EUGENE — Those “Take the Pac” T-shirts Oregon printed before preseason camp last summer are fashionable inside the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex once again.
First-year coach Mario Cristobal and his aggressive staff signed a consensus top-10 class on Wednesday.
The Ducks finished first in the national rankings among their Pac-12 peers for the first time in the modern era.
The 22-man haul is ranked No. 5 by 247Sports and No. 7 by Rivals. The program’s only previous top-10 recruiting class was in 2009 (No. 9).
The 2019 class was bolstered by the addition of Kayvon Thibodeaux, the only five-star prospect to sign with a Pac-12 program.
“It’s what Oregon should be year in and year out. It finally happened from a football recruiting standpoint,” Cristobal said of competing with blue-blood programs for the nation’s top players. “We expect this to make the awareness that much greater, give us that much more exposure.
“(Thibodeaux’s) success here will do even more wonders for that. It will be a big hit, not only for this class, but classes to come.”
ESPN ranks Thibodeaux as the top overall player in the 2019 class. The 6-foot-5, 243-pound defensive end from Westlake Village, California, chose Oregon over Alabama, Florida State and Florida last Saturday live on national television.
“We’re lucky he picked the good guys,” Cristobal said.
Thibodeaux is one of 11 players in the class from California. He will be joined on the defensive line by classmates Keyon Ware-Hudson (6-3, 303) of Duarte, California, Sua’ava Poti (6-3, 271) of Bellflower, California, and late addition Brandon Dorius of Deerfield Beach, Florida.
Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a will add the influx of young talent to a unit that will return standout nose tackle Jordon Scott and experienced defensive ends Austin Faoliu and Gary Baker.
“When you throw that bunch together, you want to talk about an environment where iron sharpens iron, it’s exactly what you want,” Cristobal said.
Oregon signed 11 defensive players, including four-star linebackers Mase Funa and Ge’mon Eaford. Cristobal said defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s pursuit of head coaching vacancies at Texas Tech, Colorado and Kansas State did not have a negative impact on the process.
“Obviously you communicate, but you also give space,” Cristobal said. “Because I would never stop anyone from trying to go achieve a particular job or any career goal they want. I think that’s common.
“It certainly didn’t affect recruiting. The way we recruit, we’re so involved as an entire staff, that I think everybody’s efforts paid off well.”
On offense, the Ducks continue to get bigger at the point of attack with the addition of linemen Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu (6-6, 389), ranked as the nation’s No. 1 junior college player, and Jonah Tauanu’u (6-5, 327), as well as tight end Patrick Herbert (6-6, 233), from Eugene’s Sheldon High School and the younger brother of star Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.
Cale Millen is one of at least a dozen members of the class Cristobal expects to be enrolling early to participate in spring practice. The 6-3, 190-pound quarterback is hoping to spend a year as an understudy to Justin Herbert, who has not announced if he will return for his senior season or enter the NFL draft.
“That would be awesome to learn from him,” said Millen, whose dad, Hugh Millen, played quarterback at Washington and for 11 years in the NFL. “I think definitely, in the eyes of the NFL, he’s the best or one of the best quarterbacks that could be in the draft.
“That would be unreal to learn from him for a year and see if I can try and compete for the job.”
The incoming wide receivers — Josh Delgado, Mycah Pittman, J.R. Waters and Lance Wilhoite — will have a chance to compete for playing time right away.
The coaching staff will also try to get Sean Dollars, ranked by 247Sports as the No. 1 all-purpose back, on the field in 2019.
“This guy is a game breaker,” Cristobal said of Dollars, who won a state championship with classmates Funa and Ware-Hudson at Mater Dei High in Los Angeles. “Held strong, regardless of how many schools came after him.”
Cristobal said Oregon will likely still add to the historic class during the traditional February signing period.
The Ducks are the only Pac-12 team that cracked the top 10 in the recruiting rankings during the early signing period. Washington (15), Stanford (19) and USC (21) made the top 25.
“Certainly a big step forward. It’s something we want to and need to get used to,” Cristobal said. “It raises the bar, which we like. We’ve always surrounded ourselves with people that are high achievers and have high expectations. This is a huge step in that direction, it really is.”