Jim Leavitt

LB Justin Hollins ready to "cut loose" in Leavitt's 3-4 defense

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USA Today

LB Justin Hollins ready to "cut loose" in Leavitt's 3-4 defense

EUGENE - When Oregon announced that Jim Leavitt would be the new defensive coordinator last December, the first thought that ran through Justin Hollins' mind was, "what type of defense does Leavitt run?"

When Hollins discovered that Leavitt's scheme of choice is the 3-4 , the next thought that went through the redshirt junior's head was, "what position will I play?"

“I was praying that they would move me (to outside linebacker)," said Hollins, who played defensive end in Oregon's 4-3 defense in 2016. "I can’t do that defensive end thing, in the 3-4 especially.”

Leavitt eased those concerns with a single phone call.

“I got that call and he said I would be playing outside linebacker and I was real thankful,” Hollins said. 

To put it mildly, Hollins didn't much appreciate his lot in life on the Ducks in 2016. No player on Oregon's team, and maybe in the Pac-12, played more out of position than Hollins, a 6-5, 238-pound athletic marvel who fits the mold of former Oregon standout hybrid 3-4 linebackers/ends Dion Jordon and Christian French. 

Hollins was recruited in 2014 to fit that mold. But when Oregon moved to the 4-3 defense in 2016, Hollins found himself at defensive end. He held his own with 51 tackles (27 solo) and finished second on the team with 9 1/2 tackles for loss and had three sacks. But he certainly ran into trouble when battling 290-plus pound offensive linemen. 

“It was hard,” Hollins said bluntly. “It was hard being a little undersized. But I got after it and did what I had to do.”

Playing defensive end in the 3-4, built for 280-plus pound defensive linemen, would have been even more difficult for Hollins. 

"I can't do that," he said. 

He won't have to. Instead, Hollins will be turned loose on the outside where his athletic ability should make him a devestating pass rusher as well as strong in pass coverage.

"He's looking good," UO coach Willie Taggart said. "He's a playmaker. We've got to know where he's at at all times. I've been really impressed with him."

Oregon's defense ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (246.5 yards per game) last year because the front seven offered little resistance. 

Even though Hollins, slowed by injury during spring drills, will move to outside linebacker, he still must improve against the run. Outside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie said the last thing he wants to do is allow a linebacker with pass rushing skills to ignore developing the skills needed to play well against the run. 

Woodie, who said Hollins is contending for a starting spot on a fluid depth chart, must play the run first to avoid getting out of position and allowing free running lanes.

"We're teaching him to play the run because we know he has some pass rushing ability," Woodie said. "If he gets that down, he's going to be a force."

Whether it's filling against the run, setting the edge, pass rushing or dropping into coverage, Hollins is simply happy to be playin the position he was meant to play. 

“I’m very excited about that," Hollins said. "I finally get to cut loose a little bit. Have fun with it again."

Leavitt and Oregon's defense will be judged by stats, not wins

Leavitt and Oregon's defense will be judged by stats, not wins

EUGENE - Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is clearly growing tired of being reminded about just how bad the Ducks' defense was the previous two seasons. 

"I don't think about the past," he said. "I'm just trying to get through the day."

Each time the subject of the recent past is brought up, Leavitt reminds anyone within earshot that he doesn't concern himself with what happened before his arrival. He also doesn't want to judge this year's defense by how it compares statistically to the debacles of 2015 (115th in the nation) and 2016 (128th in the nation). 

"Wins," Leavitt said when asked how he would measure his first season with Oregon. "If we play good enough defense to win, get the ball back to our offense. Our offense has a lot of weapons. We need to keep getting the ball back to those guys and let them perform magic."

It's a nice sentiment, but Leavitt's incorrect. He will most certainly be judged by the statistical improvement of the defense, and nothing else. He is being paid $1.125 million per year not to simply help Oregon win games but to build a monster on defense so the Ducks and new coach Willie Taggart can win a national title. 

Don Pellum's defense helped UO win a ton of games in 2014 when Oregon went 13-2 and reached the national title game with quarterback Marcus Mariota and a defense that allowed 23.6 points per game. Leavitt's Colorado defense allowed 21.7 points per game last season, leading to his fat contract with Oregon. 

Oregon won nine games in 2015 - the Ducks would have won at least two more had quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. not been injured - and Pellum got demoted. Why? Because the defense allowed 37.5 points per game. 

