Rewind to the practice field of St. Augustine High School in San Diego, CA in 2018.
Two talented, young players are grinding with dreams of playing Division I college football, then-sophomore Byron Cardwell and then-freshman Gracen Halton.
“When I was a freshman and he was a sophomore we talked about going to the same college,” Halton told NBC Sports Northwest.
Fast forward to February 2021 and that dream will become a reality.
Cardwell, the nation’s No. 9 running back, signed with Oregon on February 3rd for National Signing Day, and Halton, the nation’s No. 11 weakside defensive end in 2022 verbally committed to the Ducks last month.
“It’s crazy that it came true now. Just getting on the field and put that work in, make it 100%,” added Halton.
When both prospects grew up, Oregon was on top of the college football world with Chip Kelly's offensive attack and Nike’s uniforms capturing the attention of the next generation of college football players. Both Halton and Cardwell were childhood fans of Oregon.
“Growing up... the jerseys stood out to me,” said Halton. “[Oregon] was my No. 1 team ever since I was little.”
Cardwell echoed that sentiment.
“I was a Ducks fan growing up,” Cardwell told The Oregonian. “I used to watch a lot of LaMichael James, De’Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner. Those are the few backs I watched growing up and I wanted to be like.”
And now that the childhood dream is coming true, the 'brothers' will reunite in Eugene, Oregon.
“We’re real close and I consider him to be like a little brother to me,” said Cardwell. “We spoke about [playing together] theoretically and it manifested itself that it worked out.”
Cardwell plans to arrive on campus this summer following his senior year of high school and when he does step on campus, Oregon fans have plenty to look forward to.
Just ask his three-year high school teammate.
“Hard-working man,” described Halton of Cardwell. “Every play that he does is 100% but he’s going to break out and I’m waiting to see what he does.”
Meanwhile, Halton hasn’t decided if he’ll early enroll in Winter Term 2022 yet, but the defensive end has known Oregon was the place for him long before his official commitment.
“Everything sold me about Oregon,” explained Halton. “When I first started talking to the coaches, [Mario] Cristobal built that relationship with me from day one. They made sure that they kept in contact with me since day one.”
In fact, Halton said Oregon was “probably the only school that really got me on the zoom call” and after that appointment, it was a done deal.
“When I hopped on the zoom call and toured the campus I had that feeling in my gut that was where I should go.”
Since committing to Oregon, the Ducks replaced Andy Avalos with former-Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and so far, the four-star prospect has full faith in Cristobal’s latest hire.
“We have texted back and forth,” explained Halton. “When he first came in touch with me it meant a lot because, you know, he’s onboard. Him coming in, I know he’s going to step up and be that coach that he is.”
With Halton committed to Oregon, he’s shifting his focus from his own commitment to helping solidify the Ducks’ 2022 recruiting class, similar to how Keith Brown and Jackson Light helped bring the 2021 class together.
“Yes I do [plan to], you know, bring us together,” answered Halton when asked if he planned to recruit other prospects to Oregon.
Halton mentioned fellow San Diego native and four-star athlete Jalil Tucker, the nation’s No. 6 athlete and No. 73 overall player in the 2022 class by 247Sports evaluation, specifically as someone he’s working on.
“[I’m] just trying to get Jahil [Tucker] over. Just keep talking to him, trying to get all these other recruits on board.”
He won't stop there, however.
Thursday evening, fellow San Diego native Jaxson Moi received an offer from Oregon and heard from Halton that night.
"Let’s get 2022 rocking," Halton told Moi.
By getting more elite talent to join him in Eugene, Halton wants to help the program get over the hump.
As a Ducks fan growing up, one game, in particular, stuck out to Halton when asked if he had any memories in particular of the team.
“I watched the game against Ezekiel Elliot [in the 2015 National Championship],” said Halton.
Oregon fans remember the second loss in the National Championship all too well. But with how coach Cristobal has been recruiting, the Ducks may be back on that stage sooner than later with a chance to bring home the program’s first title.
Many Oregon commits over the past year have talked about wanting to bring a National Championship to Eugene, OR, which, of course, is a goal shared by Halton, as well.
That’s why the work begins now, just not on the field to prepare himself for college football physically, but to bring as much elite talent to Oregon with him as he can.
"The ones that commit, knowing that we’re brothers and we’re coming for a National Championship.”