Over the past few years, Oregon football has been semi-successful in taking the program to the national stage. In that time, the recruiting focus has turned to the elite prospects from every corner of the country.
In the past few weeks, Oregon has received 2011 verbal commitments from players in Arizona, Florida, and Texas.
While the future contributions of these players are still unknown, it is very evident that Oregon is slowly turning away from the goldmine of California and the hidden gems of the Northwest.
The time is perfect for Oregon to focus on southern California with the potential demise of USC, the inconsistency of UCLA, and the rising attention given to Oregon football.
In counterpoint, recently the Ducks have landed Oregonians Curtis White, Keanan Lowe, and Tyson Coleman. With the return of prominence by Cal and the Huskies, the Ducks have missed out on some of the recent talent in the state of Washington and northern California.
The shift of recruiting attention is due to the confident attitude of Chip Kelly. A New England transplant, Kelly is great for the program. He brings optimism, a swagger, and a fast-thinking mentality that is certainly in the minority for Eugene.
Former coach Mike Bellotti held extensive ties to California, carried a quiet calmness, and raised his family in the Eugene area. Contrasting in character and goals of a program, neither coach can be criticized for the personalities they brought to the program.
While the talent level may be rising, the connection between players and the community is growing apart.
Eugene is rightly classified as a Northwest stereotype city; a liberal young core surrounded by conservative outlying areas sharing an interest in the outdoors, culture, and stress-free living.
The football program's goals of becoming the most modern, attractive, talented team in the country is a far cry from the views of the Eugene community. Great for the football fanbase, it often is a far cry from the views of area.
As the program has gained respectability, the support of a bandwagon fanbase has shifted from connecting with the athletes to a "win at any cost mentality."
The diehard fan can only see talent and victories, but your average Oregon football follower places an equal amount of emphasis on the perception and maturity of the student athlete.
The college personalities that fit well in Eugene, usually hail from Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Colorado, and Wyoming. Recently Duck coaches have brought in high profile recruits from Texas, Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona that have never experienced anything quite like Eugene.
In some cases the fit is perfect, for others the transition never takes place.
Many Oregon alums have enjoyed the community enough to make Eugene their home. Reggie Jordan, Rich Ruhl, Dino Philyaw, and countless others have embraced the personalities of the southern Willamette Valley.
A joke for years, there is great reason behind the saying "The University of California in Eugene." Every year an abundance of non-athletic California teenagers move up north to become Ducks.
The foundation of modern Oregon football was built using California recruits sprinkled with a few from Oregon, Washington, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii, and Colorado.
There has been success recruiting at the national level for the Ducks. Florida native
LaGarrette Blount for a season, Blair Phillips as a senior, LaMichael James as a freshman, and current Buffalo BillJairus Byrd.
Oregon fans can't forget the disappointments of four star recruit Ryan Gillham from Florida, the dismissed Garrett Embry, the departed Chris Harper, current Montana Griz Justin Roper, and the ineligible Tyrece Gaines.
Think of the lost time and energy given to the rejections of Bryce Brown, Terrelle Pryor, Dominique Easley, and Tajh Boyd over the past few years? All these pursuits simply gave Oregon fans a false sense of finally becoming a national powerhouse program.
Once again, this program was built over the past 15 years on West Coast recruits. West Coast student athletes have always been the major connection between the fans and players.
The only true downside of recruiting nationally is the potential to lose a community's connection with the football program, and not to mention the lost time and effort from pursuing these national recruits.
Failing to not mention the other side of the argument would be unfair. West Coast recruits have been disappointments, many have transferred, been suspended, and gave the program negative media and community attention.
Most prep athletes east of the Rockies have only took notice of Oregon football over the past few years. In contrast, West Coast recruits grow up in Pac-10 country, and have viewed the Ducks as a respected program for over a decade.
When Oregon lands these players from the likes of the Midwest, South, and East, they are adjusting to college life, high expectations, and a tight knit community.
Predicting the success of a prep recruit is an art that will never be perfected. Much like the rest of our West Coast nation, I believe a blend of winning and a connection with the community is needed to build a loyal fan base and following.
Much like growing a business, the unintended consequences are never felt until after a decision has been made.
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