Oregon Ducks

Thomas Graham Jr.'s success a product of his family's plan

Thomas Graham Jr.'s success a product of his family's plan

EUGENE – Thomas Graham Sr. rose to his feet in a reaction of excitement and surprise so quickly he experienced a head rush that sent him right back down into his seat in Autzen Stadium.

His son, Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., had seemingly come out of nowhere to intercept a pass in the fourth quarter of the Ducks’ 42-35 win Saturday over Nebraska. 

“I almost passed out,” Graham Sr. said.

While Graham Sr. gathered himself, his wife Tamisha Graham jumped up and down while screaming: “That’s my baby, that’s my baby.”

Her “baby” right now is very much the man on Oregon’s defense, which appears to have greatly improved over last season thanks in part to the play of Graham Jr.  Through two games, the former four-star recruit out of Rancho Cucamonga High School in the California city of the same name already has two interceptions and two pass breakups, one leading directly to an interception.

Graham Jr. is sure to experience his share of lows this season. Too many elite quarterbacks and receivers operate within the offensively-driven Pac-12 Conference for that not to happen. Nevertheless, he appears to have the makings of becoming an elite cornerback. Not simply because of his extreme athleticism. Graham Jr. has embraced the nuances of the sport he loves to become as mentally prepared to perform at a high level as he is physically. And this is all by design. Part of a plan put forth by parents that demanded excellence from their two children and to avoid the mistakes made by a father who admittedly failed to reach his athletic potential due to lack of guidance and a poor attitude. 

The result is a daughter who is an elite hurdler and a son who could become a dominant defensive back for a program desperately in need of difference makers on that side of the ball.

“He’s a big-time player,” UO coach Willie Taggart Taggart said following Saturday’s game. “For him to be as young as he is and know as much football as he does, he’s great to have and it’s great to know he is gong to be here for a while.”

--- Team Graham 

Graham Sr., a graduate of San Diego High School, grew up playing football and participating in track & field. The son of a single mother, his athletic career peaked at San Jose City College because, the former cornerback said, he lacked academic focus and missed not having the guidance of a father to push him.

“I was a guy who never wanted to take responsibility for my actions,” Graham Sr. said.

Tamisha played softball in high school and grew up academically driven, eventually earning her masters degree in counseling. 

The couple has two children, Thomas, 18, and Jasmyne Graham, 20, forming what the family calls “Team Graham.”  Dad took charge of preparing the children for sports.  Mom handled the academic side. Team Graham's goal has been to assure that their children remain focused and driven to succeed.

Oregon does not allow true freshmen to speak to the media. Jasmyne recalls life as a Graham child. 

“Growing up, my dad would always tell us not to disrespect his name,” she said.

Graham Sr. repeatedly asked his children: “What do Grahams do?”

“We give 110 percent,” his children would respond in unison.

At times, they grew tired of the mantra.

“We get it, dad,” they would say.

Later on in life, they truly got it.

“As I got older I realized what he was trying to do,” Jasmyne said. “Everything we do we’re doing it in honor of ourselves.”

Graham Sr. said he demanded that his children live in the moment and strive to excel.

“Not just in athletics," he said. "I want them to compete in life...It doesn’t matter what you do. If you are a fry cook at McDonalds, be the best fry cook you can be.”

His children, as it turned out, were destined for much greater heights.

Dad coached them hard leading up to high school. He often blurred the lines between father and coach. 

“I’d have to say, ‘dad, turn off the coach switch,'” Jasmyne said with a laugh.

Graham Jr. rarely did. He pushed as the bad cop while mom mostly played the good cop.

It all paid off.

Jasmyne became an elite hurdler, earning a scholarship to USC before transferring to UNLV this year. She hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympic team. 

--- Chasing big sister

Graham Jr.'s road toward becoming a college athlete began with chasing big sis as a small child.

Her success as a youth often made Graham Jr. invisible to outsiders.

“Nobody knew we had a son,” Graham Sr. said. “Everybody thought we just had a daughter because she was so successful.”

Jasmyne showed zero mercy to her little brother. She’d roughed him up a little from time to time if he got out of line. But she did most of her damage in races, repeatedly dominating her little brother in head-to-head races. She’d mock his times at track meets, pointing out that hers were much faster.

“I’d say, ‘you’re slow,’” she recalled. “He was.”

