Oregon Ducks

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

Chip Kelly was 'the worst communicator,' rubbed people the wrong way with Eagles

Chip Kelly was 'the worst communicator,' rubbed people the wrong way with Eagles

Chip Kelly's NFL stint did not go as planned and he's yet to recapture the magic he had while head coach at Oregon.

While the results on the field got ugly in his final season as coach of the Eagles, people didn't exactly think the world of him while he was winning, either.

“I had no relationship with Chip,” longtime radio voice of the Eagles Merrill Reese said during the Eagle Eye podcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia. “None.”

One story sticks out to Reese, however. 

The Eagles had just destroyed the Dallas Cowboys 33-10 to advance to 9-3 and take control of the NFC East division, all while on Thanksgiving Day in front of a nationally televised audience.

So of course, Reese was hyped about the victory and wanted to congratulate Kelly. 

I walked up to him on the plane flying home from Dallas after that great Thanksgiving night game, maybe the best game of his career here, and said, ‘Great game, Chip, it was really fun to call that,’ and he looked over and said, ‘Oh,’ and turned his head.

Not wanting to talk to the media is one thing and that's nothing new for Chip. But, is it that hard to say "thank you"? The conversation probably wasn't going to last more than a couple of minutes anyways and all Reese was doing was congratulating him. 

Reese made it sound like this type of behavior from Kelly was normal while he coached the Eagles.

“He was the worst communicator of any coach I’ve ever been around,” Reese said about Kelly. “I mean, [Rich Kotite] was mercurial, up, down all over the place, but Richie could be warm and nice. You never saw that with Chip.”

Kelly went 10-6 in both of his first two seasons as head coach in the NFL which was enough for ownership to give him control over personnel decisions. He then went on to trade away LeSean McCoy, cut Deshaun Jackson, trade for Sam Bradford, and sign Demarco Murray while using a zone-blocking scheme. 

The roster moves were so bad that Kelly would be fired 15 games into his third season after starting 6-9. He then would coach the San Francisco 49ers for a season, going 2-14 before being fired again and accepting the head coaching job at UCLA. 

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

Ever Wonder why the Ducks and Beavers rivalry is called the Civil War?

Ever Wonder why the Ducks and Beavers rivalry is called the Civil War?

There is nothing much civil about it.

The battle for bragging rights and state supremacy. 

There's college sports rivalries across the nation: The Red River Showdown, The Backyard Brawl, The Holy War, Tobacco Road, World's Largest Outdoor (Cocktail) Party, Bedlam Series, The Iron Bowl. 

So, how did the Oregon-Oregon State series get its name?

The term “Civil War” first appeared in newspapers way back in 1929 -- when an Oregon coach equated the game’s importance in the state to the Civil War -- and it caught on. In just a few years it came into general usage. That’s because, just like the actual Civil War did in border states, the rivalry is something that has divided the state, often pitting brother against brother and caused families to choose sides.

Or, in these games, it’s often been husband vs. wife in allegiance to one school or the other.

With the football games, it’s not as obvious as North vs. South. The enemy is more stealth.

One-time OSU head coach Dee Andros once famously said that the game is “for the right to live in the state of Oregon.”

And sometimes, allegiances can be complicated.

The voice of the Beavers, Mike Parker, is actually a graduate of Oregon. Don Essig, the long-time public address announcer for Duck football and basketball, is a graduate of Oregon State.

But one man stands above everyone else in terms of seeing both sides of the series of games between Oregon and Oregon State and he is Rich Brooks -- someone who competed, with great success, on both sides of the fence..

Brooks played at Oregon State and then later served as an assistant coach there. But then he became head coach at Oregon, where he won more games against the Beavers than any other Duck coach. When you step on the playing field at Autzen Stadium, you’re standing on “Rich Brooks Field.”

Attempts have been made to dump that Civil War moniker, but it’s seemingly just too ingrained now. Sports columnists and editors over the years tried in vain to ban the reference, but it just won’t go away.

There has never been a long-lasting trophy given to the winner of the game, although there was one carved out of maple in 1959 that was given to the winner for a few years. Called the “Platypus Trophy,” it was in the image of the animal with a duck-like bill and a beaver-like tail. The trophy was lost for more than four decades before being found in a closet at McArthur Court and is now reportedly exchanged by booster clubs for the schools.

