When I was about 5 years old I remember my Uncle Mike telling me that I was a Duck and I will always be a Duck! I could not fathom for the life of me what he was talking about but I looked up to him and I figured he knew what he was talking about. I immediately went around the corner, pulled off my socks and shoes and examined my feet for their webs!
I have been to a few Duck games at Autzen Stadium and have enjoyed every one of them. Imagine my surprise when I was asked to cover the 117th Civil War game between the Ducks and Beavers in Eugene this year! I thought about it for about 5 seconds (It was the day after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, did I want to deal with traffic?) before I answered with a YES!
I would be one of two photographers ON THE FIELD at Autzen Stadium during a Civil War, one of the most anticipated rival games in history! Autzen Stadium was built in 1967 and holds 54,000 fans; typically going over that amount and averaging approximately 59,000 fans each game… Hello! If you have never been to Autzen, I would recommend going at least once. It really is quite the experience. Autzen is known for its “loudness”; the roar of the crowd is deafening (in a good way).
Autzen stadium cost approximately $2.5 million to build. The project was lead by the son of Thomas J. Autzen; Portland lumberman and philanthropist who ironically is the Oregon Ducks Rival; an alumnus from Oregon State University in Corvallis. The Autzen Foundation donated $250,000 to the project. The link to the University of Oregon is Autzen’s own son who attended the U of O in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. The stadium is built over a landfill and took nearly 9 months to complete and has seen multiple renovations over the years.
Arrangements were made for me to meet my fellow co-writers Corey Buchanan, Isaac Rosenthal and photographer Dave Peaks in Eugene and we would all head to Autzen, arriving two hours prior to the start of the game. Kick off for this years Civil War was at 4 p.m.
We were directed to were we would park, making our way through the tailgaters we found our spot. We grabbed our gear, donned our press passes and headed for the stadium. The aroma’s that surrounded us were amazing and made my chicken salad seem like plain old water compared to the yumminess that wafted passed my ole factory. Burgers and beans, dogs and nacho’s; you name it, it was in the parking lot. Wine and beer were being served, little fires were being stoked to stave off the chilliness that was in the air.
Up the long flight of stairs we went to the elevators and up to the 5th floor! That in itself was exciting! It is quite the view of the stadium from that far up let me tell you. There are large windows that open up into the “box” area where Corey and Isaac were going to sit, they would be able to see and hear the game from their seats. Dave and I headed over and signed out our white media vests. I can say they are not going to win any fashion contests that’s for sure, (I guess white is a neutral color, but dang, when you are in Rome right? My opinion; they should be pretty yellow!) At least girl / boy attire.
We met Craig Strobeck from Fishduck and he gave Dave and I a few pointers about shooting on the field; this was the first time for both Dave and I. Everyone was quite helpful and it was nice to have the support all around us.
Lunch was provided for us before the game. On the menu served buffet style was a broccoli salad, BBQ pork, rolls for sandwiches, chips and large shortbread cookies (my favorite) in the shape of an O of course. Refreshments were provided as well.
Dave and I finished our lunch, packed up our camera gear and headed for the tunnel. This is where the photographers were stationed right behind the goal posts. It was packed by the time we arrived so we made our way to the back, stashed our belongings and headed to the field.
Oh my! It was a great privilege to walk out on to the field. To look up into the stands was amazing. I immediately began to shoot. I didn’t want to miss a thing. One day, this day will be history and I am a part of it, the players a part of it, the spectators are a part of this history. I wanted to make sure I recorded everything I could!
There was so much activity on the field, the Beavers were stretching and tossing the ball around, the Ducks came out and it just seemed like a sea of yellow (my favorite color). They too warmed up, stretched, tossed the ball around, sprinted back and forth. At one point they all came over to the corner Dave and I were shooting from and let me tell you, those guys are huge!
The bands began to appear, officials were coming onto the field and the players were lining up down the center of the field, the Seniors were going to be announced, and this is when we got to go out to the middle of the field to get photographs. It was very exciting as they came down the “gauntlet” with their families, the fans cheering from the stands.
We found our selves back behind the dotted lines that marked our boundaries at the edge of the field. The moment I have been waiting for was about to happen. The Duck, Puddles, my hero was about to climb onto the motorcycle and take his ride around the field! Holy cow that Duck rocks! After he made his entrance and exit off the field the bands came together playing their final piece before the game began.
I will be honest, I know very little about football, so its a really good thing that I don’t have to write about it because we would all be confused! I know there are quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, field goals, touchdowns and that’s about it. The only two things I can tell you for sure is that I know what a touchdown looks like and there are a lot of tight ends on that field. I can take pictures though and hopefully they will tell a story all by themselves.
It was amazing to hear the cheers of the fans, the excitement that was in the air was fantastic. We were all there for the same reason, to have fun. Sports fans were dressed (some wearing very little clothing) in their duck gear, painted green and yellow, funny hats, decals on their faces, there were even people dressed as banana’s!