Jasmyne drove her little brother nuts.  But, Graham Jr., who started playing tackle football at age 6 and competed up a level all of his life, wasn’t obsessed with sports as a little boy. Math and animals peaked his interest the most. The National Geographic Channel held his attention more so than televised games and highlights.

“He was always eager to learn,” Graham Sr. said. “I didn’t think he would be sports minded.”

Still, Jasmyne remained Graham Jr.’s white whale. Until he finally caught her, past her and won a race in the eighth grade while she was a sophomore at Roosevelt High School in Corona, Calif.

“He got tired of being her little brother,” Graham Sr. said.

Jasmyne didn’t take the loss well. At first. She blamed gender.

“He’s a boy,” she said with a laugh. “Him winning was an issue for him, not me. He should be faster.”

The dynamic between the two changed. Graham Jr. went from 5-foot-3 (the same height as his sister) to 5-9 in just over a year. Suddenly, Jasmyne was looking up at her little brother.

“Once he got taller and started lifting weights, I knew that if I hit him, he was going to hit him back,” Jasmyne said.

Graham Sr. noticed a change in his son. He became more confident.

“Once he started beating his sister, he thought he was the king of the house,” Graham Sr. said.

He was, at least when it came to speed. Jasmyne didn’t like it but what was done was done. Dad came next on Graham Jr.’s race list.

During a junior high football practice, Graham Jr. was dominating teammates in races. Dad decided to take him on.

Big mistake. It would be the last race they ever had against each other.

--- Student of the game

Once Graham's confidence grew, he went all in on football. He trained harder and studied harder. He dove into watching game video. His games. College games. NFL games. It didn't matter. He studied and learned. 

“He knows the routes from teams he played in 7th and 8th grade,” Graham Sr. said. “ He has a really great memory…I think he’s going to be a coach when he is done playing.”

Graham Jr. played varsity as a freshman at Roosevelt High where his sister graduated from in 2015. He transferred to Rancho Cucamonga before his junior year. There, he blossomed into a superstar and began receiving numerous accolades.

Graham Jr.’s high school coach, Nick Baiz, said his star cornerback/receiver was a little shy early on. By his senior year, however, his personality blossomed. Graham Jr’s positive energy proved infectious to his teammates, as did his study habits.

“He’s always kind of been a student of the game,” Baiz said. “His intellect and maturity allow him to understand what the coaches are telling him on film”

Whenever Baiz would get worried before a game, Graham would be there to pick him up.

“He’d always tell me before a game, ‘coach, we’re about to whoop that (butt). Don’t worry,'" recalled Baiz.

Graham Jr. rarely got beaten during a game. But when he did, his support system would all look at one another and know it was go time.

“Let’s go, baby boy,” they’d scream.

Then, something bad would happen for the other team.

“Any time he’s ever done something bad he comes back and does something better to erase that,” Jasmyne said. “He takes it to another place.”

Recruiters flooded the Graham’s home with letters and calls. Rivals.com rated him as the No. 12 cornerback in the nation. Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Nebraska, the entire Pac-12 and a host of other major programs pursued Graham. But most of them were all wasting their time. Graham Jr. committed to USC, his dream school, in July of 2015 before his junior season.

That lasted a year. In the summer of 2016, the USC staff failed to reach out to Graham Jr. for a few weeks. So, he decommitted. USC tried to get him back on board. No dice.

Jasmyne, who had been looking forward to attending college with her little brother, was not happy. But she understood. Graham kept his options open all the way through his senior season.

Graham Sr., always the tough critic, wondered if his son had what it took to play for a team in the Southeastern Conference. He wondered if his son was a ‘UCLA kid,’ which in their household of USC fans, including a Trojan for a daughter, meant “soft.”

Tamisha, however, had greater belief in his son’s abilities.

“I’d said he was a ‘UCLA kid’ and she’d say he could play in the SEC or anywhere he wants to because he’s that guy,” Graham Sr. said. “Thomas and her are like Starsky and Hutch. A Stick and a clutch. They go together.”

Graham Sr. wanted his son to go to Notre Dame. Jasmyne liked Nebraska best for her brother, after USC, of course. Tamisha envisioned her son attending Arizona State.

Graham Jr. remained undecided.

Then, Willie Taggart entered the picture. 

--- Oregon bound

Oregon introduced Taggart as its new head coach on Thursday, Dec. 8.  That weekend he traveled to Rancho Cucamonga to visit the Grahams.

By Dec. 15, Graham had committed. Taggart’s smile, personality and honesty won over Team Graham. 

