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Relationships Key To Top-10 Class

Dec 23, 2022

EUGENE, Ore. — When Dan Lanning was named UO football coach in December 2021, he had just days to secure commitments to the recruiting class that would begin signing that month.

That the Ducks ended up signing a top-25 class despite a coaching change said something about the relationships Lanning and his staff could build in a short time. And it hinted at the quality of class this Oregon coaching staff could assemble with a full year on the job.

The results are now on paper: This week the UO football program added 30 newcomers to the roster, a class that can be enhanced during another signing period in February. At least two national scouting services rated Oregon's class among the top 10 in the country as of Friday, when the signing period ended, and the class included multiple five-star players for just the second time in the current era of national recruiting rankings.

"I think everyone sees what we're building," said Lanning, whose current roster resumes practice Saturday for the Holiday Bowl, looking for a successful end to a season that had Oregon in the thick of the College Football Playoff race until an injury to quarterback Bo Nix. "There's some players that want to be a part of something special … and they realize that you can reach all of your goals and aspirations here."

The new group of 30 recruits makes up a complete football team, right down to a placekicker, a punter and a long snapper. This class is Oregon's third in the last five years to earn consideration among the top 10 classes in the country, and for the second time in program history it includes multiple five-star prospects, in wide receiver Jurrion Dickey and defensive end Matayo Uiagalelei.

Dickey, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound native of East Palo Alto, Calif., was one of the earliest members of this signing class to commit to the Ducks. Uiagalelei, a 6-5, 265-pound edge defender from Bellflower, Calif., announced his commitment on Wednesday, when this week's signing period began — seemingly a late addition, until his father posted photos on social media showing that Uiagalelei has been an Oregon fan since childhood.

"We put a lot of attention into finding guys that obviously have elite talent but also elite character as we're building this class," Lanning said. "And we found a really connected class. We've talked about 'connection' as one of our DNA traits, and I think piecing this class together, a big part of that was really the connection we had with each family and each one of these players."

Uiagalelei's commitment was part of a dramatic finishing flourish by the Ducks to this signing period.

Wednesday began with the program receiving letters from some of the players who'd been committed to the class the longest, such as defensive backs Kodi DeCambra, Collin Gill and Tyler Turner, and defensive linemen My'Keil Gardner, Terrance Green and A'mauri Washington. The Ducks also signed a full complement of offensive linemen, and received letters early Wednesday from Bryce Boulton, Iapani Laloulu and Lipe Moala.

But then, other dominoes started to fall. Uiagalelei, one of the top uncommitted players in the nation, announced he would sign with Oregon. Defensive back Daylen Austin and running back Jayden Limar, who had been committed elsewhere, opted instead to sign with the Ducks. They followed on the heels of quarterback Austin Novosad, who announced early Wednesday that he too had reassessed his options and would sign with Oregon over other programs.

"They love competition (and) they're not afraid to be a part of a great class," Lanning said. "Some guys are concerned about, who else is going to be in the class with them and who they're gonna have to compete against. These are guys that want to go play with the best, because they know that's going to result in wins."

Novosad is a 6-3, 185-pound four-star prospect from Dripping Springs, Texas. He had an established relationship with new UO offensive coordinator Will Stein, which helped the Ducks make the case that the best decision for his future was to play in Eugene.

"The more you are around him, you realize his intelligence and his desire to be great," Lanning said of Novosad. "This guy's really hungry and I think really excited to have some great weapons around him."

The weapons around Novosad in the new recruiting class are plentiful. Along with the 5-11, 190-pound Limar, the running back room added a 6-2, 210-pound bruiser in Dante Dowdell. Dickey is joined by another long, athletic wideout in Ashton Cozart, and tight end Kenyon Sadiq is a rare combination of size and athleticism. Gernorris Wilson joined Boulton, Laloulu and Moala up front by signing Wednesday.

The strength of the class on defense was further in enhanced on the opening day of the signing period by linemen Johnny Bowens III and Tevita Pome'e, linebackers Jerry Mixon and Teitum Tuioti, edge player Jaeden Moore and defensive backs Solomon Davis and Cole Martin.

All of that talent had Oregon's class ranked as high as fifth in the country late Wednesday, by ESPN, pending developments over the next two days. By the time the signing period ended Friday, outside linebacker Blake Purchase and offensive lineman Georgia Silva — the only junior college transfer in the class — had signed with the Ducks. The class — about 15 of which plans to enroll early, Lanning said — was ranked No. 9 in the country by On3, and No. 8 by ESPN. Only twice before, in 2019 and 2021, had Oregon signed recruiting classes ranked inside the top 10 nationally by multiple scouting services.

Along with this being the first full recruiting cycle for Lanning at Oregon, is was assembled amid a national landscape shifting under the influence of the transfer portal, and opportunities by players to capitalize on their name, image and likeness. The Ducks accounted for those new factors while assembling this class. But they also fell back on the traditional bedrock of recruiting.

"I think it's great to be in a place where you can be innovative and ahead of the curve, but I think anybody that really knows college football right now knows there's a lot more to recruiting than NIL," Lanning said. "Nobody picks the place just because of those factors.

"Certainly some of those factors matter, and you want to be in a place where you can build a brand; I don't think there's anywhere in the nation that's better than Oregon when it comes to that, and being able to build a brand for yourself as a player. But it goes back to relationships, and the guys that we've been able to pull and get on our team here that's because of relationships."