The entire coaching staff got fired after last year's 4-8 season, which would have been 8-4 if not for a defense that allowed 41.4 points per game under defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, who wasn't to blame for a unit void of impact talent.

Now, here we are. 

Leavitt took Colorado's defense - loaded mostly with already developing talent he didn't recruit - and got them to improve tremendously in his two seasons there. He should be given ample time to do the same with Oregon, but he most certainly will be judged by his side of the ball's statistical growth. There's no way around that. 

The hype surrounding Leavitt, and the disrespect shown Hoke by many Oregon fans, members of the media covering the team and indirectly by university president Michael H. Schill during Taggart's introduction, mean that the energetic 59-year-old is expected to work miracles. 

If Oregon goes 10-2 but can't get over the hump nationally because the defense is allowing 37 points per game, that will fall on Leavitt while the 10 wins won't matter much. 

It's tough to put a number on what exactly Oregon's defense should look like in Leavitt's first season. But it's fair to expect no more than 33 points allowed per game and a total defensive ranking south of 85. 

If not, Leavitt owes Oregon a partial refund. 

 

Jim Leavitt Part 3: Players respond well to Leavitt, but is there enough talent?

Jim Leavitt Part 3: Players respond well to Leavitt, but is there enough talent?

This is Part 3 of a three-part series on new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt based on an extensive interview conducted for Talkin' Ducks, which first aired on Wednesday and will re-air several times in the coming week. Ducks begin fall camp on Monday. 

Part 1: Enamored with state's beauty, Ducks' program

Part 2 - With big money comes big expectations

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EUGENE - New Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt doesn't want to hear about the talent the Ducks don't have on defense following a season that saw that side of the ball rank No. 128 in the nation. As far as he is concerned, UO has enough gifted athletes to become formidable right away. 

“There are no excuses,” Leavitt said during a television interview with CSN.  “I donʼt want to hear excuses. 'We donʼt have this and we donʼt have that.' We have plenty. We donʼt have to wait to recruit for two years and all that, weʼll take the guys we got right now and roll. Weʼll go to bat with those guys."

Leavitt has been paid $1.125 million per year to turn around the Ducks' defense after he did a dramatic job of whipping Colorado's into shape the previous two seasons. The Buffaloes went from allowing more than 30 points per game before Leavitt arrived to 27.5 with him in 2015 and then last year giving up just 21.7, third fewest in the conference.

That rapid rise influenced Oregon to make Leavitt the highest paid assistant in the Pac-12. Colorado had no chance of keeping him. 

"We weren't able to match the money that Oregon paid him," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said last week during Pac-12 Media Days in Hollywood, Calif. "When he told me how much he was making, I said: 'Why are you even sitting here? Move on.'  I hated to lose him."

Yet, Colorado believes it will be just fine without him. MacIntyre said Colorado will run the same schemes under new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.  It's a scheme MacIntyre installed in 2014 when a bunch of sophomores were anchoring the defense. By the time Leavitt had things in order in 2016, the team had nine starting seniors. 

So, was Leavitt's success at Colorado about him, the scheme or the personnel?

"Well, we had very good talent," McIntyre said. "I remember when I was telling coach Leavitt about coming to Colorado, I told him about all those sophomores we had that would be juniors, and then he would be able to work with them and mold them. Then they ended up being seniors. We got better and better, so that was a big part of it. He did an excellent job, there's no doubt."

Oregon is hoping that Leavitt will make all of the difference. But he can't scheme his way to success. He is going to need the talent to get it done. Right now, the Ducks don't have much in the way of proven talent on defense. Of course, that could change overnight. 

Leavitt exited spring practices "encouraged" by what he saw on the field. Encouraged, he said, because of the ability his players displayed. The group only needs to come together in unison. 

"I always tell a group of guys that ‘we donʼt have any stars,'" Leavitt said. "'Itʼs not about that. But together we can be a star, and thatʼs the only way itʼs going to happen.ʼ If we donʼt play that way and weʼre not fundamentally sound and we donʼt play with great discipline and we donʼt line up right and do all the things that weʼre supposed to do, then weʼre not going to be very good. And thatʼs something I believe very strongly that weʼll do."

Leavitt didn’t watch much Oregon game video from last season. He said he didn’t want to evaluate players playing in the 4-3 when he was putting in a 3-4.