“Taggart changed everything,” Graham Sr. said. “He sat down and it wasn’t all about football, it was more about life. He said he had a plan to help make Thomas a better man.”

Unlike most recruiters, Taggart didn’ boast about preparing Graham Jr. for the the NFL. He didn't promise him that he would start right away. Taggart simply offered Graham Jr. a chance to compete and to get an education in a disciplined yet nurturing environment.

Graham Jr. had already visited Oregon while being recruited by former Ducks defensive backs coach John Neal. Graham Jr. liked the small-town atmosphere of Eugene and became enamored with the Oregon's scenic outdoors. 

“I could see myself living here,” he told his mom.

Graham Jr. couldn't wait to get started at Oregon so he enrolled during the winter term. Tamisha and her daughter were against that idea. They wanted him to enjoy his senior year. 

"I was also worried because he was only 17 and that's my baby, but I knew he was mature enough to handle it," Tamisha said. "My fear was letting go."

When he returned home for spring break, Jasmyne discovered a different person. 

“He proved me wrong on so many levels,” she said. "He was a totally different person. He had grown up. He was still that goofy, funny, little kid, but he had matured in so many ways.”

The siblings have grown closer as they've gotten older. Jasmyne said despite their childhood spats, she's always viewed him as a very giving and generous person who she now leans on from time to time. 

“There are times when I feel like I can’t do something or I’m down and I know that if I call him he will say, “you need to remember who you are,'” she said. "That always makes me feel better."

Graham Jr. was one of the centerpieces of recruiting class that ranked No. 18 in the country. Immediately during winter drills, Taggart began seeing signs that Graham Jr. could be special. Taggart noticed his maturity and appetite for knowledge. Plus, his energy and determination. He was Taggart's type of player. Someone who wanted to compete at everything, which had been Graham Sr.'s goal for his son all along. 

Graham Jr.'s first roommate, former safety turned receiver Brenden Schooler, said the freshman clearly had natural football ability and instincts and a desire to learn. The two often sat around talking about the strengths and weaknesses of other players.

"He's just a football guru," Schooler said. "He loves it."

Sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell said Graham Jr.'s attention to detail is clear in his play.  

"Thomas has great knowledge of the game plan and that accentuates his athleticism," Mitchell said. 

So much so that he immediately jumped into the mix at cornerback during the spring. That carried over to the fall where he has been competing with senior Arrion Springs and junior Ugochukwu Amadi for playing time. Those two started the first game when Graham had five tackles as a backup. He made his first start Saturday against Nebraska. 

--- The head tilt

Knowing he would field questions about Graham Jr. following his performance against Nebraska, Taggart spoke to his star freshman before entering the post-game press conference. 

"He told me to tell you that he is excited," Taggart said. "That's why he came to Oregon to help this football program and to help turn this program. He said to, 'make sure to tell them, coach, that I appreciate you for coming down to recruit me.'"

Laughter ensued. 

“I’m serious, he did say that," continued Taggart. 

If Graham Jr. could speak to the media, one obvious question would be how he reacted to his day getting off to such and up-and-down start against the Cornhuskers.

On Nebraska's first play from scrimmage, Graham Jr. trailed a receiver who was eyeing a sideline pass over the cornerback's head. At the last second, Graham Jr. threw his hands out and tipped the pass, which was then intercepted by senior safety Tyree Robinson to set up Oregon's first touchdown.

Later that quarter, Nebraska senior wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El beat Graham Jr. on a jump ball in the right corner of the end zone. He had solid coverage but failed to look back for the football. Had Graham Jr. done so he might have made the interception. He also made contact with the receiver before the ball arrived and still got scored on to make the score 14-7, Oregon.

The play left his parents stunned, looking at each other with faces that read: “Did that just happen?”

But, just like when their son was in high school, they knew such a moment would only fuel their ultra competitive son. They also saw that signature head tilt to the right that Graham Jr. does when he is about to turn up the heat on his opponent. 

"When that happens, game on," Tamisha said. 

“If you beat him at something he is going to die trying to beat you back,” Graham Sr. said. “He’s a poor sport. He’s a poor sport to the fifth power.”

That competitiveness traces back to simple things like board games, video games, dominoes, card games and racing his big sister. 

"When he loses, he won't let you leave until he wins," Graham Sr. said. 

Late in the second quarter Graham Jr. intercepted Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee at the Nebraska 34 to set up a touchdown that gave Oregon a 42-14 lead. In the third quarter he broke up a pass. In the fourth he made the interception that left his father woozy.

