Oregon Ducks

Taggart, Part 3: The call, a bond and enthusiasm unknown to mankind

Taggart, Part 3: The call, a bond and enthusiasm unknown to mankind

Part 3 of a five-part series on Oregon coach Willie Taggart that coincides with the CSN special "Taggart" that first aired Aug. 29 and is now available on CSNNW.com.  CSN went to Taggart's hometown of Palmetto, Fla., to interview family and friends, and traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., to interview his biggest mentors, Jack and Jim Harbaugh, in order to tell his story. 

'Taggart,' Part 1: A skinny boy, a tree and football dreams

'Taggart,' Part 2: A leader emerges and thrives at Manatee

'Taggart,' Part 3: The call, a bond and enthusiasm unknown to mankind 

'Taggart,' Part 4: Taggart puts WKU "on his back."

'Taggart," Part 5: The program builder works his way to Oregon

 

---

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Jack Harbaugh has the basement to end all basements.

Finished, spacious and furnished. Framed articles, posters, photos and jerseys cover the walls to create a mini Harbaugh family museum.

Jack coached college football. His son Jim Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan, where he now is the head coach, and in the NFL. Jerseys representing his various stops can be found lined up side by side on a wall. Older brother John Harbaugh coaches the Baltimore Ravens. He defeated Jim in Super Bowl XLVII when the younger brother coached San Francisco. A mini version of that Super Bowl trophy rests on a shelf.

Also represented is the man they call the third Harbaugh brother. Resting on a wall is a large, black and white photo of Willie Taggart while playing quarterback for Jack Harbaugh at Western Kentucky.

It was there in Bowling Green, Ky., where Taggart became part of the Harbaugh family. So much so that Jack and his wife Jackie love him like a son while Jim, John and sister Joani love him like a sibling. 

“I’m proud of my brother, my friend,” Jim Harbaugh said. “I love him. He loves me back. And

he’s a good person. He thinks I’m a good person.”

(pause).

“And we’re like that!” Harbaugh continued, crossing the fingers on one hand.

The Harbaughs did a lot for Taggart. And he did a lot for Jack and the WKU program. How they came together, Jack said could be called  “divine intervention.”

Taggart needed a college team to play for. Jack Harbaugh needed a quarterback and a leader.

“That began the process of Willie coming to western Kentucky University and our relationship with the Taggart family,” Jack Harbaugh said.

--- A program on the brink

The Western Kentucky football program was all but dead in the spring of 1992. A Kentucky state budget cut of $6.1 million erased finances for the team.

Jack Harbaugh, who had concluded his third season at 3-8 to follow up a 2-8 year, told his staff they had a couple of months left on their salary.

“I was completely broken as a football coach knowing not many had had their program taken from them in the middle of their tenure,” Harbaugh said.

But rather than give up, the coaches and the team decided to fight to save the program. The WKU athletic department began raising money and selling tickets to fund the football.

Their efforts worked. Football ultimately survived, but on a shoestring budget. 

The 1992 "Save the Program” team went 4-6. The following year the Hilltoppers finished 8-3.

But the impacts of negative recruiting by other programs and a loss of 13 scholarships following WKU's near loss of its program began to take its toll.  Harbaugh had a tough time replenishing talent. 

In the winter of 1994, an exasperated coach Harbaugh sat in his office when his son, Jim Harbaugh popped in for a visit. He could tell something wasn’t right with his father.

“We’re getting killed in recruiting,” Jack Harbaugh told his son.

“How can I help?” asked Jim, who lived in Orlando, Fla., and was transitioning from the Chicago Bears to the Indianapolis Colts.

Because of the reduced budget, WKU didn't have a full allotment of seven assistant coaches. Jim suggested that he could work as an unpaid coach, which would allow him to help recruit.

After Jim Harbaugh passed a NCAA recruiting test, his dad handed him a list of prospects in Florida, where his son would be living during the NFL's offseason.

“I’m sitting and telling you, cross my heart, raise my hand, the first name on the list was ‘Willie Taggart, Manatee High School,” Jack Harbaugh said.

-- “Yeah right, and I’m Mike Ditka.”

The phone rang at the Taggart home in the spring of 1994. Cynthia Butler, Taggart’s sister, answered. Jim Harbaugh, making only his second recruiting phone call, introduced himself and asked for Taggart.

“Is this the same Jim Harbaugh from the Chicago Bears?” Butler asked.

“Yes,” Harbaugh responded.

Butler didn’t believe it but she wrote down his number down, anyway, and relayed it to her little brother when he returned home from track & field practice.  

