Not Just Another Game
– Sam Finley EDN

46k fans turned out for a preview of what's coming this season.

It didn’t determine much as far as how the Ducks will do in the fall, but this year’s Oregon spring football game was one of the most spirited in recent memory.  A record crowd of 43,468 fans showed up at Autzen Stadium on Saturday to view an event that was probably more emotional for the events between the plays than during the action.

The Ducks saluted members of the U.S. military for the second consecutive year with ceremonies before kickoff, during halftime, and after the game.  They also honored the recent death of Eugene Police officer Chris Kilcullen, by providing a special jersey bearing his badge number 248 to members of his family. According to coaches and players, moments like these put certain things like football in perspective.

“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” explained head coach Chip Kelly. “It’s not just about our football program, and they weren’t just here for the game.  They came to honor the troops as well as to honor the memory of officer Kilcullen.  It was a chance to say ‘thank you’ to the people who make the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us on a daily basis.”

Officer Chris Kilcullen was honored with a ceremony at halftime

“It was an eye-opener for a lot of us,” said junior quarterback Darron Thomas. “It’s all about caring about one another and helping out one another. Today was all about putting a smile on our soldiers’ faces. It was certainly a big joy for me.”

As for the actual game itself, the green team defeated the white team 16-0 in a game where the offensive output on both sides was sparse.  Junior running back LaMichael James scored the game’s only touchdown with a 68 yard run early in the first quarter.

“It was just great blocking from the offensive line,” said the potential Heisman trophy contender about the score. “They blocked well and all I had to do was run.”

Another offensive spark came from incoming freshman tight end Colt Lyerla.  He caught three passes from Thomas for 36 yards. Not a bad performance considering that over a month ago, he was attending Hilsboro High School. The 6’5, 225-pound newcomer believed his decision to graduate early to practice this spring was worth it.

“I definitely got a taste of what it’s going to be like,” explained Lyerla about his spring. “It’s been tough learning the offensive schemes, but it’s definitely a work in progress.”

Junior Lamichael James made the only score of the game

Otherwise, the defense on both the green and white squads dominated the day. There were several hard-hitting plays, as the normally high octane offensive players were held in check by defensive end Dion Jordan, who had two sacks, as well as some hard-hitting tackles from linebackers like Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay. As the spring comes to a close, Clay believes that there is plenty of talent on the squad ready to replace defensive leaders such as Casey Matthews, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend.

“Casey had an awesome football IQ,” claimed Clay.  “But I think we all know bits and pieces, and if we put it together, then we know a lot.  For that reason, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Indeed, when fall camp opens in August, the Ducks will have a month to prepare for their season opener.  They’ll start in Dallas, Texas against LSU.  It won’t be an easy first one, but it’ll certainly determine if they will once again contend for a national title.

“We’ll have to put our man pants on for that one,” said defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

Yet the Ducks don’t seem to be sweating the opening game, and are eager to apply any lessons learned this spring over the summer.

“We just have to keep improving as a team,” explained senior tight end David Paulson. “I like how we progressed in the past couple of weeks.  Now we just have to get focused on getting stronger in the weight room and get ready for fall.”

“I really happy with how the spring went and I’m looking forward to the summer,” said LaMichael James. “They say defense wins championships and offense wins games.  Well, I think we have one of the best defenses in the country and our offense will be ready to go.”

EDN is pleased to welcome sports writer Sam Finley to the team.