Graham read and then jumped the pass intended for Nebraska's tight end over the middle and returned it 28 yards to the Nebraska 31.

“In the last six months he’s proven to me that he’s a high-caliber player,” Graham Sr. said.

After the game, Graham Jr. didn't have much to say about the game. He doesn't brag much. 

“He goes back into lala mode,” Graham Sr. said. “He wanted to go home and play video games. The most you can get out of him is ‘it was solid,” or ‘it was lit.’”

Watching on television from afar with great pride was sister Jasmyne, who will travel to Wyoming to see her brother and the Ducks play the Cowboys on Saturday. She remains Graham Jr.'s first major conquest. Now she looks up to and is inspired by her little brother. 

“I’m a fan of my brother,” Jasmyne said. “I feel like I’m his number one fan and number one supporter…It took so many fights to get here.”

It also took a lot of Team Graham pushing both along to the point where now the Graham children are thriving on their own. 

Justin Herbert aiming to shed same pre-draft labels as Marcus Mariota

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USATI

Justin Herbert aiming to shed same pre-draft labels as Marcus Mariota

INDIANAPOLIS – Something struck me during the latest Talkin’ Seahawks Podcast while Bleacher Report’s senior NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller was breaking down Justin Herbert.

Among the knocks against Herbert includes a sentiment that the former Oregon QB might not be vocal enough to lead an NFL offense. That’s a large part of the conversation surrounding Herbert this week at the NFL Combine.

“He’s got to go in and prove that he’s the type of leader that teams want,” Miller told NBC Sports Northwest. “Those are the knocks that you hear about him, that he’s kind of quiet and might be a little reserved. You don’t have to be Baker Mayfield, but you have to be a leader at quarterback. I think he has to answer those questions.”

That sounds awfully similar to what Marcus Mariota’s critics said about him during the pre-draft process back in 2015. Remember Mariota was also thought by some to be too quiet to warrant a top five pick, especially when compared to the gregarious Jameis Winston.

Mariota ended up going No. 2 overall and quickly became the beloved leader of the Tennessee Titans. He ultimately faltered, was replaced by Ryan Tannehill in 2019 and now faces an uncertain future, but all of that resulted because he failed to get the job done from a physical standpoint.

And yet here we are having the same conversations about another Ducks signal caller. They will continue as Herbert leaned into the criticism during his Combine press conference.

“When I showed up (at Oregon), I was shy and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and the quarterback can’t be that,” Herbert said. “To be a successful team, you have to have a quarterback that’s himself. He’s got to be genuine and real, and he needs to demand from his offense, from the team, what he needs to get out of them. I’ve done a better job of being vocal, stepping up and stepping out of my comfort zone.”

Herbert is coming off of a fantastic senior season in 2019 where he posted 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He also impressed as a runner with four additional scores on the ground. Herbert led Oregon to a 12-2 season that culminated in a Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin.

He carried that momentum into a successful week down in Mobile, Ala., back in January.

“When I watched him at the Senior Bowl, I watched him interact with guys. I watched guys come up to him,” NFL Network’s Charles Davis told NBC Sports Northwest. “I think (the criticisms) might be a little overblown. It feels like it’s not as bad as many people think.

“Quiet people can be competitors, too.”

Herbert measured in at 6-foot-6, 236 pounds with 10-inch hands. He’s got all the size and physical tools to be a franchise quarterback, which is why he’s projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. That doesn’t change the fact that teams will grill him during interviews on his capacity as a leader.

“I’m a different person,” Herbert told reporters. “I think the kid that showed up at the University of Oregon isn’t me anymore. There are aspects of my game that have changed. I’ve become more vocal. I’ve become more outgoing and there are things you have to do to be a quarterback and the way a quarterback carries himself. I think I’ve done a great job of becoming that over these past four years.”

Herbert’s progress is notable, and all that ultimately matters is that he has the confidence to get the job done in the NFL. He said he hasn’t spoken with Mariota during the pre-draft process but the two have established a friendship in recent years.

Of note, between Mariota and any other quarterback prospect who once carried the label of being “too quiet,” Davis hasn’t seen one fail in the NFL for that reason.

“I’ve never seen that, and I’ve never felt that way about head coaches, but they get that, too. Remember Tony Dungy, his critics said he didn’t have the fire to win the big one,” Davis said.