Oregon was in the lead at half time. Once halftime was over, I decided I needed to go up top to see how the guys were (I needed to keep my camera out of the mist) when the Beavers took the lead, it was touch and go for a little bit. I returned to the field and things were getting tense. When the clock said 29 seconds left, the Ducks took the ball back and made a touchdown taking the lead by 1 point. Tell me that wasn’t exciting. I looked over at Dave, we both cracked a grin and high five’d each other. I began to hoot and holler with the rest of the crowd, I couldn’t help it. It was in my blood (according to my Uncle Mike).
Once the game was truly over and it was official that the Ducks had won the 117th Civil War, the fans went crazy! They charged the field, the players charged the field, reporters charged the field and I charged the field! It was just like in the movies. I turned around to the stands and the fans were jumping onto the field from the stands.
I have a curious personality and I wanted to know more about the Duck (I’m his biggest fan). Here is some information on Puddles I thought this was pretty interesting on how he got his name.
Dave and I made our way across the field through the sea of fans, back to the tunnel where we left our gear. The tunnel once again was packed with photographers; laptops out, cameras and lenses of all sizes were everywhere. We chatted about the game and our experience as we packed up and headed back to the media area where we waited for Corey and Isaac to finish with the press release and to finalize their writing.
We enjoyed some popcorn and soda for the next couple of hours, getting to know each other and talking about our day. When we finally made it to our vehicle, it was just after 10 pm; a full 8 hours at Autzen Stadium.
What have I learned from this experience? I would like to do it again. I have learned that there are no crowds that late at night so it is much easier to leave, that long after the game. I learned I love the duck even more. But most of all, I have a new appreciation for the dedicated sports writers and photographers who spend countless hours not only preparing for sporting events, but their valuable time on location racing back and forth from one end of the field to the next during the entire game and the dedication it takes for the post processing and writing that is involved afterwards when everyone else has gone home.
By the time I got home I was exhausted. Once I made it to my bed, I slept like I have not slept in a long time and it was a beautiful thing! For those of you who are dedicated to the sports, your writing and photography is greatly appreciated, my hat is off to you! It was a pleasure working alongside everyone of you.
Hope to see you out there again!
If you know anything about the Campbell Club, it probably has to do with either its hippies or its parties — and if you know anything about its parties, it’s that they tend to get broken up. In recent years, the co-op has had two notable run-ins with the police — one in 2008 and another this February. The first resulted in four arrests. The second, prompted by a noise violation, resulted in 23. While the co-op began hosting parties again fairly quickly after the first bust, it is still in the process of recovering from the second.
The Campbell Club is probably the University of Oregon’s foremost venue for live music, organizing open mics on Tuesdays and booking small bands to play parties that end up much larger than those bands’ average draws. But since the raid, the co-op has taken extreme care in organizing its events.
“We weren’t even sure if we wanted to keep having open mics,” said Max Kelner, current resident of the Campbell Club. “But we decided to because we just wanted to keep music accessible to people. I think that’s one of the driving forces behind this place — I mean, how many places can you see live music for five bucks, all ages?”
Not many, at least not this close to campus. That’s why, according to Kelner, bands were still banging on the Campbell Club’s proverbial door long after the raid. He describes one band that came by on their way to California a few weeks prior. “They asked if we could play a show here and we said we couldn’t get it together, but they still got together and played a show for the house,” he said.
Though the co-op’s reputation may be intact among musicians, it has suffered among those less familiar with its environs.
“It was interesting to see what people really thought of us,” said Cruz Castillo, a former Campbell Club resident. “KVAL did a story on us and we’d look at the comments. Some people really supported us, but other people … ”
Comments on the video run the spectrum from, “Our sad little country has turned into a police state,” to, “I’m glad all those people got arrested and I wish that more did.” Some say the KVAL video portrays the co-op in a negative light, splicing the anchors’ commentary with shots of empty bottles and Solo cups lying outside the building.
“I think we became more mythical,” Castillo said. “When people walk by this place they kind of stare at it. I think the raid helped create this mystery, because nobody really knows what happened.”
Resident Taylor Hulburt insists the celebrations will continue, though likely less often. The co-op has even hosted small parties after the raid — low-key affairs featuring acoustic acts. Residents didn’t even make a flyer for the first one. “It was nice that we were confident enough to throw another party and not be too shaken up by the police,” Castillo said.
But will there be more parties like the one police busted in February?
“I hope not,” Castillo said.
— Sam Finley and Don Smalley, EDN Sports
Ducks looking for more consistency
It has been a tale of two teams with the Oregon men. Last week’s homestand was a perfect example of that. Last Thursday night, the Ducks appeared poised to reach another level with a 78-67 victory over Stanford. But then on Sunday, Oregon looked lost as they fell 77-60 against Cal.
“We’re disappointed that we haven’t been able to take a better climb,” said Altman of the inconsistency. “Some of it is the opponent. But a lot of it is just us. We haven’t moved the ball well, and we’ve missed a couple shots. I’ve just got to do a better job of getting them prepared and making them stay with it. We’ve got to have a better level of execution.”
One Duck who has been consistent is forward E.J. Singler. The 6’6 junior from Medford is averaging 12.8 points per game and has a knack of finding the open shot at the most critical times. He believes that improvement will come from getting everyone on the same page in every contest.
