“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”
–a line used in speeches often by Robert Kennedy, originally from a play by George Bernard Shaw
Signing Day is a why not kind of day. A day for optimism and dreams, lofty thank you speeches and bold predictions, like high school graduations or weddings, or the ribbon cutting ceremony for a new highway.
As humans, we need those kind of days. They lift the gloom and remind us to hold to our hopes. They remind us of the best that is in us and reaffirm the power of goals and commitment. As sports fans, days like the draft and pitchers and catchers reporting and signing day have a special magic. Chip Kelly once said, “every year you kind of get reborn.” On Signing Day and the opening of spring practice or fall camp, every team has hope and possibility, the kind of fresh start you get when you open the boxes for the first time in a new home in a new town, or throw out old attitudes and bad habits.
Every coach around the country took the podium today and declared how excited he is about the group of kids he signed, and how bright their prospects are. And every coach is absolutely right.
On Signing Day, anything is possible. 19 young men had their moment and put on hats and made announcements to attend the University of Oregon. Is it excessive? Is it overblown? Are star athletes coddled and fawned over in a way that makes it hard for them to develop into normal, responsible people? Absolutely. But as you watch Mark Helfrich talk about his group, and witness a snippet from Thomas Tyner’s signing ceremony or Devon Allen’s, you feel their hope and optimism and gratitude, and sense this class will embrace their opportunity to be special, to not only win football games but do it in the right way.
In another article we’ll talk more specifically about the class and their athletic skills, but the overall message of NSD is that Oregon’s program is on course to continue the traditions and values that have made the program successful in the last 20 years. Mark Helfrich and his staff met their first test in a marvelous way. Three short weeks ago Oregon was without a head coach, and this recruiting class could have imploded. Darren Carrington, the Robinson twins, Dontre Wilson, even Thomas Tyner all talked about exploring other options and rethinking their verbal pledge. The Ducks only had a handful of commitments, and several of those were wavering.
Fast forward three weeks, and Helfrich welcomes 19 athletes, 10 All-Americans, 11 rated 4-star or better by at least one service. Oregon signs 5 promising offensive linemen with size and agility, and three play-making linebackers. They keep Tyner, bigger and faster than LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, a local kid who is the state record holder for both rushing yards and the 100-meter dash. In Matt Wogan, the Ducks secure a field goal kicker who made 5 of 7 attempts from beyond 50 yards, and booted more than 70% of his kickoffs into the end zone. Helfrich calls him “a touchback machine.”
The class is dotted with athletes with both tremendous attitudes and tremendous upside, state championship winners, versatile athletes who’ll grow bigger, stronger and faster.
From the core group identified by the coaches over the recruiting season they lost only Dontre Wilson, while adding Cameron Hunt, a 4-star offensive lineman originally committed to Cal, and Terronday Prevot, a fast, athletic defensive end/linebacker originally committed to USC and thought to be leaning to Texas A&M.
The proof of a recruiting class comes in two or three years. That’s the time necessary for potential to meet hard work and coaching, for character to be revealed, and players to grow, mature and adjust to college life. Today Oregon’s new coach expressed confidence in this new group, describing them as “captains, leaders, guys you would want to date your daughter.”
There will be setbacks and teachable moments. The NCAA will hold a hearing. But this is a class to be optimistic about, and it was incredibly fun to watch it come together. This is the beginning of the competing and learning. Every year, you kind of get reborn.