The more legitimate questions about Herbert pertain to his transition to a pro-style offense. Herbert, as well as most other QB prospects for that matter, didn’t operate in a huddle or take snaps from under center in college.

But again, Herbert remains confident in his NFL readiness.

“I think the (Oregon) offense did a great job of preparing us for the NFL, and a lot of stuff fell on me to flip protections (and) to change runs,” Herbert said.

The former Duck figures to be the top QB prospect working out this week in Indianapolis. Joe Burrow announced that he won’t be throwing at the Combine, and Tua Tagovailoa is still recovering from a hip injury. That gives Herbert a prime opportunity to steal headlines and cement himself as the third quarterback on draft boards.

“I want to come out here and I want to do everything, have fun, get better, learn,” Herbert said. “I think it’s all about the long haul so anything I can do to extend my game is what I’m going to do.”

How and when to watch the Oregon Ducks at the NFL Combine

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USATI

How and when to watch the Oregon Ducks at the NFL Combine

A record-tying seven former Oregon standouts will take part in this week’s 2020 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. The seven Oregon participants equal the program’s most set three other times in 2007, 2012 and 2015.

[RELATED]: Justin Herbert wants to prove he's a competitor at NFL Scouting Combine

A program record six offensive players will represent Oregon over the first part of the week, highlighted by Rose Bowl MVP and projected first round QB Justin Herbert. The six offensive players is tied for the fourth most from one program at this year’s event. Oregon is also one of four programs with three or more offensive linemen at the combine.

HOW TO WATCH

The NFL Network and NFL.com are providing live coverage of on-field drills Thursday, February 27 to Sunday, March 1. The coverage will begin at 1 p.m. PT on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. on Sunday.

OREGON PARTICIPANT DETAILS & SCHEDULE

Name                                       On-Field Day          Pos.                 Jersey #                  Group #
Jacob Breeland                       Thursday                   TE                     TE02                           1
Justin Herbert                         Thursday                   QB                    QB07                          2

Juwan Johnson                        Thursday                   WR                   WO31                         3

Jake Hanson                             Friday                        OL                     OL17                          4

Shane Lemieux                        Friday                        OL                     OL28                          5

Calvin Throckmorton              Friday                        OL                     OL48                          5

Troy Dye                                   Saturday                    LB                     LB14                           9

Sunday, February 23

·         TE Jacob Breeland – Arrive in Indianapolis, orientation and interviews

·         QB Justin Herbert – Arrive in Indianapolis, orientation and interviews

·         WR Juwan Johnson – Arrive in Indianapolis, orientation and interviews

Monday, February 24

·         TE Jacob Breeland – Measurements, medical pre-exam, x-rays, orientation and interviews

·         QB Justin Herbert - Measurements, medical pre-exam, x-rays, orientation and interviews

·         WR Juwan Johnson - Measurements, medical pre-exam, x-rays, orientation and interviews

·         OL Jake Hanson – Arrive in Indianapolis, x-rays, orientation and interviews

·         OL Shane Lemieux – Arrive in Indianapolis, x-rays, orientation and interviews

·         OL Calvin Throckmorton - Arrive in Indianapolis, x-rays, orientation and interviews

Tuesday, February 25

·         TE Jacob Breeland – Media interviews, medical examinations, testing and interviews

·         QB Justin Herbert – Media interviews, medical examinations, testing and interviews

·         WR Juwan Johnson - Media interviews, medical examinations, testing and interviews

·         OL  Jake Hanson – Measurements, medical pre-exam, orientation and interviews

·         OL Shane Lemieux - Measurements, medical pre-exam, orientation and interviews

·         OL Calvin Throckmorton - Measurements, medical pre-exam, orientation and interviews

·         LB Troy Dye – Arrive in Indianapolis, x-rays, orientation and interviews

Wednesday, February 26

·         TE Jacob Breeland – Bench press (2:30 p.m.), psychological testing, NFLPA meeting and interviews

·         QB Justin Herbert – Bench press (12:30 p.m.), psychological testing, NFLPA meeting and interviews

·         WR Juwan Johnson – Bench press (12:30 or 1:30 p.m.), psychological testing, NFLPA meeting and interviews

·         OL Jake Hanson - Media interviews, medical examinations, testing and interviews

·         OL Shane Lemieux - Media interviews, medical examinations, testing and interviews

·         OL Calvin Throckmorton – Media interviews, medical examinations, testing and interviews

·         OL Troy Dye - Measurements, medical pre-exam, orientation and interviews

Thursday, February 27

·         TE Jacob Breeland – Will not participate in on-field drills.