“We’ve shown that we can play together and we usually win when we do,” Singler explained. “But when we’ve tried to things by ourselves, it’s been shown that we don’t get the job done. It’s been talked about, but now it’s about whether we do it or not.”
The 11-5 Ducks have a couple large tasks on their hands this week down in the Arizona desert. On Thursday, Oregon will face Arizona State. Even though the Sun Devils have a 5-10 record, they did wallop the Ducks 73-53 in Tempe last season. In fact, Oregon has not won at the Wells Fargo Arena since 2007.
They haven’t fared much better down in Tuscon either, last winning at the McKale Center in 2008. The Ducks hope to change those fortunes on Saturday afternoon against Arizona. The 11-5 Wildcats are always one of the tougher teams in the Pac-12, and may have enough talent to win the conference.
But if Oregon can win these two road games, they could suddenly become part of the Pac-12 title conversation. Right now, however, their coach wants them taking it one at a time.
“I want our guys to recognize that each game is a big challenge for us,” stated Altman. “I told them that what we need to worry about is each game and, if it works out that we’re in the conference race, then that’s great. But we’ve only played four games on an 18 game schedule, so we’ve got a long ways to go. Hopefully, after nine games, we’ll be able to answer those questions and see if we’re in the hunt.”
Meanwhile, the Oregon women’s basketball team is looking to right their own ship this week, after a dreadful trip to the Bay Area. The Ducks got flattened by fourth-ranked Stanford 93-70 last Thursday evening. They didn’t fare much better over the weekend in Berkeley, falling 90-67 against Cal.
Neither contest this week at Matt Knight Arena can be considered a get well card for Paul Westhead’s crew. On Thursday night, the 9-7 Ducks (1-3 in Pac-12 play) will host Arizona (who has an overall 12-3 record). Then on Saturday, Arizona State comes to down. The Sun Devils are 10-4 and usually are a fiesty bunch for the rest of the conference.
Should Oregon have a successful homestand, it might suggest that this team is progressing faster than initially anticipated. But like a lot of things, the jury is definitely still out on that one.
Lane Women keep rolling; Titan Men need to bounce back
The Lane Community College women’s team was able to get South Regional play off to a good start as the Titans went to Gresham and defeated Mount Hood 63-53 Saturday night.
Winning has become old hat for Lane as it increased it’s record to 11-3 overall in Northwest Community Colleges Athletic Association (NWAACC) play.
Identical twins Jordan and Kersey Wilcox each led the Titans with 14 points. But it was Lane’s defense that doomed Mount Hood.
The Titans were able to force 35 turnovers, including 24 in the first half alone that saw the visitors take a commanding 37-20 halftime lead.
On the men’s side, things didn’t go so well.
Lane was routed by the Saints 104-76. The Titans were led by Levi Stranberg’s 23 points, which included 11-of-12 from the free throw line and Tyler Coleman added 19.
With the South Region opening loss, the Titans fell to 6-7 overall. Both teams will go up to Albany Jan. 11 to take on Linn-Benton before coming home to take on Chemeketa Jan. 14
The women play at 4 pm and the men play at 6 pm.
OSU splits with Bay Area schools
Coming off a very disappointing opening weekend in Pac-12 action by getting swept out of the state of Washington, the Beavers men’s basketball team seemingly got its act together by upsetting conference-favorite California 92-85 last Thursday.
It marked the seventh time this season that Oregon State was able to eclipse the 90-point total, a school record. It was also the first time OSU had scored at least 90 in a conference game since an overtime loss to Washington in 2004.
Ahmad Starks and Jared Cunningham each scored 24 points to lead the Beavers over the Bears.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team and our effort, especially coming off a weekend like we had,” coach Craig Robinson said. “I knew that if we could take care of the start, and it almost didn’t look like we were going to down 5-0, that we would play well and go toe-to-toe with them.”
Both teams went into the locker room relatively happy, tied at 38 at halftime. But the Beavers went on a 10-3 spurt to start the second half and that ultimately proved to be the difference.
But in just two night after the euphoric win over Cal, the Beavers had a major setback, falling 103-101 in an incredible four overtimes to Stanford.
Cunningham led the Beavers in points with 19 and in minutes played with 54. Roberto Nelson also scored 19, but his three-point attempt at the buzzer of the fourth overtime was just short.
They were exhausted, but both teams were,” Robinson said. “Stanford did a terrific job and they made a few more game winning plays than we did. It was very exhausting to watch. This was a player’s game. All I was doing was making subs and giving them suggestions on what to do, and these guys just went out and laid it all out there.”
The Beavers (11-5, 1-3) will try to get back on track this Thursday and Saturday with a trip to the Arizona schools with the Wildcats first up.
— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
He’s made his presence felt on many ball carriers this year. Oregon linebacker, Michael Clay, #46, has had a key role on the Duck defense this season. The 5’11, 225 lb. junior came to Eugene a couple years ago from the Bay Area.