But it isn’t something that’s become an icon for the winner, who after all, gets to live in the state for another year.

LeGarrette Blount made a promise before Super Bowl 52 and fufilled it

LeGarrette Blount made a promise before Super Bowl 52 and fufilled it

LeGarrette Blount had one of the most improbable professional careers of any Oregon Duck.

From punching a Boise State player on national television that caused him to miss most of his senior season, totaling 14 total carries in the Ducks' remaining games. After going undrafted, he made a name for himself in the NFL as a physical, bruising running back that would go onto to win three Super Bowls: two with the New England Patriots and one with the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Leading up to Super Bowl 52, Blount seemed confident in his ability to bring a championship to Philly.

In an interview during the Eagle Eye podcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia, the longtime radio voice of the Eagles, Merrill Reese, remembered one interaction the day before the big game that foreshadowed the win.

I was wearing a 2004 NFL Championship ring... I was in the lobby of the hotel, the team hotel, the day before the game. And then all of a sudden somebody picks me up from behind and lifts me high in the air with a great big bear hug. And he puts me down and I say 'Who is this?' I turn around and it's LeGarrette Blount, and LeGarrette Blount looked at it and said 'What's that ring?' 'Oh,' I said 'that's the NFC [Conference Championship] ri-' 'That's a loser's ring. That's a loser's ring. I'm going to get you a real ring tomorrow... Merill, I promise you a real ring.'

Get him a real ring he did as the Eagles defeated the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl 52 to give the franchise its first-ever Super Bowl championship. Blount ran for 90 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown run in the victory.

"They don't win that Super Bowl without LeGarrette Blount," stated Reese on the podcast. 

That interaction wasn't the only memorable one for Reese between him and the former Oregon Duck.

When the Eagles signed Blount to a one-year, $1.25 million contract that offseason Reese wasn't excited about the signing: "Because as you guys know he had a track record behind him that wasn't exactly Mrs. Congeniality. And two, that summer he did nothing. I mean he didn't get you two yards in a cloud of dust he got you a cloud of dust and a half an inch. That was it." 

When the games started, Reese saw a whole new side of Blount. One that helped the Eagles win. 

"We went out to San Diego that year and that was his coming-out party. I mean, he was amazing. He ran all over the field he ran for over 100 yards. And at one point he broke loose on a 50-yard run from my right to my left, I can still see it, and I said 'He's loose! He's a runaway train!'"

Blount finished the game with 16 rushes for 136 yards, including a 68-yard run.

Reese wasn't the only one who remembers that call. 

"So I go into the locker room on Tuesday and I'm speaking with somebody and all of a sudden LeGarrette Blount comes walking over with this menacing look and he points at me and says 'Merill Reese.' I say "Yes.' He said 'I just loved when you called me a runaway train!' and he gives me this great big hug."

Blount ended up being one of Reese's favorite players that season.

"I got to know him over that year and he became one of the nicest people to be around."

That's why you never judge a book by its cover.

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

Justin Herbert is already ranked ahead of current NFL starting QBs

Justin Herbert is already ranked ahead of current NFL starting QBs

Justin Herbert hasn’t taken a single snap in the NFL yet, but that doesn't stop people from realizing his potential. 

The former Pac-12 champion and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers with the sixth pick overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Since then, players and pundits have weighed in on the tremendous ability in the Oregon QB.  

NBC Sports’ Chris Simms sees it, too.

On Wednesday, Simms released a portion of his Top-40 quarterbacks in the NFL heading into the 2020-2021 season.

Here are 40-36:

40. Tua Tagovaila (Dolphins)

39. Dwayne Haskins (Redskins)

38. Mitchell Trubisky (Bears)

37. Justin Herbert (Chargers)

36. Taysom Hill (Saints)

Simms adds, “We discussed during PFT Live the things that makes Herbert potentially special, and the areas in which he potentially needs to improve — including one very specific mechanical enhancement from which Herbert and every other young quarterback who isn’t doing it would benefit. (Trust me, it works.)

There’s no guarantee that Herbert will become a franchise quarterback, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. That's enough to get him a spot in the Top-40 before he has ever officially stepped foot on an NFL field. 