·         QB Justin Herbert – On-field drills (Vert/Broad Jump – 2 p.m., 40-yard dash – 2:30 p.m., Position Drills – 3:30 p.m., 3-Cone/Shuttle – 5 p.m.)

·         WR Juwan Johnson – On-field drills (Vert/Broad Jump – 3:30 p.m., 40-yard dash – 5 p.m., Position Drills – 6 p.m., 3-Cone/Shuttle – 7:30 p.m.)

·         OL Jake Hanson – Bench press (12:30 or 1:30 p.m.), psychological testing, NFLPA meeting and interviews

·         OL Shane Lemieux – Bench press (12:30 or 1:30 p.m.), psychological testing, NFLPA meeting and interviews

·         OL Calvin Throckmorton – Bench press (12:30 or 1:30 p.m.), psychological testing, NFLPA meeting and interviews

·         LB Troy Dye – Media interviews, medical examinations, testing and interviews

Friday, February 28

·         Jake Hanson – On-field drills (40-yard dash – 1 p.m., Position Drills – 1:30 p.m., Vert/Broad Jump – 2:30 p.m., 3-Cone/Shuttle – 3:30 p.m.)

·         OL Shane Lemieux – On-field drills (Vert/Broad Jump – 2 p.m., 40-yard dash – 2:30 p.m., Position Drills – 3:30 p.m., 3-Cone/Shuttle – 4:30 p.m.)

·         OL Calvin Throckmorton – On-field drills (Vert/Broad Jump – 2 p.m., 40-yard dash – 2:30 p.m., Position Drills – 3:30 p.m., 3-Cone/Shuttle – 4:30 p.m.)

·         LB Troy Dye – Bench press (2:30 p.m.), psychological testing, NFLPA meeting and interviews

Saturday, February 29

·         LB Troy Dye – On-field drills (Vert/Broad Jump – 3:30 p.m., 40-yard dash – 4:30 p.m., Position Drills – 5:30 p.m., 3-Cone/Shuttle – 6:30 p.m.)

Ducks, Dana Altman hopeful for N'Faly Dante's return vs. Oregon State on Thursday

Ducks, Dana Altman hopeful for N'Faly Dante's return vs. Oregon State on Thursday

Good news coming out of Eugene on Tuesday that Ducks fans have been waiting to hear: Oregon men’s basketball center N’Faly Dante is eyeing his return to the court.

His return could come as soon as Thursday against visiting Oregon State in chapter two of this season's Civil War series.

Oregon head coach Dana Altman and senior point guard Payton Pritchard met with members of the media on Tuesday at Matthew Knight Arena: 

Dante was seen moving around and in warm up gear before tipping off against the Arizona Wildcats last Saturday. Dante did not play in the game.

The 6-foot-11 center from Bamako, Mali has been battling knee tendinitis. The last game he played for Oregon was back on Jan. 8 against the University of Washington up in Seattle, WA. In the nine appearances for the Ducks, he averaged 6.2 points and 2.7 rebounds and totaled six blocks. While those numbers seem small, the big man just needs time and minutes. 

He is very athletic.

In their first Civil War meeting, the Ducks had trouble getting into the paint from any position on the court: guards, bigs, anything. Pritchard talked about it after the game. Oregon State's Kylor Kelley, the 7-foot senior forward, recorded 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Having Dante on the court, with his sheer size and athleticism alone, would be a dominating presence for the Ducks.

Justin Herbert wants to prove he’s a competitor at NFL Scouting Combine

Justin Herbert wants to prove he’s a competitor at NFL Scouting Combine

Former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert knows he has a lot to prove before the NFL Draft on April 23.

He needs to showcase his versatility at quarterback. He needs to demonstrate how quickly he can take information from his meetings to the field. And he needs to prove to teams that despite the fact he’s never been the prototypical natural-born leader, that won’t matter.

But of all the areas Herbert wants to show teams at the NFL Scouting Combine this week, it’s his competitive nature he hopes to put on full display.

“I want to come out here, I want to do everything,” Herbert told reporters on Tuesday. “Have fun, get better, learn, I think it’s all about the long haul. Anything that I can do to extend my game is what I’m going to do.”

On his list of “everything,” Herbert confirmed he will throw during NFL Scouting Combine Drills. This will give him an opportunity to showcase his robust arm strength and improve his draft stock in the pre-draft process.

