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Ducks put pro draft dreams on hold

EUGENE — Oregon defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu both gave up the opportunity to make a lot of money when they decided to come back to the Oregon Ducks football team this year rather than enter the NFL draft.

Grasu, a redshirt senior, says he decided to play one more year of college because of his teammates and his coaches.

“I love being around these guys, Coach (Mark) Helfrich and all the coaches,” he says. “I really trust what they’re saying, and I wanted to come back and help this team win.”

Ekpre-Olomu says it was a difficult decision for him to wait on pro football.

“But at the same time, I always felt I could wait another year for the NFL and it wasn’t something I had to rush into,” he says. “This was a year I could get myself ready for the whole aspect of starting a new life.”

Prudence would dictate that both players take out an insurance policy on themselves. Those policies are quite expensive, though the school is allowed to help pay for part of it. For instance, Florida State helped quarterback Jamies Winston pay the $60,000 it cost for him to take out a $10 million policy.

Did the University of Oregon help pay for policies for Grasu and Ekpre-Olomu?

“That’s between my family ... “ Grasu says.

Says Ekpre-Olomu: “I don’t really talk about that in an interview.”

• Junior tight end Pharaoh Brown says he is a more mature person after being suspended from the Alamo Bowl last season for a snowball fight.

“It’s always a learning experience when you make a mistake,” Brown says. “That’s what humans learn from is mistakes. We’d never learn if we succeeded at everything. Just making that mistake, I was able to learn from it, and I’ve matured a lot from then. I’m just moving on now.”

Brown says he is not looking at the suspension as extra motivation for this season. However, not playing in the Alamo Bowl did make him hungrier.

“I’m self-motivated,” he says. “I don’t need to make a mistake to get motivated. But, missing a game, I’m ready to get back.”

With the Ducks’ lack of depth at receiver, Brown’s ability to catch the ball could be critical for Oregon.

“Most of our top receivers are gone,” he says. “There’s a lot of balls to be caught.”

• The Ducks seemingly have some question marks at receiver (with four top guys gone or injured), but Helfrich says the depth chart is full.

“We haven’t been this deep, certainly at receiver, in a long time,” he says.

Jesuit High grad Keanon Lowe, a part-time starter the past two years, leads the group. Bralon Addison, who had 61 receptions for 890 yards and seven TDs, and added 21 punt returns for a 14.1-yard average and two scores, will miss the majority of the season with a knee injury, although he hopes to return late in the season.

It’ll depend on the Ducks; if Addison is ready to play and the Ducks are still playing relevant games, he is likely to play.

• Junior defensive lineman Arik Armstead finally gave up his dream last season of being a football/basketball player. The highly touted recruit came to Oregon with the hope of playing both sports. A lack of playing time on the court led him to quit the basketball team and focus on football.

The upshot to not playing basketball is it gave Armstead an entire offseason to just focus on football.

“Having a whole offseason of just football with my team, in the weight room, it was a good offseason,” Armstead says. “Each year going in, I expect to get better than the year before and this offseason has helped me just focus on football.”

• With Tyler Johnstone (knee) also expected to miss the season, the Ducks’ suddenly have a big hole to fill on the offensive line. Redshirt junior Andre Yruretagoyena, 6-5 and 290 and from Scottsdale, Ariz., will get his chance to replace Johnstone at left tackle.

• Sophomore Jake Lockie and true freshman Morgan Mahalak figure to be in contention to be Marcus Mariota’s backup at quarterback this season. The backup won’t be Ty Griffin, the Georgia Tech transfer, who will be ineligible after transferring.

Helfrich defends Lockie, who threw only 13 passes last season as the Ducks opted to keep Mariota in the final four games despite his bothersome knee injury.

“Jeff had a great spring,” Helfrich says. “He’s really smart. It has to do with confidence — he needs to trust himself more.”

Says Lockie: “A lot of things have improved. My overall feel for the game, where I stand (in the program). I’ve had hundreds more reps, a little game time to work off. Hopefully that shows.”

• With the Pac-12 more balanced, and teams adapting to UO’s pace, offense and conditioning, what advantage do the Ducks still possess?

“Definitely our preparation,” Mariota says. “Give it up to our coaches.”

Is it national championship or bust for Oregon?

“For you to say national championship or bust ... that’s an outside opinion,” Mariota says.