“You got a phone call from some guy named Jim Harbaugh from Western Kentucky and he wants you to call him back,” Butler told Taggart.

Taggart, eyebrows raised, also didn’t quite believe that the quarterback of the Chicago Bears had called his home. The same quarterback he had watched play on television and the same one used to win games against his pals while playing video games.

But he had to find out. The Taggarts didn’t’ have long-distance phone service so he headed to a nearby pay phone and called collect. 

Based on both Taggart’s and Harbaugh’s recollection of their first conversation, it went something like this:

Taggart: “Can I speak to Jim Harbaugh?”

Harbaugh: “Speaking. Do you know who I am?”

Taggart: “The only Jim Harbaugh I know is the one that plays for the Chicago Bears.”

Harbaugh: “That’s me.”

Taggart: “Yeah, right. And I’m Mike Ditka.”

Harbaugh: “No, no. It’s really me. I recruit for Western Kentucky. Here’s my dad.”

Harbaugh put his dad on the phone to talk to Taggart. He still wasn’t fully convinced Jim Harbaugh had called him until a few days later when Jim Harbaugh walked into the Manatee High School cafeteria looking for Taggart.

“It’s really you,” Taggart said to Harbaugh.

To that point, Taggart had received only mild interest from college recruiters. To have a NFL quarterback visit him at Manatee put some extra spring in Taggart’s step.

“When he showed up, I felt like the big man on campus,” Taggart said.

The two ate lunch together and talked while students gawked. The pair walked around campus. Harbaugh chatted with Taggart’s coaches and teachers. Then they headed to watch game film of Taggart. When they exited the film room, they discovered about 50 students that had gathered outside to get Harbaugh’s autograph. Some carried Bears hats.

Taggart stood nearby fully taking in the situation and beaming. Harbaugh said he felt the love.  

“He has a way of making other people feel special,” Harbaugh said. “I felt a glow that day being treated so well, like an important person.”

Harbaugh visited the Taggart’s home where they had a huge gathering for a barbecue.

“I felt like the guest of honor,” Harbaugh said.

He and Taggart hit it off instantly.

“I think that’s when my life really changed,” Taggart said. “I became more confident.”

According to Taggart, his conversations with Harbaugh differed greatly from those with other recruiters. 

The two talked constantly and quickly transformed from recruiter and recruit to becoming close pals. They talked almost daily. 

"And it wasn’t just about football,” Taggart said. “It was about life, what I wanted to get accomplished. He would tell me about his life. He took a genuine interest in me.”

Harbaugh felt the same way.

“Willie has an extraordinary special gift of personality," Harbaugh said. "Warmth and friendship, he just exudes it.”

--- An enthusiasm unknown to mankind

Taggart grew up close to his family and the teammates. They formed his support system. He sought that same family atmosphere in a college.

“I knew, going to college that I needed to go somewhere where someone would look out for me,” Taggart said.

Jack Harbaugh promised Gloria Taggart he would do just that.

“They told me they would take care of my son,” she said. “They kept me updated every step of the way with what was going on. He was like one of their children.”

The football match was a perfect fit.

“It was electric the way he would run,” Jim Harbaugh said. “He was an option quarterback. My dad ran an option system. There was no doubt that this could be a game-changer for the program…And I knew it would be a game-changer for Willie, too, to be in program with my dad.”

Taggart went to WKU to play football but his impact on the Hilltoppers became much more than simply running and throwing on the field. 

“The first time that I met Willie Taggart, what I saw was an enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” Jack Harbaugh said. “Literally. I mean the smile would light up the state of Kentucky. He brought persona.”

WKU certainly needed a boost of energy. A lack of talent and depth created by the near loss of the program contributed to the Hilltoppers going 2-8 in Taggart’s first year as the starting quarterback.

But then his leadership chops began to form at the college level.

“He was a prototype quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “A prototype family member. I mean, he was the prototype of whatever you wanted to prototype….You just fell in love with him.”

Taggart motivated players. He inspired fans and the community. He made believers out of doubters. He rejuvenated the program. According to Jack Harbaugh, Taggart held together a group that had been fractured because of the decision not to play football.

Still, times were rough. WKU’s facilities were awful. They wore subpar equipment. Jack Harbaugh needed a way of raising spirits. 

He relied on what had become a Harbaugh family saying that he and his friends first used while he was growing up in Crestline, Ohio, a small quiet town where front doors remained unlocked and car keys never left the ignition.

Harbaugh and his pals would make do with that they had to work with while playing sports and end the day by saying: “Who has it better than us? Noooo-body!”

