Bellotti shared his thoughts regarding the 27 high school seniors and two junior college transfers in front of news media in the Casanova Center that appeared to focus on an emphasis of, toughness, size and speed, as well as a commitment to improve the program and rebound from last year’s 7-5 season.
Wednesday marked the first day that prospective athletes could sign binding national letters of intent, ending months of verbal commitments and speculation, and Bellotti had reason to be pleased.
Among the group highlighted by the signing of six defensive linemen, five defensive backs, five linebackers, four offensive linemen and four wide receivers were 12 players who received “four stars” from various recruiting services, eight prep All-Americans, five players who among the top two prospects in their home states, and a pair of junior college honorees.
“I am very, very pleased with the efforts of our football program to help get better in recruiting,” Bellotti expressed..” I challenged everybody involved in this program – coaches and players – to go out and help us recruit the very best athletes. I thought we did a great job.”
Needs to shore up the defense, particularly in terms of quality and quantity, were one of Bellotti’s priorities heading into the recruiting season and he was confident the Ducks did just that.
“We talked about needing defensive linemen – we were down numbers there – and felt like we needed an infusion of talent and numbers to compete with the kids we have here, along with losing two starting linebackers and being down numbers in the secondary,” Bellotti confessed. “So the entire defensive side of the ball needed an influx of talent and bodies and I think we got talented bodies so that’s good.
“We didn’t set out to get a big offensive line group but I think that offensive line group and the defensive line group are as good as any in the nation,” according to the Ducks’ 13th -year coach. “Linebacker was another big thing for us in terms of needing quality recruits - people that can step in a play early - and then finally defensive back and wide receivers were target areas.”
Junior college defensive lineman Will Tukuafu (6-3, 285) is one player expected to provide some immediate relief and is one of three players who will be on hand when Oregon opens spring practice the first week of April. The others are Denver, Colo., wide receiver Drew Davis (6-2, 202) and offensive lineman Mark Asper (6-6, 269). Tukuafu already is attending classes at Oregon during the winter term, Asper is completing his LDS mission and will enroll in time for the start of spring term and Davis has graduated early from high school and also will join the Ducks in the spring.
Oregon signed three in-state players – the most notable being defensive tackle Myles Wade (6-2, 314) from Portland’s Central Catholic High School. Wade was one of two future Ducks who played in the U.S. Army All-America Bowl in San Antonio, Texas in January, along with fellow defensive lineman Simi Fili (6-4, 340). The remaining two Oregonians to sign with the Ducks are Bonanza tight end/linebacker John Laidet (6-5, 225) and Eugene wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad (5-10, 172).
While some may be surprised in terms of the apparent recruiting success Oregon enjoyed in light of a disappointing finish to last year’s season, Bellotti theorized that part of the rationale may be because players may be narrowing their choices of schools to consider earlier than before.
“I don’t think any of what we actually did in recruiting was different,” Bellotti explained. “We had 14 commits prior to the season starting. We’ve never had more than one before. What we did this year was based a lot on what happened the year before and the momentum of what we carried into this season.What we did was put forth more effort. Recruiting is a people skill, it’s a communication skill. It seems to me that recruiting is a two-year cycle, you don’t get immediate gratification. At this level, it’s based on what happened two years ago. People make a lot of decisions about where they’re going to go as a junior.
“As I’ve said many times, this is a long-term process and we’re in it for the long run,” Oregon’s head coach added. “I think that the decision for a young man about where he goes to school shouldn’t be based on one game – probably not one season. It should be more based on the fit that can be created for that person – their ultimate academic goals and athletic goals and then just the overall atmosphere that they’re looking for.”
To help improve their kicking game – with the Ducks needing to break in a new punter and place kicker – Oregon added prep placements specialist Daniel Padilla (who was coached by former Oregon place kicker Nathan Villegas) and announced that former walk-on Josh Syria had been placed on scholarship.
Below is a sampling of some of the comments that Bellotti offered in regards to specific recruits:
"Is one of the strongest players we’ve ever recruited – over 700-lb. squat, over 450-lb. bench press. He’s also one of the biggest guys, he’s already about 340 coming into the door.”
“Is one of the best corners on one of the best teams in the United State – Oaks Christian (CA). We’re very excited and we held off a late charge by a lot of other people and he stayed with his commitment to the Ducks.”
“I won’t say a throwback (to another era) but he’s a solid linebacker/fullback who will play linebacker for us. He’s a natural for the inside linebacker position because of his toughness.”
“Aaron Pflugrad is one of the best route-runners I’ve ever seen and I don’t say that because his dad coaches for me. He truly earned this. He’s a tremendous athlete and a tremendous team player.”
“From another great football program - Long Beach Poly. He’s one of the best football players on this list. He played primarily defensive end and was a terror who just got after quarterbacks. If he continues to grow and develop, he will stay at defensive end. He could be a linebacker at some point because he plays in space well and has the ability to rush the passer.”
“Myles Wade combines probably the best strength and speed of any of the defensive tackles in the nation.”
“Carson York was probably the No. 1 offensive lineman in the Pacific Northwest.”
“I think Terence Scott was the best JC receiver I saw on film this year . . . the most complete guy.”