College football recruiting: How Oregon coach Mario Cristobal is building a historic 2019 class
Cristobal took Oregon to new heights in the Early Signing Period, and he thinks he's just getting started
Oregon has joined the big leagues of recruiting. Wednesday's Early Signing Period brought limited drama for the Ducks but cemented a class that had been bubbling up into one of the nation's premier collections of talent in the 2019 cycle. Though the final results won't be in until February, nearly 80 percent of the pool of FBS prospects have signed their letters of intent, so we've got a pretty clear picture of the winners and losers around the country -- and by anyone's definition, Oregon is in the winner's circle.
It's not a surprise to those of us that follow recruiting closely to see Oregon coach Mario Cristobal provide a boost to the Oregon recruiting effort. But as of Friday, with the Early Signing Period winding down, Oregon's 2019 class is ranked sixth in the nation, first in the Pac-12 and positioned to finish with its highest-ranked recruiting class in program history. Cristobal is already exceeding high expectations on the recruiting trail.
Cristobal talked with CBS Sports about how this class came to fruition, and the foundation for it all started with state a staff-wide focus on the state of California.
"We wanted to make sure the focus was on the west coast," Cristobal said. "We wanted to make sure we treated California like a home state. We wanted to make sure every coach was involved in some way or another. We didn't want what happened last year (with the departure of Willie Taggart to Florida State) to where if there was turnover we weren't hamstrung."
The resulting effort saw Oregon land 11 prospects from the state of California. The rest of the class came from eight other states as far away as Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and Alabama. With more prospects still slated to sign, you could make a strong case that Oregon has won the state of California to this point in the process. According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Oregon has signed three of the top 10 players in the state, more than any other program. It has signed five of the top 20, also more than any other program, and six of the top 25 -- again, more than any other program.
The pitch to those California prospects and to Oregon targets around the country wasn't just the spaceship-esque facilities and the fancy uniforms. It was the academic reputation, the life after football and the family environment.
"We weren't going to focus on facilities that everyone knows about," he said. "I think that also alleviates some of the negative recruiting you hear out there. We just wanted to be real."
Included in the dominant year in the state of California was the No. 1 prospect in the state, a five-star defensive lineman that everyone wanted. Before Cristobal and company could get to him, though, it took the belief of another California lineman to kick things off.
"Keyon Hudson-Ware," Cristobal said without hesitation when asked who was the springboard for Oregon's recruiting success. "He's the one; when he committed and what came along with it at the spring game at that time, he was the catalyst for the CaliFlock. He's such a good football player and well-respected guy. He just ended up kicking things off. He kickstarted it. He recruited it. Others saw him. There was a lot of momentum building towards that time. All of his teammates understand that we were rebuilding it and rebuilding Oregon."
Hudson-Ware plays defensive tackle at Mater Dei High School in the Los Angeles area, ranked as the No. 1 high school team in the country according to Maxpreps. He was joined in the Oregon class by two other teammates: four-star linebacker Mase Funa and four-star all-purpose back Sean Dollars. The Ducks added more California talent, like the nation's No. 6 cornerback Mykael Wright, the nation's No. 10 offensive tackle Jonah Tauanu'u and four-star wide receiver Mycah Pittman, the son of NFL running back Michael Pittman and the brother of the USC standout wide receiver of the same name.
All of that momentum generated in California culminated with the commitment and subsequent signing of Kayvon Thibodeaux. Ranked as the No. 2 player in the nation, Thibodeaux's decision brought prestige as a guy with all the offers and opportunities, and he answered a pressing need by bringing immediate pass rush help to the Ducks defense.
"I think the best part about that recruitment is there's a guy that had a chance to see everybody in the country," Cristobal said of Thibodeaux. "When he came here and saw the game against Washington, that really opened his eyes not only to who we are but how to rebuild it to what Oregon can be. He realized he can be an impactful guy. Part of the thing that set us apart the most was our approach was real and genuine, no puff. And working with a guy like (defensive line coach) Joe Salave'a was a great opportunity."
The dual importance of Thibodeaux bringing juice to the recruiting efforts of Oregon while also answering a position of need was felt elsewhere in the class.
"We wanted to be more explosive at the wide receiver position from the best wide receiver in Tennessee (Lance Wilhoite) to arguably some of the best wide receivers and tight ends in the country. From Mycah Pittman to JR Waters, they're all really different and a really nice combination of size and competitiveness. That's what we need. We need guys to play hard to win."
Cristobal brings a track record of recruiting success to Oregon. He retrieved the Nick Saban blueprint while serving as an assistant coach at Alabama and was 247Sports' No. 1 recruiter in the country in 2015. He brought an energy to the recruiting trail at Oregon where things had gone stale and complacent. Everyone is running a fast-paced spread offense, everyone has fancy uniform combinations and everyone has flashy facilities. This Oregon coaching staff has found a new way to differentiate, and it's a very old-fashioned approach.
"We do recognize Oregon is a national brand and it's attractive to families all over the country. You gotta make sure you assess every potential opportunity to enhance your roster, but it always starts with being real."
With January left to build this class out and more recruiting battles left to go, Cristobal is confident that this is just the beginning.
"It was a record-breaking day here and a historical day, but we want more."
What big-time recruits are headed to your favorite school? Visit 247Sports.com to see how your team's future will be changed forever. Their recruiting analysts are on the ground right now for the Early Signing Period. Use the code ESD18 to get your first month for $1!
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