That wasn’t necessarily true at WKU. Still, Harbaugh attempted to remind his players to always find the positives. They had football. They had one another. They were getting an education. 

“He’d ask, ‘who has it better than us?’ while he would walk through the halls,” Taggart said. “And we’d look around and say, ‘everybody.”

Yet, the players got the point. So they didn’t have all of the same bells and whistles that other programs had. They had plenty to be thankful for.

“That stuck with you,” Taggart said. “It was a mentality.”

Taggart buying into that mentality helped others do the same. Soon, his talent and leadership elevated the program. 

Oregon recruiting: Three fresh faces added to The M19gration

Oregon recruiting: Three fresh faces added to The M19gration

With just 15 days left until National Signing Day, The Flock is on the move. The Oregon football class of 2019 gained three fresh faces via verbal commitments over the weekend. Let’s get you caught up.

Logan Sagapolu, C, Lehi, Utah

6’2”, 355 pounds, class of 2019

The nation’s No. 6 center (according to Rivals) committed to the Ducks during the Polynesian Bowl on Jan. 19.  

Sagapolu is an impressive addition to an already impressive offensive line. Something that Mario Cristobal has been preaching ever since he stepped foot in Eugene, Oregon is physical play starting with winning in the trenches. Cristobal has coached the Ducks into one of the more productive offensive lines in the country. Freshman Penei Sewell and junior Calvin Throckmorton were named as the No. 5 and No. 8 offensive tackles in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.

Sagapolu narrowed down his recruitment to three schools: Utah, BYU and Oregon before making his commitment announcement to Oregon on Jan. 19. He adds needed depth to an upperclassman-stacked offensive line. During this offseason, starting juniors Throckmorton, Jake Hanson, Brady Aiello, and Shane Lemieux all announced they would return for their senior seasons. Sagapolu will be able to learn and study under these guys for one season, which is a big advantage for a youngster. 

Jamal Hill, DB, Morrow, Georgia

3-star, 6’1”, 192 pounds, class of 2019

Hill had 38 offers including Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, USC, and Auburn before verbally committing to Oregon on Jan. 21. He visited Eugene on Jan. 18 before officially committing three days later.

As a safety, Hill joins an already young and elite Oregon secondary with now sophomore Jevon Holland, who finished the season with five interceptions, juniors Nick Pickett and Brady Breeze, and sophomore Steve Stephens.     

What cannot be overlooked is Hill’s speed. A 10.96 100-meter dash (recorded back in April 2018) is not too shabby and a serious weapon in a secondary.  

For comparison sake, former Oregon football reciever De'Anthony Thomas ran a 10.31 100-meter dash in the Oregon Preview meet in 2013.

DJ James, CB, Spanish Fort, Alabama

3-star, 6’0”, 175 pounds, class of 2019

James had 18 offers including Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State, and Mississippi before verbally committing to Oregon on Jan. 21. James visited Eugene on Jan. 18 and just 36 hours later, announced his commitment via Twitter.  

James joins a young secondary composed of just three upperclassmen (juniors and seniors) out of 11 corners on the current roster. 

Quick takeaway:

If you look at merely the location of these recruits, you can see that Mario Cristobal is living up to his top recruitment tactics. Two of the three are coming from the SE part of the country, showing that no matter where geographically these players are located, Cristobal does what he does to get them. 

15 days left until National Signing Day. Stay tuned for more #M19GRATION news in the next few weeks.

Ducks rise and fall in NBA Draft projections

Ducks rise and fall in NBA Draft projections

With about two more months of college basketball to be played, many of the expected one-and-done freshmen have given scouts serious questions to think about. Two of those freshmen are Oregon's Bol Bol and Louis King. King has been labeled as a “potential riser”, while Bol’s season-ending foot injury has altered his once likely lottery pick draft projection.

Also, don’t look now, but sophomore shot blocker extraordinaire Kenny Wooten has made NBA mock drafts.

Now that the NBA standings are starting to take shape, here are what mock drafts are saying about the Ducks’ NBA potential.


Bol Bol, freshman, 7-foot-2, 235-pound, center

A former top-five recruit, Bol’s dominant play during his nine healthy games as a Duck solidified the reason for the hype. Bol’s height and 7-foot-8 wingspan made him a force not to be reckoned with in the paint. He's a great shot blocker who changes the game on the defensive end and also has a smooth offensive game with range from beyond the arc.

Before suffering his left foot fracture, scouts cautioned against Bol. He created mixed feelings due to his uninspiring sequences of poor defensive effort and awareness. Questions were raised about his dedication to maximizing his potential. Also, he will have to add muscle to his frame to compete in the NBA without getting pushed around.
With the season ending injury, Bol joins a large group of seven-footers with foot problems, which raises red flags for scouts.

