Oregon Ducks Football: The 7 Best Recruits in Program History

Sam Schwartz@seschwartz365Correspondent IAugust 1, 2011

Oregon Ducks Football: The 7 Best Recruits in Program History

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    As the calendar flips over to August in just a few hours, it will mean that there is just about a month until the start of the 2011 college football season. 

    While Auburn won the national-championship game this past year, the Tigers have lost a chunk of their roster, and should not be huge factors in the race for the title this time around. 

    However, the team that they defeated on a last-second field goal in the BCS national championship game, Oregon, should be near the top of the rankings once the first polls are released. 

    With an offense like no other in the history of the game, the Ducks are loaded with talent that should be able to fire on all cylinders once the season begins. 

    The Ducks are going to fight until the finish once again this year to prove that 2010 was certainly no fluke. 

    In doing so, Oregon's squad will feature a number of highly sought-after recruits making their college debuts. 

    These four and five-star caliber athletes have skills that have never made their way to Eugene, as it was not until just a few years ago that Oregon became a national contender for good. 

    One could trace back the origin of Oregon's meteoric rise into a powerhouse to a number of places, but Nike co-founder Phil Knight's contributions to the program are, without a doubt, the leading cause.  It was with Knight's money that the school was able to erect state-of-the-art facilities for the student athletes in Eugene and make the school just as, if not more, desirable to recruits than the goliaths of the college football world. 

    Now that the Ducks have cemented their place among the top programs in all of college football, they have been able to attract a number of the nation's top high-school prospects, but it was not long ago that just one could satisfy the program and send them in the right direction. 

    There have been a number of spectacular players that have made their way onto the gridiron of Autzen Stadium through the years, but only a select few have singlehandedly played a part in turning the program into what it is today.

7. De'Anthony Thomas, 2011

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    Although De'Anthony Thomas may not even make it onto the field for the Ducks until the 2012 season, the way in which he made his way to Eugene makes him one of the program's most precious recruits ever.

    Nicknamed the Black Mamba by Snoop Dogg when he was a child, this 5'9" 160-lb running back was considered to be the top player in all of the country at his position by Rivals.com

    Before Oregon stole Thomas from USC in the later hours of signing day, the Trojans had considered the Crenshaw High product to be the headline of their recruiting class. 

    Unfortunately for USC, he broke off his verbal commitment to the school and decided to take his talents to their conference rival.  If Thomas would have chosen to play for the Trojans, he would have helped the school claim the title of the top recruiting class in the country.

    The fact that Thomas is heading to Eugene, rather than staying in Los Angeles, confirms that USC no longer has complete control of the Pac-10/12, a grasp that the program had held for an eternity.     

6. Darron Thomas, 2008

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    Even though he stood at an astounding 6'4" during his senior year at of high school in Aldine, Texas, Darron Thomas' slim weight of 195 lbs scared a lot of possible suitors away. 

    Schools in the south saw him only to be a defender, but Oregon's offensive coordinator at the time, Chip Kelly, looked at the four-star recruit to be the program's next quarterback.

    Thomas initially agreed to play in LSU's secondary, but Kelly quickly nabbed him from the Tigers and brought him up to Eugene to fully reach his potential. 

    In Kelly's second season as the head coach of the Ducks in 2010, he gave Thomas the nod as the team's starting quarterback.  Thomas helped lead the team to their first ever BCS national championship game and is considered to be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy entering this season.

    Thomas' importance to the Ducks goes beyond the football field, as his decision to play for Oregon made recruiters in the SEC and Big 12 aware that the south's top prospects are not untouchables for the rest of the country. 

5. LaMichael James, 2008

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    Another major recruit out of Texas for Chip Kelly in his days as the Ducks offensive coordinator, LaMichael James has become a household name in the three years since he was scouted by Oregon out of Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana. 

    Appearing to be too small to compete with the big boys of the SEC at 5''9" and 180 lbs, Kelly took on this underrated rusher as an option in the Ducks backfield for the next four years.  I am not sure that anybody, even Kelly himself, believed that James would be the nation's top running back and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in just his sophomore season.   

    Regardless, James is just another example of a highly-talented player from outside of the state that Oregon decided to gamble on, when other schools were not willing to take the risk. 

4. Dennis Dixon, 2003

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    Drafted in the 20th round of the 2003 Major League Baseball draft by the Cincinnati Reds, Dennis Dixon chose to take his monster athleticism to Eugene instead of playing in the minors. 

    Considered to be the second-best QB of his class according to Rivals.com, Dixon proved to be everything he was made out to be during his time with the Ducks.  In about two full seasons as Oregon's starting quarterback, Dixon earned All-Pac-10 honors twice and was a finalist for a number of national awards as well.

    He led the Ducks to No. 2 in the rankings and was at one point the favorite for the Heisman Trophy in 2007, but an injury ended his season and the team's chances at a title. 

    However, his mastery of defenses helped attract national attention to the Ducks and likely influenced LaMichael James and Darron Thomas' decisions to come and play for the program the next year.   

3. Jonathan Stewart, 2005

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    A five-star recruit and the nation's top running back in 2005 out of Lacey, Washington, Jonathan Stewart decided to stay in the Pacific Northwest and play his college ball for the Ducks.

    Despite being bothered by injuries during his time in Oregon, Stewart was a member of an All-Pac-10 team every year he was on campus.  Even though he left for the NFL following his junior season, Stewart was able to claim a number of school records during his time in Eugene.

    While Stewart may have played the role of a sidekick to Dennis Dixon at times, he already helped pave the way for LaGarrette Blount, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, and many more running backs to come to the University of Oregon. 

2. Haloti Ngata, 2002

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    Weighing in at 6'5" and 310 lbs during his senior season at Highlands High in Salt Lake City, Haloti Ngata took until the July after he graduated to finally make the decision to play for the Ducks.

    After originally declaring for BYU, the devout christian shocked many by taking his talents, that earned him the honor of the No. 2 overall recruit in the country by Rival.com, to Oregon.  Ngata was and still is the highest rated high school player to ever spend his college days in Eugene. 

    Now a three-time All-Pro defensive end and nose tackle in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens, Ngata's life after the Ducks has shown a number of defenders that offensive speed-demons are not the only ones who can thrive from the coaching in Oregon.   

1. Joey Harrington, 1996

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    While Joey Harrington may be considered to be one of the biggest busts in NFL Draft history, the former quarterback's days with the Ducks have played a major part in helping the program reach where it is today. 

    Born and raised in Portland to Oregon football royalty, Harrington was destined to be a member of the Ducks the day he made it into the world.  After finishing his standout career at Central Catholic High School, Harrington looked no further than playing in Eugene.

    Throughout his time with the Ducks, Harrington was one of the top quarterbacks in the country, but it was not until his final year at the school in 2001 that he was the greatest.  It was in 2001 that Harrington led Oregon to a victory in the Fiesta Bowl, the team's first BCS game ever, and was the first finalist for the Heisman Trophy in program history.

    Although he eventually finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, while campaigning for the award, the school put up a huge billboard of him in Times Square that read "Joey Heisman."  This publicity may not have won him the trophy, but it did catch the eyes of every young athlete across the country and triggered Oregon's rise into a national powerhouse.