“Quite honestly, it didnʼt matter to me," Leavitt said. "We were going to build a completely different defense. I wanted to come in and evaluate them through spring, through winter conditioning, and I told them that. I said, ‘Iʼll evaluate you based on what you are now.’”

So, does Oregon have the talent for a quick turnaround? Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye is the only returning impact player from last season. Everyone else on the roster was marginal to mediocre.

That said, senior defensive end Henry Mondeaux played much better football in 2015 than he did last season. Transfer defensive end Scott Pagano certainly played well the past few seasons at Clemson. Senior cornerback Arrion Springs, one would think, is ready to put it all together and enters fall as the team’s top corner.

So, there are some pieces in place. And for all anyone knows, there could be many more gems ready to flourish in 2017. 

“We've got to take the guys we have right now and got to get them to do what we want them to do in our scheme and I think we got some guys that can do it,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt would like to return to being a head coach before he retires. His last stint at South Florida – where he built the program from the ground up – ended after he was accused of assaulting a player. Leavitt denied the accusations but ultimately lost his job.

He said he’s received other head coaching offers since but not in the Power Five or the NFL, where he would like to be.

But if it doesnʼt happen, then Iʼm ecstatic about being here, and hope to be here a very long time,” Leavitt said. “To do that you got to build a great defense. So I donʼt really think about it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesnʼt, it doesnʼt. Again, I canʼt control those things. All I can do is try to get our defense to practice well each day and play great in games.”

Taggart has lofty expectations for Fat_Mac34

Taggart has lofty expectations for Fat_Mac34

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Get ready for Fat_Mac34. He's coming to Autzen Stadium this fall, and he's coming strong. 

Fat_Mac34 is the Twitter handle for Oregon freshman nose tackle Jordon Scott. Although, he is no longer carrying as much excess weight as his handle would suggest and that has the Ducks buzzing. Scott made such an impression during spring drills that UO coach Willie Taggart is predicting big things for him before he's ever played a down of college football. 

"I'll be shocked if he's not all-freshman Pac-12," Taggart said Thursday during Pac-12 Media days. 

One of the biggest (pun intended) mysteries surrounding the 2017 Oregon football team is the 6-foot-1, 335-pound Scott, a relatively unheralded three-star recruit out of Largo, Fla., who enrolled early at UO and is listed as the starter on its preseason depth chart, according to Taggart. 

The Ducks, 4-8 last season, could need Scott to play at near an all-conference level as the No. 1 nose tackle. Improvement of Oregon's defense, which ranked 128th in the country last season, will require a dramatic rise in performance from at least 10 out of 11 positions on the field with sophomore linebacker Troy Dye being the lone returning defender that actually played consistently well in 2016.

The Ducks were softest last year up the middle, where opposing teams ran wild against Oregon's 4-3 defense. Now in the 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, finding a nose tackle has been of the highest priority.

Last year's starting defensive tackles won't be available. Austin Maloata was dismissed from the team by former coach Mark Helfrich following an arrest. Junior Rex Manu will miss the upcoming season because of an injury suffered during a car accident. 

Those situations left redshirt sophomore Gary Baker as the favorite to start inside. That was, until Scott arrived and began turning heads with his power, quickness, tenacity, energy, work ethic, and infectious personality. 

"He has had an impact on our entire team," Dye said. 

Scott reportedly received a scholarship offer from Florida before the Gators pulled it back because of Scott's inability to keep his weight down. He arrived at Oregon a hefty 357 pounds but has since gotten down to 333, Taggart said. Scott is listed at 335 on the GoDucks.com roster. Taggart said he wants to see Scott's weight drop to 325.

Taggart said Scott performed all of the running tests players go through prior to fall camp, which begins Monday, and obviously did his work over the summer. 

"He's a guy that likes to eat," Taggart said. "But he stuck to it."

Leavitt last winter, Taggart said, had doubts about Scott's ability to play in the Pac-12. But once Leavitt saw him on the field, that impression changed. 

"He's making Leavitt a believer," Taggart said. 

Last spring, Leavitt praised Scott's abilities and predicted that he certainly would have an impact this fall. 

“Heʼs a very explosive guy and he has great character and he has great demeanor,” Leavitt told CSN in May. “And he has great confidence and knows what he wants. He knows what he wants to do in life, and those qualities are very, very important.”

Taggart predicts that Scott will give opposing interior offensive linemen fits. 

