To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Kenny Wheaton's cutback into history and the 1994 Rose Bowl team, Addicted to Quack is counting down the top 20 football Ducks of the last 20 years.
I had no real expectations when putting together all the Top 20 lists submitted by the ATQ mods, the community at-large, and other various traveling ATQ dignitaries into our "official" Top 20. I had a general idea that names like Harrington, Stewart, James, and Mariota would end up somewhere on the list, but I wasn't sure exactly about everybody else. I had my personal favorites, some of whom made the cut, while others (Ed Dickson, LeGarrette Blount, and Jeremiahs Johnson and Masoli) did not.
But Walter Thurmond III is here, and I get to say a few words about him.
A starter as a redshirt freshman in 2006 all the way until a brutal knee injury cut his career short in 2009, Walter Thurmond III was an Oregon fan favorite both for his explosive on-field play, and his off-field swagger. He was a three-time all-conference honoree, a freshman All-American, a lightning-quick cover corner with a nose for the endzone. Despite losing his senior season to injury, Thurmond still ranks in the top ten in Oregon history in interceptions (12), pass breakups (37), and punt and kick returnyard averages. In 2008, he averaged over 25 yards per kick return, including taking the opening second-half kick of the Holiday Bowl inside the Oklahoma State five-yard line. His lone return touchdown came against Utah in 2009, where Thurmond busted up the middle and flat outran the entire Utah coverage unit. It gave further validation to the high hopes Duck fans had for Thurmond's senior season. Unfortunately, Thurmond shredded his knee returning a kick the week later against Cal, and never played in a Duck uniform again.
For me, there are two lasting images of Walter Thurmond III as an Oregon Duck. The first was his hair. Oh, his glorious hair. It looks like this now, which is unassailably cool. But in college, it was taller, slantier, and just the right kind of outlandish, and it told you all you needed to know about Walter Thurmond III. This was a player who was bold, who took risks, and who wasn't afraid of the spotlight. He put those skills to good use as the playmaker of the self-proclaimed "D Boyz".
But Thurmond's truly indelible mark on Oregon football was made in the 2008 Civil War, a 65-38 Oregon thrashing that denied Oregon State a Pac-10 championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. After a back-and-forth first quarter, Oregon took control in the second quarter, going up 30-10 when Jeremiah Johnson romped 83 yards to the house. Beaver fans were irate that Ducks fans were celebrating in their house. On the ensuing possession, Oregon State's Lyle Moevao threw a deep out route that didn't go as planned (3:28 of the video if it doesn't automatically go there. You know what though, watch all the highlights anyway).
The Beaver fans stopped booing. They just had to stand there and take it, because Thurmond's pick-six took the last hope they had of a Rose Bowl in 2008. And it's fitting that, to begin a list that pays homage to Kenny Wheaton dashing the dreams of Washington fans, we start our list with a man who snatched the last vestiges of hope from the faithful in Corvallis.