Suppose one of the recruiting websites had a scoop, and reported that the Oregon Duck coaches, who are out on the recruiting trail this week, flipped the commitment of two five-star players, the number one quarterback and #1 offensive lineman in the country.
The message boards would go crazy. College football fans go nuts over up-and-coming talent, and somehow the new guy coming in is always projected as the savior and immediate future of the program.
Bro Code: Teammates and close friends, the surprise early announcement by Hroniss Grasu that they were passing up the NFL Draft to return to Oregon next year ignites new optimism and possibilities for the Oregon program (Don Ryan, AP photo).
Except, yesterday the news went one better. When Marcus Mariota and Hroniss Grasu announced they were returning for the 2014 season, the Ducks got back two proven stars, players who were projected #1 in the draft at their positions, all-conference selections for the last two years.
Both si.com and cbssports.com projected Mariota as the #2 selection in this spring’s NFL draft, a pick that would have afforded him a contract in excess of twenty million dollars.
The 6-3, 297-lb. Grasu is a 3-year starter, the acknowledged leader of the Oregon offensive line, the one who quarterbacks the offensive front, responsible for line calls and blocking assignments with split-second decisiveness. He’s a team leader, trusted and respected throughout the program, twice picked by his teammates as the winner of the Todd Doxey Award.
Mariota is the most productive quarterback in school history, 62 td passes and 14 rushing with a game to play in second season. Already he is 22-3 as a starter, the record Joey Harrington achieved after four full seasons as a Duck. Harrington has gone on record on several occasions declaring the 6-4, 210-lb. Hawaiian as the best Oregon quarterback ever.
Now he’ll have another year to prove it, and he’s likely to smash every record in the Webfoot media guide.
Far more importantly, the declaration by these two key team leaders sets the Ducks up for another run at an excellent season in 2014. With one master stroke the offense becomes the most complete, dangerous, deep, formidable units they have ever had. Fans are talking about a backfield that features Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman. Bralon Addison and Keanon Lowe are back to anchor the receiver corps with a bevy of talented underclassmen, including Jalen Brown, the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year last season, twice a 1000-yard receiver for a squad that won a state championship year. Two three-year starters, Grasu and Jake Fisher, return on the offensive line. Tyler Johnstone has 25 starts at left tackle. Cameron Hunt and Hamani Stevens got valuable experience at the guard spots, 18 more spots between them. New recruit Tyrell Crosby will challenge for immediate impact.
All these weapons, with a healthy Mariota at the helm.
The decision also gives the Ducks an immediate boost in focus and confidence for the bowl game and next year. By declaring their love and loyalty to the Oregon program and their teammates, they have cemented themselves as the leaders and pacesetters for the 2014 team, and they will command tremendous respect as they lead bowl preparation, off season workouts and spring practice.
They will continue to be difference-makers, not just for their exceptional talent, but their character and leadership as well.
There simply aren’t any high school recruits in the country who will have more impact on a program than these two will in the coming year.
It’s simply the best Christmas present that the Oregon coaches, team and fans could possibly have wished for. It puts this year’s bowl game in an entirely different light. A few weeks ago, skeptics were talking about this being the end of the Ducks recent run of success. Now, it looks like a new beginning.