Jeff Maehl: Winning With A Little Help From His Friends
By Brian Price
"Win the day" is head coach Chip Kelly's order to his Oregon Ducks. Oregon wide receiver Jeff Maehl and his teammates have taken that notion to heart.
"It's the motto we go by everyday," Maehl said. "Whether it's football or school, or whatever other walks of life there are, we approach them with a winning attitude. It's the motto that this whole program has bought into and it's really changed this program."
Maehl came to Oregon in 2007, the same year as Todd Doxey, one of the highest-rated high school wide receivers in the country. The two became friends immediately and roomed together in the dorms as freshman. But Doxey's life and career were cut tragically short when he died in a swimming accident on the McKenzie River at the age of 19.
The loss still pains Maehl and many of his Oregon teammates who knew Doxey. As the Ducks gear up to face Auburn in the national championship January 10, Maehl knows Doxey would have played a crucial role.
"He would have been a superstar," Maehl said quietly.
Maehl has a tattoo on his left forearm in honor of his friend, which reads: "In loving memory of Todd Lamar Doxey 3/4/89-7/13/08." Their friendship dictates who he is as a player today.
"The way Todd used to work everyday on the practice field, in the weight room, and in the classroom always inspired me. His work ethic and the genuine nice person he was greatly influenced me," Maehl said. "Everything I do is as much for me as it is for him," explains Maehl.
Doxey's memory lives on through what the Ducks are accomplishing this season.
Maehl has gone from having an undefined role to leading the Pac-10 in touchdown receptions with 12. Overall, Oregon leads the nation in total touchdowns with 79.
One of those touchdowns came against USC in what was one of the top plays of the year when Maehl made a leaping, diving, rolling 45-yard catch that helped lead the Ducks to a 53-32 win in Los Angeles against the Trojans. At the time, the Ducks were trailing 17-15 midway through the second quarter and were in need of a spark.
It also prompted ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit to declare that Maehl probably "has the best hands in the country."
"I don't know about the best hands in the country," Maehl said later. "But both the catch and the game were really special. Initially, I thought that I had mistimed the jump, but after watching it again the jump was necessary. I'm just glad I was able to bobble it to myself. I'm the type of guy that expects to make every catch. If I drop the ball, I'm very hard on myself."
Before Maehl was making highlight-reel catches, he was struggling to learn a position and an aspect of football that were unfamiliar to him. Maehl was recruited to Oregon as a defensive back and during his freshman year at Oregon in 2007, felt comfortable on defense, but injuries to the receiving core necessitated his switch.
"Making the transition late in the season [to wide receiver] was really hard throughout my freshman year and even into my sophomore year," Mahel said. "It took a lot of work, and I'm still working at it."
If that's what the future holds, either at Oregon or at the professional level, Maehl will certainly be exciting to watch.
In his collegiate career, Maehl has 24 touchdown receptions for Oregon. One more, and he'll set the all-time record for the program. He's also caught 169 passes for 2,178 yards, 4th and 8th respectively on the Oregon all-time record books.
"Reading defenses wasn't a problem at all for me since I came up playing defensive back. I was able to understand my opponent's schemes," Maehl said. "What I struggled with was just the little details [on offense] in and out of my breaks and the techniques of blocking, especially as a smaller player."
A crucial part of Maehl's success as a receiver has been in building a relationship with Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas. Maehl is only 6'1", but his ability to read defenders and use his speed to get open has made him a favorite target of Thomas. Maehl leads the Ducks in receptions (68) and receiving yards (943) this season.
"Darron got here in the winter of my freshman year, so he's been around just as long as I have. He's only a redshirt sophomore right now," Maehl said. "I remember when we were living in the dorms together dreaming about playing for a national championship."
Their ability to hook up for big plays wasn't an overnight process, but their bond is evident on the field.
"We're successful by knowing what to expect from each other in certain situations," Maehl said. "Coach Kelly and the staff do a great job of prepping us, but there are certain instances where an adjustment needs to be made in an instant before the ball is snapped."
A play call dictates where a receiver is going to run, but doesn't necessarily dictate how the route is to be carried out.
"There are times where I'll be running a post and depending on how the corner is playing, I'll know if I'm going to try to [get open] across his face and run shallow or over the top," explained Maehl. "Running a route isn't just about running to a certain spot. It's about reading the corner, knowing where I'm going to go and also knowing that Darron will be able to time the throw based off that read. I know, without having to look at Darron, that he sees the same thing and will know when and where to get me the ball."
On January 10, with Doxey looking over their shoulders, Maehl and Thomas will have a chance to continue this bond.
"Anticipating playing together is always something that you talk about with the guys you come up with," Maehl said. "How you can't wait to possibly play for a national championship."