.
Dominique Harrison, CB, 5-11, 185, Jr., Tracy, CA (Contra Costa College/Tracy HS)
Haniteli Lousi, OL, 6-5, 295, Jr., Fremont, CA (College of San Mateo/Washington HS)
Tui Talia, DL, 6-5, 270, Jr., Concord, CA (Diablo Valley College/Ygnacio Valley HS)
Johnny Ragin, LB, 6-3, 215, Wilsonville, OR (California/Wilsonville HS)
Jalen Brown, WR, 6-2, 185, Phoenix, AZ (Mountain Pointe HS)
Tanner Carew, LS, 6-2, 215, La Verne, CA (Damine HS)
Tyrell Crosby, OL, 6-5, 290, Henderson, NV (Green Valley HS)
Braden Eggert, OL, 6-7, 305, Napa, CA (Napa HS)
Royce Freeman, RB, 6-0, 227, Imperial, CA (Imperial HS)
Justin Hollins, LB, 6-5, 215, Arlington, TX (Martin HS)
Glen Ihenacho, DB, 6-0, 185, Gardena, CA (Serra HS)
Tony James, RB, 5-10, 175, Gainesville, FL (Gainesville HS)
Jalen Jelks, DL, 6-6, 253, Phoenix, AZ (Desert Vista HS)
Morgan Mahalak, QB, 6-3, 190, Kentfield, CA (Marin Catholic HS)
Austin Maloata, DL, 6-2, 291, Corona, CA (Centennial HS)
Mattrell McGraw, DB, 5-11, 180, River Ridge, LA (John Curtis HS)
Henry Mondeaux, DL, 6-5, 255, Portland, OR (Jesuit HS)
Charles Nelson, ATH, 5-9, 170, Daytona Beach, FL (Seabreeze HS)
Khalil Oliver, DB, 6-1, 195, Meridian, ID (Rocky Mountain HS)
Arrion Springs, DB, 6-0, 195, San Antonio, TX (Roosevelt HS)
Jimmie Swain, LB, 6-3, 229, Olathe, KS (Olathe North HS)