"It's the perfect system for him," Taggart said. "It helps that he is short and he's strong. It's gong to be tough to get up underneath him. You're going to have to double team him."

Taggart has said since day 1 at Oregon that he is looking for players who love the game. Scott, Taggart said, fits that mold and it shows in his motor. 

"The thing that makes him special is how he runs to the football," Taggart said. "Not many kids, especially young guys, are running to the ball. They get blocked and stay blocked. But he is running. You look at the film and the big boy is going."

Figure that Scott and Baker could split playing time almost equally while Scott adjusts to the college level. Being the starter doesn't automatically mean he is ready to handle veteran offensive linemen within the Pac-12 for 50 plays a game. He most certainly, as a freshman, still needs to add strength and stamina to hold up at this level. 

Scott's primary job will be to control the middle, occupy blockers and allow the inside linebackers to make plays. But if Scott is what Taggart believes he will be, then expect to see Scott to get plenty of backfield penetration, and force ballcarriers running outside to be on the lockout for Fat_Mac34 in pursuit.  

"I feel sorry for any running back that's cutting back and don't see him," Taggart said. "That's going to be ugly."

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 7 - NT Gary Baker

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 7 - NT Gary Baker

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

Updated: Information added regarding Rex Manu being done for the season.

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No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

The middle of UO's defense needs to be completely remade if Oregon is to improve at all on that side of the ball and while freshman Jordon Scott has a chance to contribute the Ducks must receive increased production from Gary Baker. 

The 6-foot-4, 306-pound Baker was set to compete with junior Rex Manu and others for the starting job. Now Baker appears to be the frontrunner to start after Manu was ruled out for the season with an injury he suffered during a car accident in April.

Baker was thrust into action earlier than expected last year after the middle of the 4-3 defense fell to pieces for a variety of reasons. Baker started four games and had a career-high five tackles at USC. He finished the season with 14 tackles in seven games.

The development of Baker would make life a lot easier for the Ducks' defense. Scott won't be ready to carry a heavy workload as a freshman. Clemson transfer Scott Pagano would be best served playing at defensive end opposite senior Henry Mondeaux. But, if needed, Pagano could play inside and likely will on obvious passing downs, as he did for the Tigers. 

Getting production from Baker inside could allow the rest of the defensive line dominos to fall into place. 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 6 - LB La'Mar Winston Jr.

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 6 - LB La'Mar Winston Jr.

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston Jr

The Ducks need a young linebacker other than Troy Dye to emerge and Winston could very well be that guy. 

Dye has been moved to inside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's 3-4 scheme after last season being that side of the ball's only impact player while operating at outside linebacker in the 4-3.

Dye's move inside likely means that senior Jimmie Swain will move outside while fellow senior A.J. Hotchkins remains inside. That still leaves one outside linebacker spot unaccounted for and Winston, a four-star recruit in 2016, could be the guy to fill that role. 

Winston, out of Portland's Central Catholic High School, appeared in 11 games last year, mostly on special teams, and had five tackles. Even if he doesn't become a starter in 2017, the Ducks could certainly benefit from him developing into a quality backup capable of starting in the future. 

There is some urgency for Winston to develop rapidly or potentially get left behind. The Ducks have signed some quality linebacker recruits and have received commitments from potential stars at the position for the 2018 class.  

Winston is every bit as talented as those on their way to Eugene. Rivals.com rated him in 2016 as the No. 8 athlete in the nation, which should foreshadow success. The time for that to happen is now. 

 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

Jim Leavitt Part 2: With big money comes great expectations

Jim Leavitt Part 2: With big money comes great expectations

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt based on an extensive interview conducted for Talkin' Ducks, which first aired on Wednesday and will re-air several times in the coming week. 

Part 1: Enamored with state's beauty, Ducks' program

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EUGENE - After two seasons of horrible Oregon defense the Ducks finally decided to ante up and hire a big-time, proven defensive coordinator. 

Jim Leavitt received a king's ransom of $1.125 million per year to rebuild the defense. That's more than the combined salaries of his two predecessors, Brady Hoke ($700,000) and Don Pellum ($400,000).

Such a high price tag will result in even higher expectations. Maybe unattainable expectations. Leavitt said he isn't phased by the pressure that comes with the hefty paycheck. Oregon, he said, has had great defenses in the past before falling on hard times. Now it's his opportunity to help lift the defense out of the basement and back to where it belongs. 

