NCF Nation: Dontae Williams

A lot has been said about Willie Lyles, but Lyles has said little about himself, his high school scouting work and his relationships with college players, including Oregon running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk.

Well, he spoke with Jason Whitlock for an hour, a podcast of which you can listen to here.

Lyles, who runs a Texas-based scouting service, is under NCAA investigation after receiving $25,000 from Oregon for scouting material. He also has been accused of asking Texas A&M to "beat" an $80,000 offer for star recruit Patrick Peterson in 2007.

He called all the allegations against him "unequivocally false."

Still, what's at issue for the NCAA is this equation: New scouting service with no track record + "mentor" relationship with elite prospect + significant payment from institution = player goes to said institution.

It's entirely possible that Lyles runs a legit scouting service that provided valuable materials to Oregon that were worth $25,000 and that his relationship with James, Seastrunk and another running back, Dontae Williams, who also signed with Oregon but has decided to transfer, were straight-up mentorship relationships, intended only to help the young men whom he met through his work scouting them.

Said Lyles: "I don't steer kids to schools." What does he do? He offers "insight, not influence."

Oregon has said it is confident it acted within NCAA rules and that it is cooperating with investigators. On the podcast, Lyles said he has yet to be formally interviewed by the NCAA, though it has contacted him.

"I just haven't set up an interview time as of yet," he said. "So I just haven't decided on when and where that's gonna take place."

Lyles, who appeared with his lawyer, provided this interesting tidbit: He said he made $36,000 last year: $25,000 from Oregon, $6,000 from LSU and $5,000 from California.'s Ryan McGee ranked the nation's top five recruiting coordinators, and two from the Pac-10 made the cut, including a surprise No. 1.

McGee ranks USC's Ed Orgeron No. 5, but he doesn't only praise the recruiting legend. Writes McGee:

There was a time -- a very long time -- when Orgeron would have been the undisputed number one on this list.

But a trail of issues has followed him from one school to another. Some say that's simply the result of his aggressive personality (example: his current selling point to recruits is that USC will beat their current NCAA bowl ban and scholarship restrictions when they win their pending appeal). Others say he lives life with a "ready, shoot, aim" mentality that is a blatant disrespect of authority.

I'd say the reason Orgeron is a great recruiter is players love him and he is relentless. Those two facts often create the above impression, which is supplied by grumpy rivals who typically just saw their guy commit to Orgeron's team.

Ah, but McGee has high praise for his No. 1 guy: Oregon's Don Pellum. Writes McGee:

The first four coordinators on our list all have one very important advantage in common: they live and work right smack in the middle of football talent pipelines. Not Pellum. An Oregon grad and a former recruiting coordinator for the California Golden Bears, he long ago established footholds up and down the West Coast, helping to build up the Ducks from a longtime also-ran into a national power. Now he routinely stakes claims in far-flung locales to the east. Of the Ducks' 20 early commits, there are two apiece from Florida and Texas and three of those four are listed among the ESPN 150. "It's a long way from Florida to Eugene," says former Ducks coach Mike Bellotti, "But if anyone can sell that move it is Don Pellum. Of course, winning doesn't hurt either."

When I arrived in the Northwest in 1999, Oregon most recruited regionally and in Southern California -- just like very other Pac-10 team. To me, the transformation of the Ducks from just a "good" program to an "elite" program has coincided with their new aggressiveness recruiting nationally.

Ten years ago, going "east" for a recruit meant the Ducks hit Colorado. Just one player on the roster in 2000 -- a team that finished ranked seventh in the country -- was from the East Coast (who wasn't a JC punter): hard-hitting linebacker Wes Mallard, who hailed from Columbus, Ga., and was initially a walk-on.

And, of course, a guy named "Mallard," well, where else could he possibly play football?

This year's roster featured players from 17 states and Canada. And Oregon is extremely active in Texas now, see running back LaMichael James, quarterback Darron Thomas, receiver Josh Huff, running back Lache Seastrunk and running back Dontae Williams, to name a few.

Of course, recruiting nationally has its downside. It can lead to coming in second in a lot of recruiting battles, which is often worse than not making the effort. Wasting time and resources in recruiting can be a killer come signing day. A lot of young men from other regions also enjoy taking trips to "exotic" places but have no intention of playing far from home. More than a few East Coast prospects use USC and UCLA to get their first taste of LA, then sign with SEC schools.

Still, if you want to run with the big dogs, you've got to, er, run with the big dogs.
Another year, another strong collection of running backs, even with the departures of Toby Gerhart and Jahvid Best.

While Pac-10 quarterbacks will grab most of the preseason headlines -- that's what happens when the two best NFL prospects at the position play in the same conference -- the class of running backs is nearly as strong.

Three 1,00o-yard rushers are back, and that doesn't include California's Shane Vereen, who piled up 952 yards as a backup, nor does it including Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. Six of the top-nine running backs will return this fall, and more than a few teams are decidedly deep at the position.

By the way, you might note there is more mention of incoming freshman at this position than others. Two reasons: 1. The Pac-1o had a strong haul of RBs in recruiting; and, 2. RB is often the easiest place for a young player to break into the lineup.

