Part of Oregon's newfound recruiting success under Mario Cristobal stems from developing relationships with recruits before their senior seasons.
Getting to know these prospects when they're sophomores and juniors in high school allows them to feel comfortable with the program by the time they make their decision and tour the campus and facilities multiple times.
It also makes them feel like a priority.
Well, Oregon continues to implement that strategy, this time offering soon-to-be North Salem freshman quarterback TC Manumaleuna II, which the prospect described as "a dream come true."
Yes, you read that right. The Oregon Ducks offered a middle schooler. But 14-year old Manumaleuna II isn't just any eighth-grader. His physical tools, including a 5'11", 180-pound frame, project him as an elite level college prospect at the quarterback position.
“I saw him quite a bit. He’s a kid who never stops working,” North Salem head coach Jeff Flood told the Statesman Journal. “He’s got a great head on his shoulders, that drive to be great at whatever he does. He’s got the tools. You don’t see many eighth-graders who are his size.
“He’s a special kid, so I don’t look at him as a freshman coming into our program, I look at him as a player coming into our program. He’ll compete for a spot.”
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In preparation for his high school career, Manumaleuna II sought out Alex Brink, a former Washington State quarterback and owner of the training company EForce, and West Salem assistant coach Josh Riddell to serve as his quarterback coaches.
"Physically, he's pretty developed for a kid his age, and for college coaches who have been around, they see an eighth-grader or freshman and feel like they can project out where he'll go physically," said Brink. "He's got the physical size going for him, and he's worked really hard, as a young guy, developing his skills as a quarterback. He's a natural thrower and has pretty good power behind the ball."
He's also been training with former North Salem and Southern Oregon wide receiver Dylan Young and former Oregon wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei. But that's not the only connection the Oregon native has to the Ducks football program.
Manumaleuna II grew up a huge Ducks fan with fond memories of cheering on Marcus Mariota as he won the program's first and only Heisman Trophy in 2014.
“I grew up here in Salem, and I was always around the program,” Manumaleuna II said. “My first quarterback instructor, Marcus Mariota, I was a big fan of him too.”
He told 247Sports that he had his first quarterback lesson from Mariota when he was eight, further solidifying his desire to be a quarterback.
Additionally, his sister currently attends college in Eugene at the University of Oregon.
“I’ve seen practices, and I’ve gone to games. My sister goes there. Their facilities are really cool.”
Also, here he is with current Ducks Penie and Noah Sewell, as well as 2021 Oregon OT four-star target Kingsley Suamataia.
He also responded to a Ducks fan saying he's going to do his best to be Oregon's quarterback in 2024.
Manumaleuna II additionally told 247Sports that he's been talking with USC and BYU, but the Ducks are the first offer to come his way.
Now I know what you're thinking. Is it normal for a school to offer a middle-schooler with a full scholarship to play football?
Well, no. But it does happen.
Infamously, then-USC coach Lane Kiffin offered 13-year-old, seventh-grader David Sills V in 2010 which was promptly accepted, causing nationwide controversy.
A knuckle injury as a junior permanently ruined Sills' "perfect" throwing motion and following Kiffin's firing, new Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisan told Sills that he was no longer in USC's plans, which led Sills to de-commit.
After failing to become a viable college quarterback, Sills became an elite wide receiver at West Virginia, going as far as being listed as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as a junior. He currently is competing for a roster spot on the New York Giants.
We'll keep a close eye on how TC Manumaleuna II performs on the gridiron leading up to his commitment.
[Be sure to listen to the latest Talkin' Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest former Oregon men's basketball head coach Ernie Kent].