“I grew up in San Jose,” said Clay. “It’s kind of a big city, but I like it. It might be a little grayer, but I would say growing up in Northern California is better than growing up in Southern California.”
Clay decided to play at the U of O because it was the perfect school for him both in size and distance.
“It was close enough yet far away enough from home,” he explained. “I was choosing between Cal and Colorado. Boulder was a little too far. Cal was right in my backyard and I couldn’t be that close. I wanted to get away and Oregon seemed like the right fit.”
Whatever his rationale for coming here, he’s delivered some nasty shots against many quarterbacks and running backs during the 2011 campaign.
“I love making the big hits on the big stage,” he said with a wide grin.
Ironically, some of those hits were made while Clay had been in his own kind of pain. He missed three games this season with an ankle injury, yet still finished second on the team with 89 total tackles. That type of grit has earned him the respect of the coaching staff.
“Michael has been a real leader for us on the defensive side of the ball,” said UO head coach, Chip Kelly.
“He missed some games for us this year, but he’s still one of our leading tacklers and has a great knowledge for what our defense is. He understands the schemes and always seems to be at the right place at the right time.”
Indeed, Clay has been very good at reading opposing offenses and disrupting their schemes. He credits this to becoming a better student of the game since his freshman year.
“I’ve gotten a lot smarter,” Clay stated. “In ’09, I was just kind of out there running around. But I now know the defense a lot better.”
Clay also believes that, along with fellow linebacker, Dewitt Stuckey, there was an urgent need to sharpen the overall knowledge of the defense coming into this season. After longtime starters, Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger, left for the NFL, they knew that they had to fill the leadership gap.
“It was kind of a collective deal,” he explained. “I think we all had to kind of grow up a bit after we lost two great guys in Casey and Spencer. But Dewitt and I have gelled real well together and have matured as time went on.”
Clay’s maturity (along with the Oregon defense) will be tested at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, on January 2nd, when the fifth-ranked Ducks face tenth-ranked Wisconsin. The Badgers have one of the country’s best running backs in Montee Ball, who led the NCAA with 32 rushing touchdowns.
“He has really good feet and he runs very well behind his pads,” said Clay about Ball. “It’s going to take more than one guy to take him down. If you try to take him down by yourself, he’ll fall forward for another five yards.”
Clay also sees the potential threat in Wisconsin quarterback, Russell Wilson, who is able to run and throw with equal precision.
“Wilson can run and is very athletic,” he claimed. “He has a great command of that offense and he can zing you with his passing. So, he’s a very well-rounded quarterback.”
As Clay and the Ducks have studied the game film this past week, they don’t see any reason for the Badgers to deviate from the stuff that got them to Pasadena.
“They’ll probably stick to their game plan,” Clay said. “In their original game plan, they’ve got a few tricks here and there. So I don’t think we’ll see anything that is significantly different. Maybe a wheel route from the back or a double pass, but nothing different otherwise.”
That being said, Clay thinks the Pac-12 Champions will be ready to play in their second Rose Bowl in the past three years.
“It’ll be my second time down there,” said Clay. “I’ll get to go back to California and I have relatives down there that’ll get to watch. I’m definitely excited for this trip.”
Unlike the last time, however, Clay believes the Ducks won’t be satisfied with simply getting to a major bowl game.
“We’ve been to a BCS bowl two years in a row,” he explained. “We’re definitely due for a victory. I think every one is hungry on any given Saturday. But this being the BCS granddaddy of them all, we are a bit hungrier to get a win.”
In order for that to happen, he said it all will come down to Oregon’s attention to detail and intensity on every snap.
“We’ve got to read our keys,” Clay stated. “We also have to play hard to the end of the game. If we do that, then we’ll be just fine.”
— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
Looked at any interesting stuff about LaMichael James recently? The rumors have been flying since a report came out in The Oregonian on Thursday that the Ducks’ running back would enter the NFL draft after the Rose Bowl.
Or did he? Because there’s also been reports that contradict the story that has everyone talking. Aside from a brief denial on his Facebook page, James hasn’t been able to address the situation until yesterday. Needless to say, he wasn’t thrilled that certain people were getting information about him from ESPN.
“There’s really nothing going on,” said Oregon’s all-time leading rusher emphatically. “I don’t really know what happened with that deal. My family called me and asked if I had declared for the draft.”
Moreover, James wasn’t happy about hearing that he had make a decision he claims he hasn’t made.
“I think it’s kind of an unfair statement for someone to say something I didn’t say,” he explained. “If (running backs coach Gary) Campbell didn’t say it, then nobody really knows what happened. Because if I’m going to tell someone what I’m going to do, it’s going to be him. I haven’t discussed that with him or my family.”
In fact, James isn’t really focusing on what’ll he’ll do next until after a certain game in Pasadena.
“I’m really not thinking about it,” he stated. “The thing I’m thinking about is winning the game on January 2nd. I don’t want to make a decision or an announcement on it. My future is irrelevant right now. Come January 3rd, it will be relevant when the season is over. But I owe it to my teammates, the fans, and my coaches to think about the Rose Bowl. That is my important goal right now.”