However, his high ceiling and unique skillset of presence on the glass and terrific outside shooting (52 percent from three) make him an intriguing prospect.

Projections: Fallen from top ten in mock drafts to 11th to the Utah Jazz, 19th and 15th to the Charlotte Hornets.

Player comparison: DeAndre Jordan, Kristaps Porziņģis.

 

Louis King, freshman, 6-foot-9, 205-pound, forward

Coming off of a torn meniscus and missing the first seven games of the season, King’s draft stock has showed rapid improvement in the past month. King has showcased his talent during Pac-12 play, leading the Ducks in scoring with 17 points per game. King has reached double-figure points the past four games, including the Ducks’ upset win at Arizona.

The top 20 recruit is a “possible one and done” player, according to multiple scouts.

King’s offensive talent and smooth jump shot is easy to see anywhere on the court, but where he has improved most is his rebounding and defense. Once listed as a ‘weakness’, King leads Oregon with an average of 9.4 rebounds per game in conference play.

His size is ideal for an NBA wing, making him a prospect to watch this NBA Draft if he continues to soar in Pac-12 play.  

Projections: 19th to the Portland Trail Blazers, 42nd to the Sacramento Kings, 59th overall.

Player comparison: Rudy Gay, Trevor Ariza, Caron Butler.

 

Kenny Wooten, Sophomore, 6-foot-9, 235-pound, forward

After fracturing his jaw in December against Baylor, Wooten returned earlier than expected. He made an immediate impact, playing 25 minutes in a full-face mask, providing an inside presence that helped Oregon upset Arizona.
He already ranks 4th in UO career blocks with 113. An excellent rim protector, Wooten’s defensive instincts are listed as a strength according to mock drafts, along with his ability to finish plays around the basket.

Wooten needs to improve offensively as a passer and a shooter. His free throw shooting and footwork needs work as well. His play in the PK80 Classic last year helped him gain some buzz in draft circles, but it would probably be in his best interest to continue to develop before declaring for the draft.
Projection: 2nd Round to undrafted
Player comparison: Jordan Bell.

Oregon upsets Arizona: Quick takeaways

Oregon upsets Arizona: Quick takeaways

Oregon just upset Arizona (13-5, 4-1 Pac-12) at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., 59-54. A few takeaways from the big win:

The Ducks handed the wildcats their first Pac-12 loss with huge help from their defense and rebounding. Oregon held Arizona to 37 percent shooting from the field.  Oregon had nine offensive rebounds that led to 11 second-chance points. 

The return of Kenny Wooten: After not disclosing whether Wooten would play against Arizona or not, Wooten suited up and played 25 minutes with a full-face mask. His impact was immediate with an inside presence that Arizona didn't have an answer for. He finished with five points, seven rebounds and one block (although it looked more like two or three). 

Payton Pritchard's Duck legacy continues: He scored his 1,000th career point. The only Oregon native scholarship player on the roster, Pritchard is 37th in UO history to reach that milestone. 

Paul White continues to step up: The senior led UO with 16 points and five rebounds. The win marks his fifth consecutive game with double-figure points. 

Oregon closed out a tight victory: Single digits have decided six of the last seven meetings between Oregon and Arizona. To close out the game, the Ducks grabbed three offensive rebounds and Louis King made three of four free throws with 90 seconds to go. 

The Ducks improve to 2-2 in Pac-12 conference play, 11-6 overall. Next up, Arizona State. 

Kenny Wooten Watch: Oregon basketball upset brewing at Arizona?

Kenny Wooten Watch: Oregon basketball upset brewing at Arizona?

Oregon begins its first Pac-12 conference road trip vs. the Arizona Wildcats, who currently ranks first in the Pac-12. Single digits have decided five of the last six meetings between Oregon and Arizona. Can the Ducks build on their win over USC and upset Arizona? Let's get you in the know:

Records: Oregon (10-6, 1-2 Pac-12), Arizona (13-4, 4-0)

Wooten Watch: After missing Oregon’s last four games with a broken jaw, Kenny Wooten was wearing a mask as he went through drills during Tuesday’s practice. Important to note: he did not participate in contact drills. Coach Dana Altman said Wooten is unlikely to return to face Arizona. However, it could be a game time decision or Altman may want to keep the Wildcats guessing. 

Wounded Ducks: Oregon is down to only eight scholarship players this weekend with the loss of Bol Bol (season ending injury), Abu Kigab (transfer) and Wooten (broken jaw). The trio of Bol, Kigab and Wooten combined an average 30.2 points, 17.2 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game.

