Most of these Oregon Ducks must prove their championship mettle

Don Pellum 2014 vs. 2013 defense

Most of these Oregon Ducks must prove their championship mettle
August 26, 2014, 6:00 pm
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Oregon Ducks surround wide receiver Daryle Hawkins (16) after a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Oregon Ducks 26-20.

(Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

EUGENE – It’s time for those Oregon Ducks who haven’t contributed heavily to a championship to stand up and be accounted for.

Most of the LaMichael James-led Ducks are long gone, and the majority of this current group of players can’t truly call themselves champions of any kind.

Only two starters remain from the 2011 team that won a third consecutive conference championship and claimed the program’s first Rose Bowl victor in 94 years.

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That run of success has created an aura of greatness around the program that some feel has led some of the newer breed of Ducks to expect to win more so than be driven to earn becoming a champion.

“That’s something we’ve been harping on all offseason,” UO center Hroniss Grasu said. “You can’t just come here to Oregon and get that ‘O’ on your chest and get the respect right away. Lately we’ve been trying to really lecture to the young guys to show them that they’ve got to really earn their way to get the respect through hard work and dedication, and integrity, a will.”

An argument could be made that the Ducks responsible for leading the team to conference titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011 were hungrier than those who came to Oregon after the team reached the national championship game following the 2010 season.

The majority of those championship contributors were recruited in 2006, 2007 and 2008 when it had been several years since UO had made it to a major bowl game (2001, Fiesta). The 2007 Sun Bowl team earned the program’s first bowl game victory in five seasons.

The 2006 through 2008 recruiting classes formed the nucleus of the 2010 team that went 12-0 in the regular season and lost 22-19 to Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game.

Holdovers like James, quarterback Darron Thomas, offensive lineman Mark Asper, tight end David Paulson, linebacker Michael Clay and safety John Boyett, to name a handful, led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin the following season. Grasu and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu were freshman starters on the 2011 team. 

Recruits entering Oregon in 2011, 2012 and 2013 make up the majority of the key players on the 2014 roster. Only one, offensive tackle Jake Fisher, who played a lot in 2011, can say he contributed heavily to an Oregon championship team. 

Even quarterback Marcus Mariota, for all he has accomplished, has yet to win even the Pac-12 North Division title. 

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said he believes it’s typical for recruiting classes signed during a program's most successful years to have an inflated sense of ego. But he stated that Oregon tries to squash that by telling all recruits that they must work hard in order to earn playing time.

He didn’t believe that last season’s problems stemmed from a sense of entitlement among some players.

A few Ducks said otherwise. 

Junior defensive tackle Alex Balducci, signed in 2012, indicated that he believes some players didn’t always exhibit the discipline needed to win late last season when the Ducks went 3-2 over the last five games.

“It seemed that at times our players, we lacked attention to detail,” Balducci said. “We thought we were entitled because we play for Oregon. The past success we’ve had, we thought that would carry on. That’s what happened with Arizona and essentially what could have happened with Oregon State.”

The Ducks’ lost 42-16 big at Arizona two weeks after losing 26-20 at Stanford, and a week before escaping the Civil War with a 36-35 win at home against Oregon State.

“Those younger guys come in expecting to win,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “They really don’t know what type of work you have to put in to get to that level.”

It’s up to the veteran players to change that. Grasu and Ekpre-Olomu said they believe that they accomplished just that during a great offseason.

The result is a team with renewed focus and commitment to end the team’s two-year championship drought.

“I think we have really good characters on the team every year I’ve been here,” Grasu said. “This year there’s something special about them. That’s why I like this team so much. The way we’ve been playing in fall camp, and practicing, and even in our team meetings, it’s been great.”