"All that tells me is there's an opportunity for greatness," he said. "I know if we build a great defense here and we get the ball back to our offense, weʼre going to win a bunch of games. If we donʼt, we wonʼt. And I like that. That fires me up."

Over the past few seasons, the defenses for Oregon and Colorado passed each other along the Pac-12 scoring defenses list as the Ducks plummeted while Colorado went on a dramatic rise. 

Nick Aliotti had mostly great success at the defensive coordinator for more than two decades at Oregon. Pellum took over in 2014 and produced a strong defense that allowed 23.6 points per game to help UO reach the national title game. That same season, Colorado allowed 39 points per game, 11th in the conference.

Oregon's defense fell to 115th in the nation the following year while allowing 37.5 points per game, last in the Pac-12. That same year, Colorado hired Leavitt and jumped to sixth in the conference at 27.5 points allowed per game.

Pellum was demoted back to linebackers coach in 2016 leading to the hiring of Hoke, who had never before been a defensive coordinator at the college level, and paid him well to rebuild the defense. However, the Ducks fell to 128th in the nation in total defense and allowed a whopping 41.4 points per game (11th in the Pac-12).

Over in Boulder, Col., Leavitt had the Buffaloes' defense humming while allowing just 21.7 points per game, third fewest in the conference.

To be fair, Hoke was not entirely to blame for last season's defensive debacle that greatly contributed to the team's 4-8 record and the firing of coach Mark Helfrich. Oregon had an extremely young defense that Hoke didn't recruit. Still, he became the lightning rod for detractors. Now, those same folks are hailing Leavitt as the savior primarily because he had one wildly successful season at Colorado. 

Colorado's 2016 defense was loaded with experienced senior starters, many of which were in their third year as contributors. Leavitt hopes to take the same trek with Oregon's defense. 

"You know, just like at Colorado, there was deficiencies, different places in the defense, and itʼs a little bit different than here," he said. "We might be stronger at some things whereas Colorado may have been stronger in others. But you know, Colorado wasnʼt very good. They were 120th in the country and thatʼs not real strong and even after the first year we got to 70th in the country. Everybody thought we were doing all these great things but 70th isnʼt very good, and I wasnʼt real happy with that."

Oregon fans would probably be over the moon if the Ducks' defense reached the 70s range in Leavitt's first season. But Leavitt said he won't approach this year worrying about statistics. 

"I donʼt really want to put that ceiling on it," he said. "Why canʼt we do great things? I think it comes down to leadership in our defense, you know obviously you want to stay healthy, you know itʼs important. Weʼve got to put them into a position where they can be successful."

For that to happen, the Ducks must improve their overall communication. Player to player. Coach to player. Coach to coach. All areas were deficient last season. 

"Whatever happened last year happened last year," Leavitt said. "I donʼt know if they communicated well or not, I donʼt really care. Bottom line is you have to communicate. In our system it is very, very important and we made a big point about that. We got to have guys who are great communicators, who understand concepts and deliver the right language to get people lined up in the right positions. And Iʼm going to have a hard time playing guys who arenʼt good at doing that, who arenʼt good communicators. Sometimes Iʼll have guys back there playing that might not be as athletic as other guys, but they can line everybody up and they have great passion for what theyʼre doing."

As for staff communication, Leavitt doesn't foresee a problem. New coach Willie Taggart sought to hire a staff devoid of egos. 

"And all of them are pros," Leavitt said. "Everybody on this staff is confident in what they do or they wouldnʼt be here. They understand their position very well, but they also understand we've got to do it together."

All is glorious right now with UO football. Recruiting is going well. The staff is displaying great enthusiasm and energy. The players appear to be responding. But the Ducks are 0-0 under Taggart. The real test for Leavitt and the staff will come when things go south, which they inevitably will to some capacity. 

"Well, donʼt lose. If we donʼt we don't have to worry about it right?" Leavitt said. "Of course you know Iʼve been in a lot of situations from the NFL and every level in college and everybodyʼs going to love you when you win, and if you donʼt win, youʼll hang in there for a bit but not long. You canʼt get distracted about those kind of things. The way to win is you play good football. The way you play good football is you teach fundamentals, you teach people how to play. All those things we talked about discipline, line up right, tackle, play after play after play and do that for a series of plays throughout the game, if you do that enough, youʼll win the game. If you donʼt, you wonʼt."

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Next up: Part 3 - Players respond well to Leavitt, but is there enough talent?
 