Record Watch: Junior guard Payton Pritchard comes into the Arizona game needing two points to reach 1,000 in his career.

Fun Fact: During Oregon vs. Arizona matchups, the winning team has scored at least 80 points in nine consecutive games.

King, heating up: Freshman Louis King has reached double-figure points in three straight games. King is averaging 19.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in Pac-12 play.

Wildcats to watch: Sophomore Brandon Randolph, Arizona's leading scorer, has scored in double figures in every game (17 games) this season. Senior guard Justin Coleman has 995 career points and is five away from 1,000. Freshman Brandon Williams is 5 of his last 7 from 3-point range after a 2-of-14 stretch.

Cats are rollin’: Arizona is 4-0 in Pac-12 play for the third time under coach Sean Miller and have won seven straight games. Arizona is 91-4 at home since the start of the 2013-14 season, which is the best mark in the country.

How and where to watch

Time: Thursday, Jan. 17, 6 p.m

Where: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.

TV: ESPN

More Ducks:

Ducks flocked for LaMichael James' Killer Burger grand opening

Does LaMichael James think the CFB Playoff should be expanded?

Who could be Oregon's next linebacker coach? Rising star, veteran, elite recruiter options

Doug Brenner and his Rhabdomyolysis: Why he's suing Willie Taggart and the University of Oregon

Payton Pritchard on the cusp of a milestone along wild, topsy, turvy roller coaster ride at Oregon

Does LaMichael James think the CFB Playoff should be expanded?

Does LaMichael James think the CFB Playoff should be expanded?

Oregon great LaMichael James added restaurant owner to his resume this week, opening a Killer Burger franchise.

I went to the grand opening and was impressed by the amount of Ducks fans there. The atmosphere was like an excellent backyard party: James passed out “perfect” burgers, "21" jerseys everywhere, cold beer in the glasses, good music, and Oregon sports paraphernalia on the walls (including signed jerseys by friends Damian Lillard, Russell Wilson, Jordan Bell and Jacquizz Rodgers).

I caught up with James about life after football (spoiler alert, his next Killer Burger location is Eugene!) and also asked his take on some hot current topics.

Who does James think will win the Super Bowl? Should the College Football Playoff be expanded? Of all the Ducks on the current roster, who does he love watching the most?

Watch the video above from the Brian Noe Show for more. 

 

Who could be Oregon's next linebacker coach? Rising star, veteran, elite recruiter options

Who could be Oregon's next linebacker coach? Rising star, veteran, elite recruiter options

Oregon’s 2019 outside linebackers still need a coach. With the departure of Oregon outside linebackers coach Cort Dennison to Louisville after just one year in Eugene, the search is on for his replacement. Dennison was a significant loss to Mario Cristobal’s staff: He ranked as the Pac-12's seventh best recruiter during the 2018 cycle, and the primary recruiter for Oregon signees Mase Funa and Ge'Mon Eaford.

Will Cristobal hire an up-and-comer or a well-respected veteran? Is recruiting prowess priority number one? How about ties to the current coaching staff? The following options fit into at least one of those categories.

Dennis Johnson, LSU defensive line coach. A former LSU football player apart of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship team, just finished his third season as a full-time coach on the Tiger staff. Johnson, who coached outside linebackers during his first two years on Ed Orgeron’s staff, is also a talented recruiter with an innate ability to land big-time recruits. He has played a pivotal role in LSU’s last two signing classes and is ranked No. 29 in the 247Sports recruiter rankings for the class of 2018.

Vernon Hargreaves, Missouri inside linebackers coach. A well-respected veteran of the coaching industry, Hargreaves has 34 years of collegiate coaching experience under his belt, including 27 as linebackers coach for some very successful programs. He also has multiple ties to the current Ducks staff, most notably with Cristobal at Miami. Hargreaves was the Hurricanes’ linebacker coach during the dominant run in the early 2000’s. He helped the Hurricanes claim the 2001 BCS title with one of the best defensive units in college football history.

Spencer Danielson, Boise State outside linebackers coach. At 29 years old, he’s one of college football’s rising stars, and named to 247 Sports’ 30 Under 30 list. He just finished his first season a full-time assistant for the Broncos after overseeing the STUD position as a graduate assistant last season. Under his watch in 2017, Jabril Frazier and freshman Curtis Weaver earned All-Conference and combined for 17 sacks. Prior to Boise State, Danielson coached linebackers at his alma mater Azusa Pacific for four years, where he started for three seasons at linebacker for the Cougars.