[RELATED]: Justin Herbert immersing himself in Chargers playbook at minicamp

Here are some of the reasons to be optimistic. 

- The defense to back Herbert up: The Chargers return three Pro Bowl defensive players in 2020: Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III as well as safety Derwin James.

- The receiving weapons: Lining up on the outside of Herbert are eight-year veteran Keenan Allen and four-year veteran Mike Williams, both of which posted 1,000+ receiving yard seasons in 2019.

[RELATED]: Justin Herbert will be a Charger says 9-year-old Justin Herbert

It may be some time until we see Herbert’s NFL debut as a Charger, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the hype and potential surrounding the hometown hero from Eugene is most definitely present.

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

Sabrina Ionescu among top 10 of Yahoo! Sports athletes under 25

Sabrina Ionescu among top 10 of Yahoo! Sports athletes under 25

It is safe to say that Sabrina Ionescu is one of the most popular young sports figures in the world right now.

The 22-year-old has accomplished a lot in such a short period of time-- and to think, she hasn’t even started her professional career yet.

Ionescu is just months removed from finishing up her historic collegiate career and was drafted by the New York Liberty No. 1 overall in the WNBA Draft.

Her accomplishments and clout have made her among the top athletes under 25 years of age.

The article ranked the 25 best athletes under 25, placing Ionescu at No. 6 ahead of famous young football and basketball stars like Christian McCaffrey, Saquan Barkley, and Ja Morant and Trae Young.

Cassandra Negley, a writer for Yahoo Sports, wrote about how impactful Ionescu will continue to be when she begins her career in the WNBA.

While she won’t be piling up triple-doubles like she did in college, and she won’t have the numbers that she did there, either, she will dazzle in a Liberty system built to allow her to shine. No. 1 draft picks typically go on to prolific professional careers and she will be no different.

The top-5 have not yet been revealed, but Ionescu is the highest-rated female in the field so far!

Ionescu has a lot of expectations to live up to, with finishing her collegiate career as the all-time leader in triple-doubles, as well as the first to ever score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and dish out 1,000 assists 

After being drafted by the New York Liberty as the first overall pick last month, she signed an endorsement deal with Nike.

Being in the top 10 of a stacked list of athletes is just another item on the list of that Ionescu continues to check off.

The future is bright for Ionescu, we will just have to wait and see what records she will break in the WNBA.

Be sure to get caught up with your favorite teams by downloading the latest podcast from NBCSNW.

Oregon Ducks among final four for 5-star, All-American WR Troy Franklin

Oregon Ducks among final four for 5-star, All-American WR Troy Franklin

One day closer to landing one of the top receiving recruits in the country.

On Tuesday, 2021 five-star wide receiver Troy Franklin has narrowed down his recruiting process down to four schools:

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound wideout from Menlo-Atherton High School in Menlo Park, California has also committed to the 2021 Adidas All-American Bowl, where the top 100 high school players have the opportunity to show off their talent on January 9, 2021.

He had visited Eugene on an unofficial visit on July 28, 2019.

The Ducks would have reason to be confident with Mario Cristobal leading the program which has resulted in securing the top commitment in California the past two recruiting cycles. Franklin currently ranks as California's fourth-best recruit and the 30th overall prospect in the nation. 

However, the inclusion of Arizona State means the Sun Devils may be more of a force to be reckoned with when it comes to recruiting battles, especially after they flipped prized Oregon verbal commit Johnny Wilson on Signing Day. 

2021 four-star linebacker Keith Brown, who has already committed to the Ducks, looks to be heavily recruiting Franklin to Eugene, Oregon.

The only other Ducks wide receiver commit for the class of 2021 is 6-foot-1, 200-pound Kyron Ware-Hudson a four-star receiver from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California. These two would be quite the outside duo should Franklin also commit to the Ducks.

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

Oregon Ducks lose out on 4-star CB Denzel Burke who commits to Ohio State

Oregon Ducks lose out on 4-star CB Denzel Burke who commits to Ohio State

A blue chip Oregon target has decided to attend college elsewhere.

2021 four-star defensive back Denzel Burke announced his commitment to Ohio State University Sunday afternoon via his Twitter. 

