By Rob Moseley
Venue: Moshofsky Center
For Cameron Hunt, making his first career start as a true freshman Saturday against Washington State was a good news, bad news scenario.
“It’s a confidence builder,” Hunt said after practice today. “But it kind of humbles you too.”
Hunt stepped in at right tackle with Jake Fisher sidelined for the game. Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood couldn’t recall the last time, if ever, he’d started a true freshman; the last one for the Ducks was Lee Gundy in 1997, when Greatwood was between stints on the staff.
Greatwood said Hunt had one notable breakdown that led to some pressure on Marcus Mariota. But, “other than that, he played pretty well. Assignments were really quite good, effort was good. It’s encouraging.”
Hunt practiced with the ones late last week, but he didn’t find out until just before kickoff Saturday he really would be starting. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound native of Corona, Calif., was supposed to rotate two series on, two series off with senior Everett Benyard, but Hunt ended up playing a bit more when Benyard was needed for some snaps at guard.
At least two short touchdown runs in the game were aided by Hunt blocks.
Had James Euscher not taken a medical retirement in late September, Greatwood acknowledged, Hunt would likely be redshirting now. But circumstances presented the freshman with an opportunity, and he was able to take advantage.
“You always hope that a kid’s going to be ready to go” when he arrives on campus, Greatwood said. “Usually reality sets in and they’re not a factor. … But the fact that he’s so physical was good, and he’s technically pretty good. And for a freshman, his understanding of the offense is very, very good.”
Hunt credits all of that in part to his coaches at Centennial High of Corona, Kunane Burns and Matt Lance. And he spent two valuable months each of the last three summers under the tutelage of Pene Talamaivao, a former Utah defensive lineman who played briefly in the NFL.
Hunt and Talamaivao’s nephew, a college-bound Centennial senior, would wake up at 4:30 a.m. for weight training and football drills.
“That really helped, building that technique,” Hunt said.
Once he arrived at Oregon over the summer, Hunt latched on to starting tackles Tyler Johnstone and Fisher. And he’s attentive in film study and practice, even if he’s not in on a particular rep, “really thinking about, ‘What would I do if we called this play or that play? What technique should I use against this guy if he uses this kind of technique?’”
It all paid off with early playing time for Hunt, and even a rare starting assignment for a true freshman against the Cougars. Even if the experience was as humbling as it was illuminating.
“I thought I knew what I was doing, but once you get in that bright spotlight, it kind of dwindles away a little bit,” Hunt said. “I’ve just got to reassure myself I know what I’m doing, and go out there and take care of it.”
Highlights: The defense continues to handle itself well in clutch scenarios, despite not having to face any in games lately. With the offense needing a touchdown late in today’s scenario, Mariota got the No. 1 unit into the red zone with a pass to Josh Huff, but the drill ended when DeForest Buckner broke through the line and Mariota threw incomplete on the run. Jeff Lockie connected with B.J. Kelley, then escaped the pocket to elude pressure from Ricky Havili-Heimuli and passed to Pharaoh Brown, who made a great catch while falling out of bounds. But the clock elapsed before the No. 2 offense could get off one last shot at scoring.
Other observations: De’Anthony Thomas mentioned to reporters after practice that he did in fact participate; hopefully you read my story from Saturday in which he said he planned to play against UCLA. Thus, I feel comfortable passing along that, yes, he was back running around out there, and yes, he looks as quick as ever. … Mariota’s inability to get the offense into the end zone late was ironic, because he was absolutely on point otherwise. He had beautiful arcing, touch passes to Daryle Hawkins, Chad Delaney and Huff over the course of the morning, all for touchdowns. … Best defensive play might have been a leaping interception by Reggie Daniels, and swooped in from behind the intended receiver on the scout team and came away with the ball.