Bojay Filimoeatu, Utah State outside linebackers coach. Filimoeatu just returned to his alma mater, Utah State, as outside linebackers coach under former Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen. A former Oakland Raider, the linebacker spent the past two seasons as the linebackers coach at San José State and prior to that was a quality control defensive coach at Oregon State in 2016. He shares the SJSU program connection with Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. He would be an asset to recruiting in the Polynesian pipeline.  

Randall Joyner, SMU defensive ends coach. A high-energy coach who studied under defensive line mastermind Larry Johnson at Ohio State, where he was a graduate assistant. Ohio State went 23-4 during his two seasons with a trip to the CFP Semifinals in 2016, a Big Ten Championship, and win in the Cotton Bowl in 2017. He also served as a graduate assistant at Hawaii and played linebacker at SMU from 2010-13. He’s only 26 years old and also made the college football’s rising stars 30 under 30 list.

Internal options: Cristobal will likely fill Dennison’s position from outside of Oregon’s current coaching staff. However, there are two coaches with linebacker experience on the current staff: 

Donte Williams, UO cornerbacks coach. An elite recruiter, Sports Illustrated named Williams a top 10 recruiter in college football in 2015. He also has experience coaching linebackers; spending one season at Nevada as linebacker coach and two seasons at Washington as a graduate assistant where he coached cornerbacks and linebackers.

Keith Hayward, UO Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties coach. Hayward worked as linebackers coach at Cal Poly in 2007.

Currently, Oregon’s defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt coaches inside linebackers. The linebacker position unit returns half of their starters including leading tackler for the past three seasons, senior Troy Dye, and senior La’Mar Winston Jr.

Retaining Dye is huge for Oregon’s defense as the Ducks face the task of replacing their leading edge rushers in Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins. However, there are four interesting candidates to vie for playing time. Junior Sampson Niu, who started three games in place of senior Kaulana Apelu during Apelu's injury is an option. Also on the current roster is Keith Simms, Isaac Slade-Matautia and Miami transfer DJ Johnson.

Can’t overlook incoming freshman, Funa, who joins the linebacker corps as the highest-rated linebacker to sign with the Ducks in program history. Funa’s strength and great instincts could make an impact right away for the Ducks. Four- star Eaford also could compete for playing time.

With star linebackers and fresh talent, Oregon has the pieces in place but must make the right hire to help shape 2019 into the special season it could be.

Ducks flocked for LaMichael James' Killer Burger grand opening

Ducks flocked for LaMichael James' Killer Burger grand opening

LaMichael James: University of Oregon running back great, Heisman Trophy finalist, Doak Walker award winner, San Francisco 49er, Miami Dolphin, and now… Portland restaurant owner!

James always wondered about life after football and hoped he’d be apart of the Oregon community. His hope became a dream, which he turned to reality. When he opened the doors of his Killer Burger franchise in Cedar Hills on Monday, Duck fans flocked.

The atmosphere was like an excellent backyard party: James passed out “perfect” burgers, "21" jerseys everywhere, cold beer in the glasses, good music, and Oregon sports paraphernalia on the walls (including signed jerseys by friends Damian Lillard, Russell Wilson, Jordan Bell and Jacquizz Rodgers).

James’ path to ownership required a hefty initial investment and liquid asset of $150,000. The two-time All-American now has 23 employees but already has his sights on his next venture. Hear from James himself:

BRI: Describe the feeling of opening the doors officially for the first time?

JAMES: It’s honestly been unbelievable. It’s been fantastic. The love I’ve gotten from Oregon fans and the Oregon community… I can’t say enough about this city and state. It’s been great. In the first couple minutes we had like five people and then all of a sudden, the gates started flooding. It’s remarkable.

BRI: How did you get here? What was your path to ownership like?

JAMES: You never know when you are playing football. You are always one snap away from it being over. You don’t know what is going to happen. So, I always thought about life after football. I wondered, ‘What can I do?’ I especially wanted to give back to the Oregon community. I wanted to be apart of that. I came across Killer Burger and it’s from Portland, Oregon so I decided to do it.

BRI: A lot of Duck fans have been asking me to ask you, are you thinking of opening another one in Eugene? People want to see you down there.

JAMES: Most definitely. That’s my next step, I will definitely be opening a Killer Burger in Eugene.

BRI: What is your favorite burger on the menu?

JAMES: My favorite burger on the menu would have to be all of them! Sometimes it is this one and sometimes it is that one.

BRI: Spoken like a true owner. What is the hot one right now?

