Interviewing several of the incoming Ducks over the last few weeks, one thing that stands out about this class, after character, intelligence and talent, is work ethic.
Every member of the class I talked to has great work habits and is working overtime to get ready for college football. Tyrell Crosby, Tony James, Royce Freeman, Morgan Mahalak, and Jimmie Swain all have comprehensive programs to get bigger for their first season of college football and expressed it as a priority.
Man-child on a mission: Royce Freeman, the Ducks All-American running back has honed his powerful body to 6-0, 230 pounds, coming soon to a goal line near you (A.J. Jacobson, Duck Sports Authority photo).
The spring of a young man's senior year is filled with emotion and special moments, but these athletes won't let that distract them from their business. They are all training and studying the playbook. Swain said, "I want to make sure that I know the playbook, that I know it well, that I know it well enough to not have to think when I'm playing. That's one of the main things I'm trying to focus on as well as I'm trying to focus on my physical health, getting stronger, faster and bigger but the main thing that I want for next year for me personally is that it wasn't the mental aspect of the game that was was holding me back from playing next year."
Mahalak continues to work with passing guru Will Hewlett on his mechanics, footwork and delivery. He's grown to 6-4 since his Oregon commitment, visibly bigger and stronger:
Every throw is right from the ear, and he uses his legs to whip the ball to his target. The consistency and discipline is evident, a big reason why Mahalak completed 62% of his passes as a senior with just four interceptions.
Morgan said he'd like to gain another 10 pounds before arriving in June. Asked about his goals for his first year, he said, "My two goals are really to come out and learn as much as I can and earn the other guys' respect. That's one and two for me. I can't really worry about the depth chart or anything like that, I have to concentrate on what I can control and that's all I can worry about for myself. I feel like if I go in there and work hard, take care of myself, I feel like I'll be in a good position wherever that may be."
Tony James is busy rehabbing a leg injury he suffered at the Semper Fi All-American when a lineman fell awkwardly on his leg on a swing pass. "I'm just working out, lifting weights, dumbbell presses, pushups, that's about it. Some ab work," the speedy Florida running back said. He's progressing well but being careful to follow doctor's orders. "I have to because I don't want to re-injure it and I want to be careful to get back on the field."
Prior to the injury James had been clocked at 10.42 in the 100 meters, 4.38 in the 40, faster than Samie Parker or LaMichael James as preps. That's serious speed, and with his work habits and coachability, his prognosis is excellent.
New offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby is an athletic 6-5, 290 pounder who competes in three sports at Green Valley High. He was an all-league basketball player who averaged 13.1 points and 16 rebounds a game, and currently he's competing in shot and discus for the track team after placing 3rd and 4th in regionals as a junior.
Crosby has transformed his body since he entered high school with weight training and nutrition, "Freshman year I was doing protein," he said, Working out a lot. Sophomore year, I cut back on the protein and just tried to get more lean muscle, work out. Then junior year during basketball I started leaning out a lot. I just kept going to a trainer and he was helping me a lot and then this year I've been just doing the same."
Royce Freeman is one of the most chiseled, mature 18-year-olds imaginable, the epitome of a highly-focused individual, very serious about attaining his goals and achieving his potential. He doesn't but a spring sport but maintains a sharp focus as he prepares for 320-pound tackles and 240-pound linebackers. "Right now I'm just training," he said, "I used to play baseball but I haven't played in a long time. I just want to train and do my best so when I go in I'm prepared."
The most powerful combination in sports is the superstar who trains like a journeyman trying to hang on in the league. Jerry Rice, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan all had that work ethic, and as you get to know the 2014 Ducks, it's a constant. The Oregon program has an excellent culture. It's populated by carefully-selected kids who get it, who take their talent seriously but don't take themselves seriously, exceptional young men from good families who work hard. This class will not only enhance the talent level of the program, they will enhance the standard of work and commitment. They will challenge their older brothers to compete every day, improving the intensity in practice and in the weight room.