by Rob Moseley
When the Oregon football team took the field to open the 2009 season, the two-deep on offensive and defense included just one player — Bo Thran — from the Portland metro area.
In recent Ducks history, that season is an outlier. But not by much. Over the past decade, the UO football team on average has had about two players from the greater Portland area in the two-deep to start a season.
Coming into 2013, the PDX Ducks are looking to buck that trend in a major way. The roster includes not only projected starters Taylor Hart of Tualatin and Colt Lyerla of Hillsboro, but perhaps six or seven others who could dot the two-deep against Nicholls on Aug. 31.
"People always joke around and say this is the University of California at Eugene," linebacker Tyson Coleman said of the old joke about the Ducks' primary recruiting base. "But now that there's more Oregon guys here, it's a good feeling."
Coleman, of Lake Oswego, is one of several other Portland-area players who figure to open this season with prominent roles for the Ducks. Wide receiver Keanon Lowe and nose guard Alex Balducci of Portland are virtual locks, while linebacker Brett Bafaro of Hillsboro and safety Ben Butterfield of Sherwood could play significant roles on special teams.
Two former Aloha High teammates, offensive lineman James Euscher and running back Thomas Tyner, have a chance to make noise in 2013 despite their youth. And among the candidates to back up right tackle Jake Fisher are two tough walk-ons, Matt Pierson of West Linn and Brian Teague of Portland.
"Everything's cyclical," said UO offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, who has been the Ducks' primary in-state recruiter at times during his career. "Oregon hasn't been a talent-rich state, but the top-flight kids are as good as anywhere in the nation.
"I think we've done a good job from a homework standpoint of, whether it's an Oregon kid or not, of choosing the right kid. And it just so happens we've got some kids that have stayed with the program, worked hard, and hopefully it will pay off for them."
Greatwood has been a primary beneficiary of the Portland-area talent. Along with Euscher, Pierson and Teague, he added true freshmen Doug Brenner of Portland and Evan Voeller of West Linn to his group this fall.
Greatwood doesn't see this as a case of more and better talent emerging from Portland, but simply a confluence of events — the Ducks recruiting the right guys, and most all of them embracing the chance to get better by putting in work. Lowe, the junior receiver who helped Jesuit High reach the 2009 state championship game, agreed.
"The guys from the Portland metro area, I just think we have a good group from up there right now," Lowe said. "Oregon is a huge program right now, in the national spotlight, and of course this is our home state. So I think you've got a bunch of Portland guys that are proud of that fact, and working hard because of that."
Balducci, who helped Central Catholic High reach the state semifinals in 2011, credited the coaching in the Portland area.
"You can see that more coaches are trying to get kids with talent to upper levels," Balducci said. "Instead of being complacent, they're trying to make kids better."
And, Coleman said, those players who do excel are getting more attention. Coleman said the proliferation of recruiting news coverage has helped, as has the presence of some truly elite recruits in recent years, players pursued by all the biggest schools in the country.
"Back in the day there were a bunch of good players, but nobody knew about them," said Coleman, a state semifinalist with Lake Oswego in 2010. "But big-time guys like (Lyerla) and (Tyner) and (Cal linebacker) Brennan Scarlett, those guys help get more attention to the state."
That Oregon boasts so many in-state players, and particularly from the Portland area, is a point of pride for those Ducks — to an extent.
"We're closer to home, but also it's where we're from," Hart said. "But the deal is, this is our team. It doesn't matter where you're from. We're Oregon."
To see the Portland-area Ducks and the rest of the No. 3 Oregon football team in action, click here to buy seats to the opener against Nicholls for just $34.