Ah yes, with all the scuttlebutt about their star back, you may have forgotten that the fifth-ranked Ducks are playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. They started up practices again over the weekend and James believes the team is going back to basics right now.
“We’re getting back to the fundamentals,” said James. “Everybody is pretty much healthy right now. I think we’re really happy to get back out here with each other.”
As for the drama surrounding James, his teammates aren’t letting it become a distraction. Just ask De’Anthony Thomas.
“That’s his decision,” explained the freshman phenom. “I’m happy for him and good luck to him. I would miss him if he was gone. Just being around him has motivated me to work hard and be a great leader. My job has been to contribute off him and he’s been my motivation.”
If anyone is excited for the matchup in Pasadena, it is Thomas. He grew up in the L.A. area and loves the chance to play in front of friends and family.
“It’s a great feeling to play back home,” said Thomas. “It’s just a great feeling to make it to the Rose Bowl. I know our team can’t wait, and we’ll see what happens.”
Speaking of which, a lot has been made about Wisconsin’s offensive prowess with good reason. The Badgers’ running back Montee Ball is a one-man scoring machine, and their quarterback Russell Wilson is a dual-threat. But the Ducks aren’t overlooking their defense, either.
“They’re really good,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with a wry smile. “They’re rock-solid end to end. Up front, they’re very good. Their linebackers are spectacular, and might be the two best guys we’ve played all year. They have tremendous tacklers in their secondary.”
There lies the challenge for the speedy Oregon offense.
“You don’t see anyone run out of tackles against these guys,” Helfrich stated. “When we get in a one-on-one situation, we try to make the guy miss. That doesn’t happen too often with these guys. They’re incredibly sound in what they do.”
Moving onto to some other stuff, I want to make some things clear about my views on the meteoric success of Tim Tebow and his Denver Broncos. I don’t dislike the guy, but I haven’t been ready to crown him as the greatest thing going in sports at the moment.
Sure, he’s been leading great drives in the final two minutes. However, hasn’t Denver’s defense had a role in setting him up for all those heroic comebacks? They’ve been playing out of their minds the past few weeks.
For that matter, how the other teams have executed have had something to do with it, too. It seems like the opponents have played their usual schemes for three quarters well on Tebow, and then go (inexplicably) to a prevent defense. Hasn’t any squad learned that the only thing a prevent does is prevent you from winning?
That’s particularly true against Tebow. While he doesn’t have the most accurate arm, he can inexplicably throw it on the money when the defensive backs are giving his receivers plenty of room. It happened in the most recent miracle last Sunday against Chicago.
The Bears were leading 10-0 with a couple minutes left in the game, and had been aggressive against Tebow all day. Then, they started playing soft and Tebow burned them for a touchdown that was the catalyst for another storybook affair.
But, in all fairness, Chicago’s defense wasn’t ultimately the reason they ended up losing 13-10 in overtime to the Broncos. You can blame that one on the Bears’ running back Marion Barber.
All he had to do on what should’ve been their final possession was take the handoffs and stay in bounds. That’s something you learn at the Pop Warner level when you have a lead and the other guys are out of timeouts. Instead, Barber decided to run towards the sidelines and got pushed into the Chicago bench.
What a chowder head. If anything, he’s more responsible for the Broncos’ last win than Tebow. Did Tebow stop the clock for Denver in that situation, providing more than enough time to then tie the game? No.
Like I said, I don’t hate Tebow. I’m merely saying there have been other factors at work and I’ll wait a little longer before putting him in the same conversation of quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
With that, I’ve got some Christmas shopping to do. But check back here next Sunday, when I will have a very special column for you to read.
Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.
— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
He played in a Rose Bowl as well as a national championship game. Now he’s taking his talents to another league. Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about LaMichael James. (More on him momentarily).
No, in this case, it’s former Oregon defensive back Marvin Johnson. He just signed a contract to play for a UIFL (Ultimate Indoor Football League) team in Illinois. Johnson will be playing for the Danville Dragons starting in March of 2012.
“I’m very excited,” said Johnson. “I haven’t played since the BCS Championship, so that’s been a long time off. I’m ready to get back on the field.”
He may not have played a lot since graduating last year, but the 5’11, 210-pound Johnson has been working out at his home in Southern California in case some squad gave him a call. Now he hopes that this opportunity will lead to greater things. His cousin (and fellow former Oregon standout) Jeremiah currently plays for the Denver Broncos and he’d like to reach that pinnacle, too.
“I’m just trying to open some eyes,” he explained. “I want to let everybody see what I’ve got and do my best. I’d like to have another winning season with a team, and get some great film going. Hopefully, that’ll help me get into a higher league like the CFL or the NFL.”
In the meantime, the Dragons are elated with their acquistion of Johnson and intend to utilize him in more than one position.
“Marvin has shown his ability to play multiple positions on defense,” stated Dragons’ head coach Jarrod Rogol. “We’ll utilize his speed and power offensively and, of course, he’ll make an impact on special teams.”
Johnson has no objections, claiming it takes him back to his days playing at Dominquez High School in Comption.
