No member of the Oregon coaching staff had to overcome as many adversaries on the field in 2012 as secondary/defensive backs coach John Neal.
In just the second week of the season, Oregon lost its defensive leader in all-American free safety John Boyett to a season-ending injury. Oregon then eventually lost safety Avery Patterson to a season-ending injury as well. The Ducks relied heavily on young cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell to anchor the secondary.
Despite what could have been a crippling number of injuries, Oregon led the nation in interceptions with 25, nearly an average of two a game! Much of the credit has to go to Coach Neal and his work with the young DBs.
Neal is currently in his 10th season with the program and has seen incredible talent each year he has been with the team. He has been involved in football coaching for 30 seasons with stops in the SEC, Conference USA and WAC. Neal even coached three seasons in Corvallis as Oregon State’s defensive backs coach from 1987-89.
Neal was a defensive back himself during his playing days. He earned all-WAC honors in 1980 at Brigham Young as a senior after transferring to BYU after playing two seasons at Foothill Junior College. Neal, a talented player during his heyday, knows how to evaluate talent and has kept the Oregon secondary elite during his reign with the Ducks.
Some of the star players to play for Neal while with the Ducks include Boyett, Cliff Harris, Jarius Byrd, Walter Thurmond III, TJ Ward, Patrick Chung and Aaron Gipson.
One of the best seasons in Neal’s tenor was the national championship run in 2010. That season the Ducks ranked seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense (104.00) and 12th in scoring defense (18.69).
The Ducks will likely have one of the strongest secondaries in the country in 2013 with Ekpre-Olomu and Mitchell now upperclassmen and both poised to contend for all-American-type years. Also back are seniors Patterson and Brian Jackson to close out their Oregon careers.
Look for Oregon to top their 25 interceptions of last season and reach an Oregon record for most interceptions as a team. Maybe they can even hit 30+ picks before the year is over.