Jim Leavitt, Part 1: Enamored with state's beauty, Ducks' program

Jim Leavitt, Part 1: Enamored with state's beauty, Ducks' program

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt based on an extensive interview conducted for Talkin' Ducks, which first aired on Wednesday and will re-air several times in the coming week. 

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EUGENE - If you follow Jim Leavitt on social media, or have simply heard him speak, you already know how much he loves scenic views and tranquil areas where he can get in his daily runs.

So there should be no surprise that Leavitt has become enamored with the state of Oregon and its colorful trees, green landscapes and just the right balance of snow capped mountains and lush hillsides.

Leavitt, 60, first discovered the beauty of this state when he made his first professional trip to the Oregon as Colorado's defensive coordinator in the fall of 2015. The Buffaloes were set to play at Oregon State on Oct. 24 and the team stayed in Eugene. 

The day before the game, which Colorado won 17-13, Leavitt said he went for a run along the Willamette River and up to Autzen Stadium. The surrounding beauty mesmerized him. 

“I remember calling my wife, Jodie, and I said, ‘if I ever get the opportunity to coach at Oregon, Iʼm going to do it."

Fast forward to 2016 when a Colorado interception in an Autzen Stadium end zone preserved a 41-38 win at Oregon that in many ways got the ball rolling toward Leavitt ending up with the Ducks.

Ironically, the Buffaloes' defense surrendered 508 yards of offense in that game to an Oregon team that was minus star running back Royce Freeman. But that win for Colorado, coming off of a strong showing at Michigan, made it clear that the program had turned the corner. The loss for Oregon made the Ducks 2-2 and raised red flags about a program in turmoil.

The Buffaloes finished the season with one of the top defenses in the country and the team reached the Pac-12 title game with a defense that ended the season having allowed just 21.7 points per game. Oregon, which went on to allow 41.4 points per game, finished 4-8. That led to the firing of Mark Helfrich and the hiring of coach Willie Taggart last December.

Soon after, Oregon hired Leavitt and paid him $1.125 million to turnaround a Ducks defense that ranked 128th in the nation. 

"Iʼve known coach Taggart for awhile, but when he had called and allowed me to be here and with [athletic director] Rob [Mullens] and everybody, I was overjoyed, because Iʼve always been intrigued by Oregon," Leavitt said. 

After accepting the job, Leavitt chose to drive from Colorado to Oregon. He drove through Burns and Sisters, taking in the sights.

“That was really kind of important for me so I can kind of get to know the state a little bit,” he said.

Oregon's state-of-the-art facilities created awe, as well. But not as much as those working within the Hatfield-Dowlin complex

“You can say all you want about the facilities here, but what has been the most impressive thing to me is the people,” he said. "Everything about Oregon is about championships and I like being in that kind of environment. So thatʼs been really impressive to me."

Part of Leavitt's appeal as a coach to his players is his boundless energy. 

"He's very enthusiastic and very upfront about what he wants from us on defense," senior linebacker Jimmie Swain said. "It's great having him around and having that enthusiasm out there on defense."

Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye said keeping up with Leavitt is difficult, even for the players.

"I didn't know he was in his 60s until he told us," Dye said. "I thought he was mid-40s, early-50s, something like that. He's always out there running with us...You've got to respect that type of energy."

So, where does that energy come from?

Leavitt joked that it might be the Pepsi he drinks religiously. Or, maybe it's his "love for the Lord." 

"I just feel so grateful for the opportunities that I have, certainly here at Oregon, every day I get here on the field," Leavitt said. "I just have learned to appreciate the opportunities that Iʼve had and appreciate being able to coach these guys, that these players allow me to coach them."

Also keeping him hopping are his two youngest daughters, Sofia, 7, and Isabella, 5.  

"I got Sophia, who just ran a 10k with me," he said. "And she went all the way. You know whatʼs funny is we ran the first two miles and she goes, 'dad, Iʼm a little tired, I might want to just walk a little bit.' Little did she know, I was praying, I was hoping so bad that she would say that so I could start walking. I was tired. So we walked a little bit, and then she looked at me and said, “letʼs go!” and I go 'oh my gosh here we go.'"

Then there's Isabella.

"That's my little tiger," Leavitt said. [They are] 18 months apart and they are something else, they really are."

They, too, have embraced Oregon. 

"They love the Ducks and theyʼve already got the Ducks cheerleading outfit on and they really have fun," he said. 