JAMES: People really love the peanut butter. It’s definitely the favorite one!

[Side note: On Killer Burger menu is the Peanut Butter Pickle Bacon burger… Which is loaded with bacon, peanut butter sauce, house sauce, mayo, grilled onion and pickle.]

BRI: How are you going to be involved in the day to day running of the restaurant?

JAMES: I am the GM, so I will be here at the restaurant. I do the schedules, the food ordering, the money, everything… Everything that needs to be done, I do it.

BRI: I saw you hand out some burgers today, was that because it’s so busy for your opening or is that apart of what you will do?

JAMES: I will help out doing anything. Any area that needs me, I will help out.

BRI: How many employees do you have?

JAMES: I have 23.

BRI: (Laughs) You might need to fire two today, so that you have your number, 21.

LMJ: I know, right? Watch out!

BRI: Do you think that burgers are the greatest food of all time?

JAMES: I do think that burgers are the GOAT food because they are so American and extremely popular. I know that I go to different establishments just to try the burger and compare them, even before I owned a burger restaurant.

BRI: For you, what completes a burger meal? A coke? Fries?

JAMES: With my burger I gotta have a beer! We sell beer here. My favorite is a blue moon. I don’t drink that much but it is definitely my favorite. Don’t come in here asking for suggestions on beer, because I can’t help you but definitely love the blue moon with the orange slice.

BRI: Do you catch yourself using any ‘coach speak’ as the owner?

JAMES: I do. I just want to implement that we are all a team here. Everybody is one. There is no boss here, everyone operates as one. I want people to mesh well and get along to have a successful business.

BRI: So, win the day?

JAMES: That’s the most important thing; winning the day.

James’ Killer Burger is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., located at 2905 SW Cedar Hills Blvd.

Doug Brenner and his Rhabdomyolysis: Why he's suing Willie Taggart and the University of Oregon

Doug Brenner and his Rhabdomyolysis: Why he's suing Willie Taggart and the University of Oregon

Wednesday, former Oregon football player Doug Brenner filed a suit against the NCAA, former Oregon football coach Willie Taggart, strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde, and the University of Oregon for injuries sustained during workouts in January, 2017, shortly after Taggart was hired.

Brenner is seeking $11.5 million in damages.

"I would ask you, how much is your health and your body worth?" Brenner asked in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Northwest. "My health and my body will be impacted by this for the rest of my life. My kidneys will never be the same."

Why take legal action now? I had the opportunity to sit down with Brenner and ask him some important questions on the forefront of this lawsuit.

Brenner detailed that his health issues led him to the doctor a few months ago, when he learned the severity of his kidney damage through a nuclear renal scan. The statute of limitations in Oregon for personal injury and medical malpractice claims is two years; since the workouts ensued in January of 2017, this month is the end of his window. 

The former offensive lineman was one of three players hospitalized as a result of the workouts, each suffering from rhabdomyolysis.  This is a condition where the body “eats its own muscles,” creating toxic elements which go through the body causing damage.

Rhabdomyolysis in athletes is a preventable and potentially fatal condition.

What does rhabdomyolysis feel like? What does he remember about those drills? Was he properly hydrated?  What NCAA changes does he hope will ensue as apart of this lawsuit? And maybe the biggest question, did Taggart lack control or ignore blatant red flags?

"Oh absolutely (he lacked control)," Brenner said. "That's why I am pursuing this. I want to prevent this from happening to future players. The NCAA has guidelines in place to avoid things liek this from happening but they aren't enforcing it and every year tons of kids across the country are being hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis."

According to the 18-page suit filed in Multnomah County circuit court, the permanent damage to Brenner's kidneys reduced his life expectancy by about 10 years.  

[FROM 2017: Willie Taggart starts his tenure at UO with the wrong kind of publicity]

In the interview, Brenner illustrates the January workouts. He details that the UO medical staff acknowledged that the workout went beyond the student athletes’ natural limits after the first day and on the second day, brought in oxygen tanks on to go along with the trash cans, for vomiting, that lined the workout room.

“Oderinde not only was willing to put student athletes through nonevidence-based physical punishment regimens, but also did not carry industry required certification to be a strength and conditioning coach,” the suit claims.

It also states that Taggart told players when he was hired that he and the new coaches were going to focus on discipline in strength and conditioning and they were "going to find the snakes in the grass and cut their heads off."

[WATCH FROM 2017: Taggart and his staff off to a rough start]

Taggart brought with Oderinde to Oregon from South Florida and currently still retains him on staff at Florida State. Oderinde was suspended without pay for a month by Oregon after the players were hospitalized and Taggart issued an apology.