Herbert won’t fit into the clichéd mold some teams are looking for at the combine, but he will likely be scooped up by a team looking for the next face of the franchise. His arsenal of skills and his high football IQ, however, won’t guarantee that he’ll start on an NFL team from Day 1. Herbert may not even be ready to play immediately.

"I've never played a down in the NFL,” Herbert said. “I couldn't tell you what the speed of the game is like. I've watched as much as I could and I feel confident with my abilities but I've never played in the NFL before, so to give you an answer whether I could play right now, I don't think that would be in my best interest."

Herbert played four years at Oregon, throwing for 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions on 66.8 percent completion across 14 games for the 12-2 Ducks. His last game at Oregon was a 28-27 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. He was recently named MVP at the Senior Bowl in January.

Herbert is currently projected to be the third quarterback taken off the board come April behind LSU’s Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, but when it comes down to it, Herbert says he'll just be satisfied to hear his name called. 

“Anywhere I go, I’ll be happy,” Herbert said. “I know that sounds cheesy and politically correct, but it’s true.”

Alabama reportedly targeting Oregon Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Aaron Feld

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NBCSNW

Alabama reportedly targeting Oregon Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Aaron Feld

You can hear Aaron Feld coming from a mile away. He is the loudest person in the room, or in this case, on the football field.

He's vibrant, rambunctious You can find him screaming “Let’s go!” and giving out high fives as the Oregon Ducks football team takes the field and during early morning practices and lift sessions. 

His energy is infectious, contagious. His mustache and bulging biceps are unmistakable. He is Oregon’s Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator and he is very good at his job. 

So good, in fact, that he is in high-demand for other programs across the country.

There is rumored interest in Feld from the Alabama Crimson Tide, according to Jon Wilner of the Pac-12 hotline newsletter, who just lost their Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Scott Cochran to the Georgia Bulldogs.

Here is how Feld is already connected to Alabama:

COACHING EXPERIENCE

2012-2013, UAB: Assistant Strength Coach (football) & Head Strength Coach (women’s basketball)

2013-2014, Alabama: Volunteer Strength Coach (football)

2014-2015, North Alabama: Head Strength Coach (all sports)

2015-2017, Georgia: Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning (football)

2017-present, Oregon: Head Football Strength and Conditioning Coordinator

Feld graduated from Mississippi State University. He has certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association.

While this is just a rumor, it would be a huge blow to the Oregon football program. His Fourth Quarter program in the offseason has paid off for the Ducks in terms of staying in shape and increasing both size and speed when the season rolls around. Also, his energy is contagious. Flex Friday's, yelling and jumping around, leading before practice stretching, he does it all for the Ducks to limit injury and keep the Ducks in football shape.

Feld is the 27th highest paid strength and conditioning coach in the nation, third in the Pac-12 conference. He made $310,000 in 2019 and had a max bonus of $93,000.

It would be a big loss indeed.

 

Sabrina Ionescu’s record setting night was perfectly poetic in honor of Kobe and Gigi Bryant

Sabrina Ionescu’s record setting night was perfectly poetic in honor of Kobe and Gigi Bryant

Sabrina Ionescu's day started with speaking at her friend's memorial service.

She gave a touching speech at Staples Center in front of thousands and shared the wonderful memories she had with Kobe and Gigi Bryant.

She then hopped on a short flight north where the No. 3 Oregon Ducks were waiting for her. So was No. 4 Stanford. It was a top-5 showdown on a Monday night in Palo Alto with the Ducks looking to clinch a share of the Pac-12 title, while Stanford was looking for revenge.

Ionescu didn't just record her 26th career triple double, but she also made history becoming the first NCAA player to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds. She needed nine rebounds coming into the game to complete the triple threat. She did and it is awesome.

On 2-24-20, the combined numbers of Gigi (2), Kobe (24), and Sabrina (20), Ionescu made history! 

It is perfectly poetic.

Here is how social media reacted to this unbelieveable milestone:

Instant Analysis: No. 3 Oregon clinches share of Pac-12 title with win over No. 4 Stanford

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OregonWBB Twitter

Instant Analysis: No. 3 Oregon clinches share of Pac-12 title with win over No. 4 Stanford

The Stanford Cardinal were ready to avenge their 32-point loss from back in Eugene on Jan. 16. They changed up their defensive scheme, leaving Oregon’s Minyon Moore open on the offensive end, double teaming Ruthy Hebard down low and clogging up driving lanes.