It's a new adventure for the Leavitt family. His career to date has been successful, even though controversy sullied is tenure as head coach at South Florida. He hopes to one day return to being a head coach and recognizes that turning around Oregon's defense would be a step in the right direction.

That quest begins in the fall. For now, he will take as much time as possible in between recruiting trips to soak in all that the state of Oregon has to offer someone who appreciates the outdoors. 

“I went out golfing and it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been,” he said. “Just the hills, the trees, everything is so green and of course I know about all the rain and it ends up making everything so much more beautiful this time of year.”

It will remain so in the fall. But at that time, Leavitt will be knee-deep in trying to fix something that has been anything but aesthetically pleasing to watch the past two seasons. 

Next up: Part 2 - With big money comes big expectations

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 3 - NT Jordon Scott

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 3 - NT Jordon Scott

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

Updated: Information added regarding Rex Manu being done for the season.

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No. 3: Freshman nose tackle Jordon Scott

The legend of Jordon Scott is starting to take root and will surely explode the first time the 335-pound nose tackle rips past an offensive linemen to make a for loss or a sack at Autzen Stadium. 

Scott should receive plenty of opportunities to do so after making it clear during spring drills that his combination of bulk, strength, speed and low pad level could combine to make him a force. 

Scott, out of Largo, Fla., has had to shed some weight since his arrival last winter. 

"Iʼm really proud of him," Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said. "He came in about 358 lbs. and is down to about 330 pounds, in that area. Heʼs always been strong. Heʼs a very explosive guy and he has great character and he has great demeanor. And he has great confidence and knows what he wants. He knows what he wants to do in life, and those qualities are very, very important."

What's important for the Ducks is that they find someone, anyone, to hold up the middle of the defensive in Leavitt's 3-4 scheme. 

Junior Rex Manu is out for the season leaing redshirt sophomore Gary Baker as the primarty candidate to start with Scott as the backup. Graduate transfer Scott Pagano, from Clemson, could also play the nose position. 

But it's Scott who is the most intriguing. With his natural physical gifts, he has a chance to work his way into becoming an impact player - down the line. 

Don't expect Scott to take the Pac-12 by storm next season. He likely won't be in physical condition enough to be the guy inside for most of a game. However, do expect Scott to be in the rotation, making plays, learning and working his way toward potentially becoming a special player down the line. 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

Oregon receives commitment from 3-star DE Jonathan King

Oregon receives commitment from 3-star DE Jonathan King

Defensive end Jonathan King out of Tampa, Fl., has committed to Oregon, according to 247Sports.com, giving the Ducks 10 recruits on the oral hook for the 2018 recruiting class. 

King represents the first oral commitment Oregon has received since May 5. 

Listed at 6-foot-3, 230-pounds, King could very well become a great player for Oregon, but he doesn't fall into the category of being a virtual can't miss defensive lineman that Oregon must continuously sign in order to avoid the dramatic defensive downturn the team experienced over the past two seasons. 

King, who had offers from Penn State and Florida State, among others, is rated as a three-star recruit by both 247Sports and Rivals.com.  The latter ranks him as the 35th-best weakside defensive end in the nation. Rivals.com does not rate him within its top defensive ends. 

Given that the Ducks are moving back to the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, it would appear that King will most likely play outside linebacker or a hybrid position, and not line up as a true, 3-4 defensive end. That would require him adding at least 40 pounds and might neutralize a lot of his quickness as a pass rusher. 

However, former Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner was listed at 245 pounds while in high school before blowing up to 290 at Oregon. 

As for the bigger picture, the Ducks still must sign marquee defensive line prospects in order to thrive. As pointed out in a previous article, the failure to recruit high-end defensive linemen from 2013 through 2016 proved to be devastating for the defense. 

So far the new staff under coach Willie Taggart has landed commitments from two three-star defensive linemen for the 2018 class on the heels of signing two three-star defensive tackles and one four-star defensive tackle for the 2017 recruiting class. However, the lone four-star recruit, Rutger Reitmaier, committed to Oregon last June, six months before Taggart became the head coach. 

The good news is that plenty of time remains for UO to add more defensive linemen. Oregon will host a satellite camp on June 24. 

The addition of King boosted Oregon's class ranking on Rivals.com to No. 14, up from No. 18. It's been as high as No. 11. UO's average star ranking of 3.3 ranks 18th.