“I do see myself playing a lot of positions,” he said. “I’d like to play some offense, whether it’s at receiver, running back, or wherever I’m needed. When I was in high school, I played both ways and I’m ready to do that again.”
He’s also kept up on his alma mater, and likes their chances in the Rose Bowl on January 2nd.
“I haven’t seen Wisconsin play,” Johnson explained. “But I know what the Ducks can do, so I’m going with them all the way.”
Furthermore, Johnson has a message for the people back in Eugene.
“I want to thank Oregon for the opportunity to come play out of high school,” Johnson said. “I had a great five years in Eugene that I will never forget. Once a Duck, always a Duck.”
You can expect that EDN willl give you an update on Johnson when the UIFL season begins in less than three months.
Now we can talk a bit about LaMichael James. On Wednesday, the Oregonian reported that the Oregon running back had already made up his mind and would enter the NFL draft after the game in Pasadena. James, however, through the UO media services department and his Facebook page denied that was the case. In fact, James says he hasn’t made a decision.
So what to make of all this? It’s hard to say. I can accept arguments for him staying for his senior year, since he’d have one more shot at a Heisman and maybe rewrite a few more records in the process.
But really, at what cost? Let’s remember the most important achievement James can make at Oregon will take place this spring when he gets his degree. That greatly outweighs any other awards he could win. Moreover, if he were to play another season at Autzen, he’d risk another injury and a big NFL contract. Thus, if I were LMJ, I’d look at the game in Pasadena as my chance to end my college career in style.
I’m not LaMichael, however. I know he’s got a tough choice to make and there may be more to it than the reasons I listed above. With that in mind, the Ducks aren’t letting the rumors distract them as they heard similar stories about this time a year ago.
“It’s understandable,” said UO running backs’ coach Gary Campbell. “I know LaMichael has made quite a few accomplishments and I know everybody else wonders what else he can do. So I expect to hear it. I heard it last year, and it certainly is expected after this year.”
Let’s move onto a little hoops before I wrap this one up. The Oregon men’s basketball team made it harder than it had to be on Monday night. They had a 14 point lead with six minutes to play against Portland State, before allowing the Vikings back in the game. That forced the Ducks to scrap their way to a 79-70 victory. While they’re happy with the win, they’ll acknowledge they have a lot to clean up before Pac-12 play.
“We kind of let up defensively,” said senior guard Garrett Sim. “We got a little comfortable with our lead, and we’ve got to finish the game better and not let the other team make a run at us at the end.”
It’s tough to figure out the 6-2 Ducks. On the one hand, Oregon is winning the non-conference games they’re supposed to take care of. They also might have, for the first time in a very long while, a legitimate big man threat in 6’11 Tony Woods. You also can’t count out the inspired performance of Devoe Joseph.
But there are the problems I see in front of me. The Ducks don’t seem to be playing fast enough on offense, and they don’t seem to have a sense of urgency in the paint to grab rebounds. Maybe that changes in the next couple of weeks. If it doesn’t, their inability to close out games is going to come back to bite them hard.
Then again, the Pac-12 isn’t exactly carrying any juggernauts in basketball again this season. The one team that gets their deficiencies in order quickly could take the conference. Maybe that’s Cal (who is favored by many). It could be Oregon State. But considering that Oregon has plenty of talent and are well-coached by Dana Altman, I would not rule them out of the discussion just yet.
I’m not betting on them winning it, but I wouldn’t bet against them either. We’ll see.
Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.
— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
Bryan Bennett definitely knows about the area the Ducks will be playing in on the second day of January. The 6’3, 205-pound redshirt freshman grew up in Granada Hills, California and attended high school in nearby Encino.
“It was nice growing up in So Cal,” said Bennett with a soft-spoken laugh. “We were definitely spoiled with the nice weather and all the nice things like that. I’m definitely happy to be going back home for this game.”
Oregon’s current backup quarterback admired a certain athlete when he was a kid . Not surprisingly, it was a guy who played the same position.
“Brett Favre was my favorite,” he explained. “I just liked his style of play. He was a competitor, and would always continue to work hard. Favre also had a big, strong arm and I liked that.”
That being said, why would a someone who enjoyed the Southern California climate choose Eugene for college football as opposed to USC or UCLA?
“I thought that Oregon was the best fit for me,” Bennett said of his decision to come here. “When I was going through the recruiting process, I felt like that this was the place I needed to be.”
Right now, Bennett has found himself behind Darron Thomas on the depth chart. But he’s taken his role in stride.
“Everybody wants to be playing,” he stated. “I want to be a starter, but that’s not my role on the team at the moment. So I’ll do what I can to help this team and stay positive. I’m just doing whatever the coaches ask me to do right now. I try to be a leader in the best way I can. And if I’m asked to step in, I have to be ready to do that.”
He certainly proved he could play at a moment’s notice this season. After Thomas went down with a knee injury against Arizona State, Bennett effectively managed the Ducks to a 41-27 victory over the Sun Devils. A week later against Colorado, he completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-2 win in Boulder. Finally, Bennett threw for two more scores in the second half, helping Oregon edge Washington State 43-28.