That didn’t last long.

The Ducks put the ball in Sabrina Ionescu’s hands as she fed it to the hot hand, Satou Sabally.

On a night where Ionescu made history in more ways than one, the No. 3 Oregon Ducks (26-2, 15-1 Pac-12) officially clinched a share of the Pac-12 conference title with the win over No. 4 Stanford (24-4, 13-3 Pac-12) in Palo Alto, California.

FINAL SCORE: Oregon 74, Stanford 66

Here are three quick takeaways from the game:

1. EARLY DEFENSE / POOR SHOOTING

The Ducks quickly jumped out to a 10-point lead after going on an 11-0 run to close out the first quarter. It was a nine minute scoring drought for Stanford. Junior Satou Sabally got the hot hand early hitting from both three-point range as well as AND-1 opportunities.

Stanford’s poor shooting start didn’t help the Cardinal either, hitting just 3-for-17 in the first quarter alone.

2. SATOU SABALLY

The 6-foot-4 forward has been a matchup nightmare all season long. She can stretch the floor wide with her sharp shooting which leaves room for her to drive the ball. 

Sabally brought her offensive skill and kept the Ducks afloat giving them a boost and a quick 10-point lead. She finished with 27 points hitting 10-for-17 from the field and nine rebounds.

3. THE BEST EVER, SABRINA IONESCU

Coming into Monday’s game, Sabrina Ionescu needed nine rebounds to reach a stat that no other has ever done before. She got all nine within three quarters. 

On her ninth rebound, Ionescu became the first player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.

If those numbers aren’t crazy enough, how about recording her 26th career triple-double, too? Ionescu records back-to-back triple-doubles and finished with 21 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds in the win.

It is her first against a top-10 opponent and eighth this season.

UP NEXT: The Ducks finally return home to host the Washington schools, starting with Washington State (11-17, 4-12 Pac-12) on Friday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. (PT) in Eugene, Oregon.

Sabrina Ionescu becomes the first NCAA player EVER to reach 2K points, 1K assists, 1K rebounds

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NBCSNW

Sabrina Ionescu becomes the first NCAA player EVER to reach 2K points, 1K assists, 1K rebounds

Sabrina Ionescu is the best player in collegiate basketball. Hands down. Cut and dry. Plain and simple. Wrap it up.

The proof is in the numbers. Something no one has EVER done before in the history of the NCAA, men’s or women’s: Ionescu becomes the first player ever to reach 2,000+ career points, 1,000+ career assists and 1,000+ career rebounds.

Here is how she got to all three:

- On November 13, 2019, Sabrina Ionescu reached 2,000 career points.

- On February 14, 2020, Sabrina Ionescu reached 1,000 career assists.

- On February 24, 2020, Sabrina Ionescu reached 1,000 career rebounds.

These numbers don’t even make sense! They seem unreachable. That is unless your name is Sabrina Ionescu.

The 5-foot-11 senior guard from Walnut Creek, California has changed the game and elevated the Oregon program to national relevance. Players commit to Oregon to play with her. Players commit to Oregon to carry on her legacy.

Here are her stats from year to year:

FRESHMAN YEAR (2016-17): Averaged 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.

SOPHOMORE YEAR (2017-18): Averaged 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

JUNIOR YEAR (2018-19): Averaged 19.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game.

SENIOR YEAR (2019-PRESENT): Averaged 17.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game.

The NCAA leader in triple-doubles? Sabrina Ionescu, who recorded her 25th career triple-double at Cal on Friday. She even has a menu item named after her at the Wild Duck Cafe across from Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene: “Sabrina’s triple-doubles” which is three mini slider burgers, double stacked meat with cheddar cheese, pickles and slider sauce.

On April 6, 2019, Ionescu wrote a letter to Duck Nation stating she would return to Oregon for her senior season for some “Unfinished Business.”

She was most likely talking about a National Championship considering the Ducks had just come off the program’s first ever Final Four appearance and a loss to the Baylor Bears. But the possibility of consistently writing her name not just into Oregon record books but national record books is something else.

“She’s putting up ridiculous numbers.”

“I don’t know if there’s anything she can’t do.”

“It’s in her eyes and the competitive nature that she had, you can’t teach that.” -- Stephen Curry

These are just some of the things said about Ionescu.

And she’s not done yet. There is still some unfinished business left for Ionescu and the No. 3 Oregon Ducks.