Going through a coaching change is never easy for a program, especially in the fickle world of college football in 2022. It’s even harder for a program looking for a new quarterback amid an offensive installation and its third defensive system in four years breaks in
Only 27 players remain of the 2019 Rose Bowl team. The Ducks have also almost completely revamped their coaching staff since lifting the trophy in Pasadena after defeating Wisconsin.
But if you ask some of the veterans on the team if they want to learn a new system again, it’s not as challenging as you might think.
“As a freshman so far, you’re learning how to study and how to watch movies and build those good habits,” says fifth-year Junior Safety Steve Stephen IV called. “Up to that point, over time, it just gets easier and you get smarter.”
Steve Stephen IV
Stephens dives for a loose ball during the spring game.
Stephens has had the privilege of studying under the current Miami Dolphins Jevon Holland and Verona McKinley III for some years. Now, as one of only two defenders from the 2018 class remaining in the squad, he can share his knowledge and study habits with the youngsters in secondary school.
Fifth year junior tight end Spencer Webb shared a similar sentiment this spring and passed on his wisdom to the climbers in the tight end space.
“They just take it day by day,” Webb said as he helped the younger boys adjust to the new system. “I tell you, don’t get too frustrated. They drink water from a fire hose. You will screw up, you will make mistakes, but just learn from them. Don’t get too caught up in the change.”
Webb completes a drill in spring training that tight ends coach Drew Mehringer works behind.
With a large group of veterans graduating and moving into the NFL in almost every position, this spring presented an opportunity for leaders to become even outside the obvious leaders three or four years old.
The Oregon wide receiver space has arguably seen the most wear and tear since the end of last season Johnny Johnson III, Jaylon Reddand Devon Williams continue. Younger wideouts like Don’e Thornton, Chris Hutsonand Troy Franklin are now at the forefront of the wide receiver space.
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Previously, these young players could watch the Vets lead by example after so much experience, but now it’s up to them to take the lead, which is what they embrace.
“Since I’m just an older guy now, people kind of look up to me,” Franklin said. “You have to be more locked in mentally and lead by example. I’m definitely locked up.”
“Last year we had a lot of older guys, but now a bunch of younger guys have to step up and become older guys,” said Thornton, who has been praised for his rise by a host of his teammates and coaches as a vocal leader. “We mature very much.”
Kris Hutson & Dont’e Thornton
Hutson and Thornton celebrate a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the spring game.
It’s not just the wide receivers who are embracing this collective leadership approach. Players from each position group described how they watch films together and learn from each other.
The cornerbacks are another group that is very young and looking for new leaders to sprout. Despite being one of the oldest guys in the room, Colorado is transitioning Christian Gonzales is not the only one sharing knowledge.
“I feel like I’m stepping into a veteran role with the corner room. I’m young but I have experience,” Gonzalez said. “But there’s nothing like that in the room. Everyone knows it’s a family. We are a brotherhood. People look up to others and we all help each other learn.”
Having veteran transfers like Gonzalez Bo Nixand Chase Cota step in also gives the team an added leadership boost, but the fact that young people embrace becoming older speaks volumes about the winning culture that Dan Lanning and his staff instilled in Eugene in their first offseason.
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