“I just reassured myself that I could do this,” said Bennett of his playing experience. “It reinforced that I could be a quarterback at the University of Oregon.”
So does Bennett take any pride that he, in his own way, helped his Ducks win their third consecutive Pac-12 title?
“I never even looked at it like that,” he claimed. “But I was just happy to help my team when they needed me.”
He’s been happy to help out his squad, just as he’s been assisted by many of his teammates like Thomas. Bennett said the current starting signal caller has gone out of his way to show him the ropes.
“Darron has helped me out a lot,” said Bennett. “So did (then-backup) Nate Costa when I first got here last year. But DT and I are always side-by-side in the team meetings and on the field. (As are fellow quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, Dustin Haines and Brennan Doty). We’re always working together with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. The group we have around us is what makes our quarterbacks so special at Oregon.”
Maybe this is why Bennett is willing to wait his turn for more playing time (most likely in a couple years), and will continue to sharpen his skills before that happens.
“I think I’ve become smarter about the game,” he explained. “I can always learn more about the playbook and other new things like other defenses, as well as the overall game of football. That’s allowed me to grow and mature.”
Whatever his current role might be, he’s elated that Oregon will be at the Rose Bowl early next month.
“I’m very excited to go to Pasadena,” Bennett said. “I’ve been watching the Rose Bowl for a long time. When I was in high school, I used to go watch UCLA play there all the time. I’m just happy that a lot of my family will be able to go and I’ll get to see them afterwards.”
The fifth-ranked Ducks will face a stiff test against tenth-ranked Wisconsin. However, Bennett is confident that they’ll be ready for the challenge.
“We just need to continue to prepare,” he claimed. “We need to do the best we can day in and day out. If we do those things, then I think we’ll have a good shot to go out there and play our game.”
— Sam Finley, Sports Editor – EDN
It’s that time of year again. There’s plenty of holiday cheer, unless you’re the poor sap that gets pepper sprayed by an overzealous shopper making the retail rounds. The wonderful sounds of Bing Crosby are often canceled out by the squeaks of a certain Chipmunks’ song. Like any other month, you take the good with the bad, and we’re in the middle of another December.
So why I don’t I save some of my yuletide sarcasm for another column? Preferably, the one I’ll be doing in a couple weeks. (Shameless plug dutifully inserted). In the meantime, here’s a quick wrap up of what happened on the local sporting front.
First off, congratulations to the Lake Oswego Lakers. They really took it to Sheldon, blowing them out 47-14 in the 6A OSAA State Championship. For once, it was the Irish on the other end of a one-sided affair.
The Lakers rolled up 490 yards of total offense, compared to Sheldon’s 216. That’s the main reason why Lake Oswego was able to win their first state football title in the history or their program.
You really do have to tip your hat to their head coach Steve Coury, who has been up there for two decades. The feeling of getting that trophy must be very sweet for him right now.
By the same token, take nothing away from what Sheldon accomplished this year. Lane Johnson’s first season as a head coach was outstanding, and the Irish should be in a position to win a championship or two before he’s through.
Meanwhile, as high school football officially draws to a close, the Ducks got back inside the Mo Center this weekend. In case you just got back from a two week vacation from Mars, Oregon will be playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on January 2nd. It’ll be their second trip to Pasadena in the past three years, and they know they have to be ready for the Badgers.
“We’re practicing hard,” said quarterback Darron Thomas. “We’ve got a big game coming up soon. I think we’ve got a little more spark to us this time and we want to come out with a victory.”
A lot has been made about Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, but Oregon will also have to deal with quarterback Russell Wilson. The guy can do it with his arm and his feet.
“I think he’s a very good quarterback,” claimed safety John Boyett. “Number 16 brings a lot to the table. He’s a dual threat, very calm, and is able to make plays when his team needs them.”
While the Ducks are just starting to look at film on the Badgers, they do see a team that is just as impressive on defense as they are on offense.
“They are a hard-hitting, hard-nosed defense,” said running backs coach Gary Campbell. “They have good defensive linemen, adequate linebackers, and their defensive backs really come up and hit. So they’re physical.”
Regardless of what Wisconsin might or might not have, Oregon wants to take it to the next level in this matchup. After losing their last two BCS Bowls, the Pac-12 champions want to end this season on a winning note.
“A loss doesn’t diminish what happened this year,” Campbell explained. “But it takes the true climax away from the whole deal. Getting a bowl like this is important to us, but we want to win when we get there. That’s the next step.”
Moving on to the hardwood, the Oregon men’s basketball team edged Fresno State 74-70 last night at Matt Knight Arena. It was an awesome debut for guard Devoe Joseph, who transferred from Minnesota last season. He led the Ducks with 18 points, including three three-point shots. All in all, not a bad first night for the 6’4 senior from Pickering, Ontario.
“I was very anxious to play,” said Joseph of his performance. “It was a little awkward at first, but then I played the way I like to play. That is, I played with a lot of energy and just got after it.”
The victory propelled Oregon’s overall record to 5-2. Still, it wasn’t an entirely pretty game for the Ducks. They turned the ball over 16 times, and head coach Dana Altman believes there are some things to clean up, especially before Pac-12 play begins later this month.