After hospitalization, Brenner returned to the team to play in 2017. Brenner's senior season ended after he had hip surgery in October 2017 after he played seven games for the Ducks.

"I'm a proud Duck and I loved my time playing football at Oregon," Brenner said. "It was a tough choice to do this."

Sam Poutasi, another offensive lineman, is now also suing. 

Cam McCormick, the third Duck hospitalized, has opted against suing

"I respect my teammates immensely and their very difficult decision to take that path," McCormick said. "I look forward to putting this unfortunate situation in the past, and moving ahead."

Watch the video interview above to hear from Doug Brenner in his own words. 

Payton Pritchard on the cusp of a milestone along wild, topsy, turvy roller coaster ride at Oregon

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US Presswire

Payton Pritchard on the cusp of a milestone along wild, topsy, turvy roller coaster ride at Oregon

Junior Payton Pritchard continues to write his legacy at Oregon, but his 1000th career point will likely not be scored at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. The guard scored his 998th career point in Oregon’s 81-60 victory over USC. Two points shy of the major milestone, Pritchard and UO head to the McKale Memorial Center to take on Arizona (13-4, 4-0 Pac-12).  

The Ducks(10-6, 1-2) scored a season high 13 three-pointers in their first Pac-12 conference victory, three triples coming from the only Oregon native on the roster, Pritchard.

Pritchard’s 998 career points have come on a wild, topsy, turvy roller coaster ride at Oregon.

After winning four high school state titles at West Linn, expectations were high for the 2016 top player out of the state of Oregon. But no one had higher expectations than Pritchard.

As a true freshman, during Oregon’s first NCAA Tournament Final Four run in 78 years, Pritchard set his goal to be Oregon’s starting point guard. He did it, bumping junior Casey Benson out of the starting lineup in the fifth game of the season. With Pritchard as a starter, the Ducks went 31-4 in 2016-17.

Eighteen of those 998 points came in his first NCAA tournament game, the Ducks win over Iona. During Oregon’s historic run to the final four, Pritchard handled the ball and distributed to four of the five Oregon alums currently in the NBA; Dillon Brooks (Memphis), Jordan Bell (Golden State), Chris Boucher (two-way contract, Toronto) and Tyler Dorsey (Atlanta).

The other Duck in the NBA?  Pritchard’s teammate his sophomore season, UO’s first ever one and done player, Troy Brown Jr., who plays for the Washington Wizards.

In 2017-18, Pritchard was Oregon’s top returning player in every statistical category (except blocks) and became an All-Pac-12 Second Team selection. He scored 523 points, leading the Ducks with 14.5 points per game and 4.8 assists per game. Pritchard made 41.3-percent from beyond the arc in Oregon’s season that ended in the National Invitation Tournament, where they defeated Rider in the first round before losing to Marquette in the second round.

Major obstacles have invaded Pritchard’s junior season. After being to the watch list for the John R. Wooden award for national player of the year, Pritchard witnessed the Ducks sign their highest recruiting class ever, highlighted by Bol Bol. Pritchard played with Bol, the highest-rated player in school history to sign with UO, for all nine of his games as a Duck before his season and UO career ended with a ankle injury.

Oregon is down to only eight scholarship players and has looked lost at times. Expectations have fallen very short for the 2018-19 Ducks, who were picked as the Pac-12 Conference favorite in a preseason media poll.

However, Oregon’s victory over USC displayed its best overall game of the season, demonstrating mental toughness, three days after blowing a nine-point lead with 51 seconds left against UCLA, the worst last-minute collapse in Pac-12 history.

Not all hope is lost, as Oregon could still make the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in seven seasons by winning the Pac-12 tournament in March to earn the conference’s automatic berth. At this point amid the Pac-12 disarray, it’s anyone’s tournament to win.

“People are counting us out,” Pritchard said. “What do we got to lose at this point? Everybody’s out. People are doubting us. We hear it. We see it. It makes us play more free. We just want to go out and win and show people and prove them wrong. There’s really no pressure at this point."

With 15 more assists and two more points, Pritchard will etch himself into the UO history book as the sixth player in school history with 1,000 career points and 400 career assists.

With 385 career assists, Pritchard has already moved Fred Jones for seventh on the UO career assists list.  

He is shooting below last season’s clip but Pritchard’s experience is integral in leading Oregon’s young offensive minded Ducks to success.

First step? Avoiding starting conference play 0-3, check! Next step? The guard needs to build on the victory and lead his team to a upset over the Wildcats. Oh, and score at least two points to add another achievement to his legacy.