On May 12, Burke had announced that Oregon was among his top-five teams along with the Buckeyes, USC, Colorado, and Washington.

Via the 247Sports Composite rankings, Burke was the 183rd overall prospect in the country, seventh-best athlete, and fourth-best overall player in Arizona. Oregon has secured three of the five best players in Arizona this recruiting cycle by getting verbal commitments from OL Jonah Miller, QB Ty Thompson, and OT Bram Walden. 

[RELATED]: Oregon Ducks land 2021 four-star OL Jonah Miller

If the 6'0", 189 pound cornerback wasn't going to choose the Ducks the Buckeyes was the next best bet for Oregon as he will not be in the Pac-12 conference. They may match up on the field next season in Colombus, however, when the Ducks travel to play Ohio State on September 11, 2021. 

Additionally, verbal commitments are nonbinding so if Oregon can pull off the upset against Ohio State this season in Autzen Stadium then maybe Burke could reconsider, if that game happens.

[RELATED]: Could the Oregon vs. Ohio State series flip locations?

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

Walt Disney World would 'be happy' to host the WNBA season as well

Walt Disney World would 'be happy' to host the WNBA season as well

Sabrina Ionescu always produces magic on the court so it only makes sense she may make her professional debut next to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.

According to Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports, Walt Disney World would "be happy" to host the WNBA in addition to the remainder of the NBA season if the league wants.

"We'd be happy to host the WNBA here as well," a source told Smith. "We see this as an overall partnership with the entire NBA umbrella. We've been great partners for years, as seen with the NBA Experience at Disney Springs. This is an expansion of that."

Smith worked at Disney for 20 years before leaving to cover the NBA full-time.

The report comes hours after NBA spokesman Mike Bass announced that the NBA in congruence with the Player's Association have begun talks to play out the remainder of the season at Walt Disney Corporation's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

"The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing," Bass said. "Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place."

On April 3, the WNBA season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no longer targeting to begin training camp on May 15.

"As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15," said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a statement. "While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees."

The league also held the 2020 WNBA Draft virtually which saw three Oregon Ducks go in the first round: Sabrina Ionescu (No. 1 to the New York Liberty), Satou Sabally (No. 2 to the Dallas Wings) and Ruthy Hebard (No. 8 to the Chicago Sky).

Additionally, Oregon State's Mikayla Pivec was selected by the Atlanta Dream with the first pick of the third round. 

Now, it appears like all four will make their respective WNBA debuts at Walt Disney World.

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

The secret to Oregon's success starts in the weight room with Aaron Feld

The secret to Oregon's success starts in the weight room with Aaron Feld

You probably noticed the moment Aaron Feld took over as Oregon Football’s Strength and Conditioning coach back in January 2018.

Whether it was the magnificent mustache or perhaps it was the first time you heard him screaming ‘good morning’ at his players when they arrived for football practice in the early AM. Or maybe you noticed his impact on the players themselves, seeing their bodies transform in the weight room. 

Whatever the case may be, Feld has made quite the impact in Eugene, Oregon. 

The biggest difference Feld sees since he has taken over the program is the mindset in the weight room.

The weight room mentality here in the long history seemed to be just guys come in, do what they got to do and get out. What we tried to do was change that mentality of ‘Okay this is something we have to do,’ to ‘Okay, this is part of the process of winning.’ — Aaron Feld

That’s no easy task. For example, the players would have a scheduled lift every Sunday during football season, meaning after playing a long, hard-hitting football game on Saturday, to then wake up on Sunday to go lift. But Feld believes first in training your mind to then train your body. To see working out as something greater than just working out.

We used to have to come up with gimmicks and games and ideas to get them excited about training. This past season, it’s a business mentality. You walk in the weight room, you go to work, you get your job done and then you bounce. The purpose isn’t to lift weights; the purpose is to be great at football. — Aaron Feld

It’s that mindset that separates the good from the great and it’s in every small detail.

The fact that the Oregon weight room overlooks the practice fields serves as a constant reminder to the players that they’re not there to lift weights; they are there to play football. It’s about keeping your body and your mind in tip top shape to play the game of football.

Now it’s part of what they [the players] do and not something they have to do. — Aaron Feld

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.