“We took a took a step in the right direction tonight,” explained Altman. “Devoe hit some big shots, and gave us some breathing room. We beat them on the boards by six (34-28), and that’s a good stat. But when you look at the second chance points, they beat us 26-14. That’s something we’ve got to get turned around.”
Oregon can continue to sharpen their game on Monday night when they play Portland State, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of improvements are made between now and late December.
It’ll also be intriguing to see how the Portland Trailblazers fare without the services of Brandon Roy. Their franchise player was forced to retire at the age of 27 due to his degenerative knees.
That’s a very unfortunate development. Roy wasn’t only one of the better players in the NBA the past few years, but one of the classiest. The guy was always fun to watch, and he will definitely be missed.
I’d like to say more, but I’m once again hearing the aching sounds of a certain Christmas song. Time to grab my chipmunk mallet.
Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.
— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
We’ll get to what I usually start off with in a minute, but first, I’d like to take a moment to applaud Sheldon’s football season thus far. The Irish will be playing for the 6A state championship on Saturday in Portland. If they win, it’ll be their fourth title in the past 10
Lane Johnson has done a remarkable job in his first year as head coach, but it is the players who make the team go. Connor Strahm is a force to be reckoned with as a receiver, or a linebacker. Strahm has 11 touchdowns on the season with 1083 total yards, 90 of those being passing yards. It runs in the family, both of his parents were All-Americans in their day. Many would say that he’s the MVP for the Irish.
Quarterback Dillon Miller hasn’t done too shabby either with 2414 passing yards (1.37 miles) and 27 touchdowns. In his case, it also runs in the family. His father, Chris, was a standout at Sheldon himself before becoming one of the better signal callers in Oregon history.
Still, it won’t be a breeze this weekend. They’ll be facing Lake Oswego, which is probably the best high school football team that hasn’t won a championship. The Lakers have come close to doing so in recent years, and would love to take the title at Sheldon’s expense. We shall see.
Now then, earlier this week, University of Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris was dismissed from the football program. Apparently the talented yet troubled junior had been caught with a small amount of marijuana during Thanksgiving weekend in Fresno, California. It was just one of many incidents you could add to Harris’ naughty list. We all know about the driving with a suspended license at a very dangerous speed. That’s what prompted the initial suspension for the opening game against LSU. Certainly Harris didn’t help himself by getting pulled over without a valid license again over a month ago (resulting in a second suspension).
However, it probably wasn’t his questionable driving habits that drew the bulk of the ire from the Ducks’ coaching staff. Harris had a history of skipping team meetings and not attending classes. (The latter is a huge no-no for a student athlete). He was also known for not giving it his best effort in practices, particularly after head coach Chip Kelly didn’t put him back into the starting lineup after his brief reinstatement this season.
We could go on and on about why and how Harris got himself in hot water, but he’s no longer Oregon’s problem. Having said that, some of you probably think I’m happy about the recent removal because I wrote a column calling for the two sides to part ways, got some hate mail over that one.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I take zero satisfaction from Harris’ demise. The guy has been blessed with an abundance of athletic talents, and when he has his head on straight, can be a very fun player to watch. It is tragic to see someone with so many gifts throw them in the garbage can. When he first came to Oregon, he told his fellow defensive backs that he was going to “lock this ‘stuff (ahem)’ down.” Now, for his own sake, Harris needs to lock his own stuff down.
I honestly hope that Harris can get his life together. Odds are he’ll turn pro a year early. I think that’s a mistake because it’s clear he’s got a lot of growing up to do. If it was up to me, I’d tell him to find another school and use that as a place to prove himself. Whatever he decides, I wish him well, and will be the first to salute him if he succeeds.
Would you like to know who I won’t salute? Brett Favre. Just when I thought I had heard his name for the last time (before he goes to Canton), Brett Favre found a way to get back in the news again. The rumors swirled that the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears were interested in signing the “retired” NFL quarterback this past week. Both teams vehemently denied the reports, and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
But Favre is claiming he’s enjoying his time away from the game and is done for good this time. If you believe that one, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Junction City to sell. Trust me, if Favre were to get an offer, the 42-year-old prima donna would be back tomorrow. The guy loves to create drama for the sake of drama too much. Then again, maybe his coming back wouldn’t be such a bad thing. He’d get knocked around even harder than before, and we know how everyone loves watching a train wreck. Perhaps that is what is needed for Favre to finally get lost and stay lost. Time will tell.
One more NFL note before I wrap this one up. A lot is being made of the Tim Tebow phenomenon. I’m not going to take a side on whether he’s the real deal or not. Clearly, he’s helping the Denver Broncos win games at the moment, but it could be premature to start comparing him to John Elway. (That debate can be had in another year or two.) With that statement out of the way, am I the only one who thinks that there’s more to Denver’s late season surge than Tebow himself? The Broncos have been playing great defense all year, and that’s one reason Tebow has been in a position to pull out those comebacks. But what do I know?
It’s been another interesting week on the sporting front and we should all look forward to the next one. Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.