A season after signing no in-state players to its 2015 class, Mark Helfrich mined Oregon in the 2016 class, signing four of the top five high school players from Oregon as well as the top junior college player in the state.
“This year was a phenomenal year in the state of Oregon,” Helfrich said. “We got, we feel obviously, the best guys in the state of Oregon this year. And that’s a huge year for the state and for us.”
Helfrich is right. It’s a good sign for both the Ducks and the state of Oregon. Not only did the state produce more top football players this season than it typically does, the Ducks were the school that snagged those commitments.
On top of that, Helfrich knows he can avoid the commentary from folks who were upset last season when he didn’t sign a single player out of the state of Oregon.
Some fans were upset. Some high school coaches were bothered. Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney was upset enough that he called The Oregonian’s John Canzano to talk about it.
"Helfrich grew up in Coos Bay," Courtney told Canzano. "He went to Marshfield High. If anyone should get how important that is, it should be him."
But now the fans and coaches (and Courtney) should be happy seeing the haul Oregon put on the state after this past signing day.
Every coach has a different theory and viewpoint on what exactly a verbal commitment means. Some allow their commits to make “soft” verbals and continue to look around while others want players to shut it down after making a verbal.
Helfrich is firmly in the “shut it down” camp. But that’s becoming an increasingly difficult place to be since players are committing so much earlier now. In the past a player might’ve had to ignore the advances of programs for a few months, but now players of the same caliber who might commit a year in advance have to fend off those programs a bit more aggressively.
The Ducks lost a few verbally committed players in the 2016 class (notably running back Vavae Malepeai, who flipped to USC on signing day), which got Oregon in the headlines a bit. But Helfrich also didn’t get in the headlines during the waning weeks of the recruiting cycle. for pulling back scholarship offers.
“I’m of the opinion that a commitment is a commitment and that’s a two-way street,” Helfrich said. “If we offer a guy a scholarship and he commits to us we honor that.”
More than one third of Oregon’s 2016 class is already on campus -- quarterback Dakota Prukop, receiver Dillon Mitchell, offensive lineman Jacob Capra, defensive lineman Hunter Kampmoyer, linebackers A.J. Hotchkins and Darrian Franklin and safety Troy Dye.
On top of those seven players the Ducks expect three more to enroll before spring practices start -- quarterback Terry Wilson, tight end Cam McCormick and linebacker Eric Briscoe -- meaning more than half of the players in the 2016 class will get a spring season under their belts.
It’s becoming an increasingly popular decision for players -- not even just the most skilled -- to make when committing to a school. Many players decide that if they’re coming to a campus in the fall to commit their free time to this sport, they might as well come a few months early to make the next four to five years more worthwhile.
“I think it’s a byproduct of the types of players [we’re recruiting],” Helfrich said. “They want instant everything -- instant Heisman Trophy, instant national championship, instant start, and that’s hard. I am very much a supporter of being a high school kid, being a three-sport athlete and going to your high school prom, doing all that stuff. But by the same token if Troy Dye wants to come here and enroll early and be great then we’re all for it. It’s very individually based in our approach.”