Over the past decade or so, the Oregon Ducks have been one of the more dominant teams in the Pac 12.
Since 2000, the Ducks have won 111 games to go along with their 5 Pac 10/12 conference titles. In fact, the Ducks have only had one losing season since 1994 when they went 5-6 overall, missing their first bowl appearance since 1996.
As is evident by their overall record, bowl appearances, and conference titles (three of which have come in the past three years — 2009, 2010, 2012), the Oregon Ducks are one of the premier teams West of the Mississippi.
The success and wins the Oregon Ducks have accumulated throughout the years would not have occurred, however, with the proper players in place to make these kinds of runs possible; and boy have the Oregon Ducks had their fair share of superstars in the past years.
Oregon greats such as Dennis Dixon, Joey Harrington, and Haloti Ngata have been essential in establishing Oregon as a football powerhouse.
Yet, though these players are great and surely will go down in University of Oregon lore, it is the current players that are truly helping to build a football empire.
While it can be said that part of the reason for Oregon’s success in recent years is partially a consequence of the system they run, this does not mean that each and every player does not work as hard as they can to make that system run more efficiently and better than it has in the past.
Here are my five favorite players currently on the Oregon Ducks football team who excel at the game they play and typify what it means to be an Oregon Duck.
5. Kiko Alonso – MLB
While Kiko Alonso has had his fair share of trouble, much of that looks like it will remain in the past.
Off-field issues seemed to at one point be synonymous with Kiko’s name. Involvement with the wrong crews, abuse of alcohol, and reckless behavior led many to believe that Alonso was a “dirty” player.
After being arrested twice in the span of 14 months — both related to alcohol abuse — Alonso has channeled a different attitude to not only become a standout player on the Oregon football team but to also become an exemplary model of a reformed individual in the Eugene community.
While much of Alonso’s personal success can be attributed to the way Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has dealt with him as a person, Alonso has taken the burden upon himself to become a better player and person, something that was recently exemplified in the 2012 Rose Bowl game.
Alonso not only made what was probably the key momentum-changer in the game, he was also credited with the Defensive MVP of the 2012 Rose Bowl game against the Wisconsin Badgers, something Chip Kelly believed highlighted the new person Alonso has become.
Heading into the 2012 season, Alonso is the starting middle linebacker in an Oregon line-backing corps that should be quite impressive.
Expect to see stellar numbers from Kiko this next season as well as a drive to become an even better player and person.
4. John Boyett – FS
John Boyett has been an outstanding player for the Oregon Ducks as long as he has been with the program. Coming off of a strong year, expect Boyett to have saved the big fireworks for his final season with the Oregon Ducks.
Generally overlooked on a national level, fans of the Ducks know exactly what Boyett brings to the table: he is a fast and strong player who exemplifies the Oregon football phrase, “Fast, Hard, Finish”.
Boyett is one of the hardest hitters on the football field and a leader-by-example. He plays with the confidence of an all-pro linebacker and hits like one too.
The combination of his speed and ferocity gives him the look of a missile on the field, and Boyett is prone to obstructing wide receivers on their way towards the end zone.
John is an exciting player to watch on the field and a moral leader of an Oregon football program that is looking to rise even higher than it already has.
3. DeAnthony Thomas – RB/WR
Could the Oregon Ducks have asked any more of true freshmen DeAnthony Thomas in his first season as an Oregon Duck?
One of the most popular players in the nation, Thomas is probably the most exciting player as well. Despite his small stature, Thomas more than makes up for it with his strength and lighting-quick speed and cutbacks. Anytime that this kid touches a football Duck fans know a touchdown could soon be on its way.
Expect to see great things out of Thomas as he embarks upon a 2012 campaign that should see him contend for the Heisman trophy. Duck fans all around the world should be excited to see him garner more touches in the backfield as his football knowledge and skill are unstoppable.
He is electrifying. He is inspiring. He is the Black Mamba.
2. Michael Clay
Oregon LB Michael Clay is one of those football players who has done his time waiting for the limelight and is now ready to take center-stage as one of the best defensive players in the nation.
A hard-nosed player who has spent the past few years becoming one of the best defensive players in the Pac 12, Michael Clay had somewhat of a coming out season in 2011, becoming the second leading tackler on the team despite missing three games due to injuries.
As a big fan of Clay, I like to describe him best as a ball-hawk. No matter where he starts on the field prior to a play, you can almost guarantee that he will be one of the men in the dog-pile around the ball at the end of it.
Clay will be the heart and the soul of a 2012 Oregon defensive unit that will be looking to make people remember shades of “Gang Green” — arguably Oregon’s most prolific defensive unit in school history.
1. Kenjon Barner
Is there any other player on the Oregon football team that fans will be rooting for more than Kenjon Barner in 2012?
For the past four years as an eligible player at Oregon, Barner has shown flashes of greatness but has always played second fiddle to star running-back LaMichael James.
With James progressing on to the NFL, Barner will be the feature back in an Oregon offense that has no signs of slowing down in 2012.
While James is more of a slash-and-dash kind of player, rumors are that Barner is actually a faster athlete than James. Using his speed to get to the edge and subsequently break into the open, expect Barner to have one of the most unexpected and best years for a running-back during the 2012 college football season.
With a rather young offensive unit surrounding him, expect Barner to be the leader for the Ducks on offense and garner a lot of attention as I predict he will be one of the surprise candidates for the Heisman trophy at the end of the year.
Despite all of these players being some of the best on the Oregon football team, it is important to note that a team is not defined by their five best players.
A team is much more than any player can ever be. A team is a cohesive unit that operates like a machine day-in and day-out, each part playing an integral role in ensuring the success of the entire program.
Oregon football is such a system.
Though there are outstanding players, the success the program has seen in the past decade is due to the play of the entire team and community of Eugene in fostering a winning mentality.