Great shape

  • Oregon: While the Pac-10 blog rates Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers ahead of LaMichael James as an individual player, the Ducks have a decided edge in depth, and not only because James' backup, Kenjon Barner, is one of the conference's most explosive players. The incoming recruiting class also features Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, the No. 6 and No. 13 prep running backs in the nation in 2009.
  • [+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireJacquizz Rodgers may be the most talented individual running back in the Pac-10 this year, but Oregon has the best group.
  • Oregon State: Jacquizz Rodgers is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as the most complete back in the conference. Depth behind him is a little iffy, though Ryan McCants turned in some of his best work during spring practices.
  • Washington: Washington fans often note that Chris Polk gained most of his 1,113 yards last year after contact because he was running behind a young offensive line. That line, with four starters back, should be better in 2010. Good depth with Johri Fogerson and freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, who both participated in spring drills.
  • California: As noted above, Vereen put up impressive numbers as a backup and then starter over the final four games after Best got hurt. 12 TDs on 183 carries shows he has a nose for the endzone. Depth behind him is uncertain. Trajuan Briggs, Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway are competing for backup touches.
  • USC: Allen Bradford, a neglected talent under Pete Carroll, who was oddly in love with the mercurial Joe McKnight, could end up being a first-team All-Pac-10 back. C.J. Gable also will have a chance to emerge from Carroll's doghouse. True freshman Dillon Baxter was the star of spring practices, while Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler are major talents who just need to stay healthy.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back their top three running backs: Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko. But Grigsby, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year when he wasn't hurt, needs to find a way to stay healthy.
Good shape
We'll see

  • Stanford: The Cardinal doesn't have one guy who can replace Gerhart. But who does? The good news for a backfield-by-committee approach with Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and freshman Usua Amanam in the mix is the offensive line in front of them should be outstanding.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace leading rusher Dimitri Nance, who didn't exactly scare opposing defenses in 2009. Cameron Marshall is the leading returning rusher with 280 yards. James Morrison and Jamal Miles will provide depth, though an incoming freshman might get into the mix. As has been the case for a while with the Sun Devils, the first order is improving the offensive line.
  • Washington State: Leading 2009 rusher Dwight Tardy is gone. If James Montgomery is healthy -- and stays that way -- he gives the Cougars a quality runner. He was clearly the best guy last preseason before he got hurt. Logwone Mitz, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston and Marcus Richmond will compete for touches during fall camp. Whatever the pecking order, the offensive line is the biggest issue.

Judgment day for Oregon?

March, 12, 2010
Oregon running back LaMichael James' will face sentencing this morning after making a plea deal on domestic violence charges, and Duck quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will face a burglary charge in court later this afternoon.

And coach Chip Kelly is expected to announce discipline decisions on these two second-team All-Pac-10 performers who were big reasons the Ducks were likely going to be a preseason top-10 team and the Pac-10 favorites heading into 2010.

It's a big day for Ducks football.

So, in purely football terms, the worst case is Kelly either kicks both off the team or suspends them for the entire season. That's highly unlikely, particularly with James, but let's entertain the notion.

First, the Ducks won't tumble into the slag heap, though picking a Pac-10 favorite will become much more difficult.

The Ducks spread-option offense will take a step back if Masoli isn't running the show. He's a two-year starter who's masterful at disguising where the ball is on option runs. He's also a physical runner with a nose for the end zone who's a solid, if at times inconsistent, passer.

Senior backup Nate Costa has seen only limited action in games, starting once last year when Masoli was hurt, leading the Ducks to a win over UCLA. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Recall that knee injuries derailed a promising future for Costa. He was Dennis Dixon's heir apparent in 2008, and Kelly was very high on his prospects. The biggest question with him is whether he can stay healthy.

The future, however, is Darron Thomas, who took a redshirt in 2009, his second season with the program. Thomas, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, is best remembered for his poised performance as a true freshman coming off the bench against Boise State in 2008, when he nearly led the Ducks back from a huge deficit. He threw for 215 yards and three touchdowns.

Thomas is a good athlete with tremendous upside as a passer. Would starting his second game in front of 100,000-plus at Tennessee be a shock to his system? Probably. But UCLA won there last year with redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, so success in Neyland Stadium with a green QB is hardly unprecedented.

At running back, Kenjon Barner, a 5-11, 190-pound sophomore, is James' capable backup. The former cornerback rushed for 366 yards last year and averaged 7.5 yards per carry. He had seven carries for 64 yards in the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks also have senior Remene Alston, who rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns, but Barner's top backups might be one or two of the touted freshmen in the 2010 recruiting class: Lache Seastrunk, rated the nation's No. 6 running back by Scouts. Inc., Dontae Williams and Josh Huff.

Is potentially losing Masoli and James ideal? Absolutely not. Is it catastrophic for the 2010 season? Probably not.

Now some links:

  • John Canzano on Judgment Day -- separating rumor from truth, and Kelly turning to a surprising rival for advice (it actually doesn't surprise me at all).
  • It comes down to felonies vs. misdemeanors, athletic director Mike Bellotti told The Oregonian. In other words, Masoli needs his second-degree burglary charge -- a felony -- to be reduced to remain with the team. "A felony conviction would result in dismissal from the team and loss of scholarship," Bellotti told the newspaper.
  • Ducks headed to the NFL think the team needs better player leadership.
  • A legal expert thinks Masoli will get probation, not jail time, and may get his charges reduced to a misdemeanor.
  • Some fans are venting about the Ducks troubles -- and some are getting creative.
  • And beyond Kelly's discipline, what about school policy?