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Ducks win some, lose some

EUGENE — There was little flash in the University of Oregon’s 2014 recruiting class.

The Ducks signed 21 players, three from junior colleges, one transfer and 17 incoming freshmen.

The list included one five-star recruit, seven four-stars, 12 three-stars and one two-star.

Oregon’s class was ranked 22nd nationally by Scout.com, and fifth in the Pac-12, behind USC, Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich joked that he has taken a lesson from his wife and is not lamenting any players the Ducks failed to pick up.

“We recruited against a bunch of guys,” Helfrich said Wednesday. “We won some and we lost some. I’m sure my wife sits around every day wishing she married George Clooney or Brad Pitt, and she moved on. We will, too.”

Something that may be telling about the 2014 recruiting class: “The proudest thing in all of this for me is to have (quarterback) Marcus Mariota, (defensive back) Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and a lot of coaches who could have been anywhere, staying here," Helfrich said. "That means a lot for this place and can only help us.”

By and large, the players Oregon signed have been committed to the Ducks for some time.

“If these guys had flipped, there would be a lot of questions in my mind about mankind,” Helfrich said.

Oregon’s five-star recruit is Royce Freeman, a 6-0, 225-pound running back out of Imperial (Calif.) High.

The Ducks were in contention for five-star safety Juju Smith, a 6-1, 185-pounder from Polytechnic High in Long Beach, Calif. Smith wound up choosing USC.

Helfrich nimbly dodged a question about Smith. He said the only thing he wishes is that Oregon had gotten one more large body.

“I don’t know what a ‘druther’ is, but if we had our druthers, we’d want one more big guy, offensively, or defensively,” Helfrich said.

Some believe that the relationship players form with their coaches and the ability of those coaches to get a player to the NFL are the top criteria in the often fickle minds of prep stars. Helfrich gave a different opinion.

“If you ask a guy why he chooses a place, distance (from his hometown to the college) will be No. 1,” he said. “And winning will be No. 2.”       

The Ducks have done a lot of winning recently, going to four consecutive BCS Bowl games from 2009-2012.

“It certainly gets you in the door,” Helfrich said, of Oregon’s success. “First, it was the uniforms and the helmets and the flash. Now, it’s the commitment to the student-athlete and getting a degree and, ‘oh, by the way, we’ve won a lot of games.’”

However, those BCS appearances came during the Chip Kelly era. In 2013, Helfrich’s first year with the Ducks, Oregon fell out of the national picture in November and wound up playing in the Alamo Bowl. Asked if not playing in a BCS game hurt Oregon in recruiting, Helfrich looked taken aback.

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said. “No. No.”

Helfrich said the recruiting process took Oregon coaches to more than 1,000 high schools in 31 states. A subplot is that former defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti already was contemplating retirement while making recruiting visits. Helfrich said no false promises were made to any players, though.

“Nobody was misled,” he said. “We were as honest and forthright at the time as we can be.”

Helfrich harped on the importance of knowing what kind of person a player is, both on and off the field.

“The five-star player is at best a coin flip of whether he’s going to be a proven player,” Helfrich said. “We have an eight-step criteria that has nothing to do with football. We talk about managing as many knowns as possible.”

Helfrich declined to spell out the Ducks' eight- step forumla.

“It’s more or less just trying to not make exceptions for as many of the off-field things you can try to find out about,” he said.

And, on Wednesday, Heflrich was satisfied that the players he signed were the right players for the Ducks.

“It’s a great day for a lot of people who have created an incredible niche business in this deal,” Helfrich said. “All things considered, we're really happy. But let’s go to spring ball and let’s go to fall camp and see how it plays out.”