Oregon head football coach Willie Taggart delivered a strong recruiting class, ranked nationally as high as No. 17 by Scout.com, on national signing day Wednesday, less than eight weeks after taking the job.
“I think going forward, it’ll be a little easier because we’ll have time to build those relationships,” Taggart said. “And I think that’s what it all comes down to when it comes to recruiting.”
Given his limited amount of time, how did he deliver such a strong class?
Energy and technology.
His predecessor, Mark Helfrich, ran a more secretive and primitive recruiting operation than we just saw the past two months.
Taggart, and really the entire athletic department, was much more active and open on Twitter, not only to connect with recruits, but also to keep Ducks fans more engaged throughout the process.
“We want the very best kid out there, and we’ve got to find the very best way of going about getting him. Recruiting has changed a lot, and social media is a big part of it,” Taggart said. “You talk to young people, it’s not just telephone calls anymore. You’ve got to get to them on social media.
“That’s a big part of it, and not just the kids, but the fan base as well,” Taggart added. “Giving them some insight on what’s going on. Social media is huge, and we’ve got to use it. If you don’t, you’re going to be behind. We can’t be behind, we just can’t.”
The biggest victory on the recruiting trail was flipping four-star quarterback Braxton Burmeister away from Arizona, convincing him to join the quarterback competition in Eugene.
“He’s very talented. He’s a young man that can do a lot of things,” Taggart said about Burmeister. “He can throw the football, which you have to do to be a quarterback, but he can also run with the football. And when you’re able to do those things, you bring a little more to the table.”
The biggest needs for the Oregon Ducks heading into the recruiting season were on the defensive line and at linebacker.
It has been a tumultuous time the past two seasons for the Ducks’ front-seven, who have gone from a 3-4 base defense in 2015, to a 4-3 last season, and now back to a 3-4. The group also has been hurt by a series of off-the-field issues that led to dismissals and transfers.
Oregon’s class includes five or six players who likely could be used in the front-seven.
Jordon Scott, Rutger Reitmaier and Austin Faoliu come in as defensive lineman, all three-star talents, and Popo Aumavae is listed as an offensive lineman, but had been recruited nationally on both sides of the ball as a three-star talent. At linebacker, the Ducks brought in four-star Isaac Slade-Matautia and three-star Sampson Niu.
“With the linemen, they’ll have every opportunity to go out and compete and try to take somebody’s job,” Taggart said. “I told our players what we’re going to do is recruit guys to take their jobs, and it’s on them to keep their job. That’s how we’re going to do it. We’re going to be highly competitive.”
Oregon also brought in more talent at the wide receiver and defensive back positions, which seemed like a point of interest for the coaching staff. There still could be movement among these groups, with some players switching positions or even leaving the program.
In addition to discussing his success in recruiting, Taggart also addressed two major setbacks for the program since he arrived — the suspension of strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde after three players were hospitalized during workouts, and the suspension and eminent firing of co-offensive coordinator David Reaves.
“The weight room issue, we thought that was bogus,” Taggart said about the situation involving hospitalized players Doug Brenner, Cam McCormick and Sam Poutasi. “It was told the wrong way, and we explained to them exactly what happened.”
The three players were hospitalized after having experienced symptoms of Rhabdomyolysis, which can be caused by overexertion in workouts.
Taggart said he and his staff would not do anything to put players’ health at risk.
“I think the young people we were recruiting know who we were, know what we’re about. And they knew we were not trying to kill anybody,” Taggart said. “We weren’t doing anything malicious. It’s sad it was reported the way it was.”
As for the situation involving Reaves, who was arrested and charged driving under the influence and is facing termination, Taggart said, “We addressed that, and we moved forward. I think any time something bad happens, there’s three things that can happen. You can either let it define you, you can let it destroy you, or you can let it encourage you to move forward and get better. We chose to do the latter, and it really helped us. Not in a million years did I think we’d start out that way.”
In light of the early problems with the coaching staff, Taggart said that there was some negative recruiting against the Ducks out on the trail.
“It came up, and we told them the truth. We had nothing to hide,” Taggart said. “There was negative recruiting all over, and that turned a lot of kids off. The negative recruiting actually helped us. It helped us by being honest, and not hiding anything, and addressing it. And not letting somebody else go to them and try to dictate the story.”
It’s been a wild two months at the helm for Taggart, to say the least.
With spring practices about eight weeks away, it’s time for the program to begin to settle in a little bit. Establish their systems, evaluate what they have, and come up with a plan.
Taggart has been rushed in everything he’s done to this point, and in some ways that will continue. The season opener against Southern Utah is seven months away on Sept. 2, and the Ducks have a ton of work ahead of them.
“We’re really excited about the guys we have,” Taggart said. “We feel like the young men we have in this class are good for the University of Oregon.”