It’s no secret that the Oregon Ducks are known for swiping Arizona Wildcats football commits.
And since the two teams are facing each other Saturday, we checked in to see how some of those players are performing in Eugene.
Thomas Graham Jr., CB
Back in July of 2017, cornerbacks coach Donte’ Williams told me Graham was a silent commit for Arizona.
The four-star corner was ranked in the Top 100 and among the Top 10 at his position in the nation. Keep in mind this was back when Arizona had a top-15 recruiting class (mostly due to volume) and some of the biggest names in California started paying a little more attention to the program.
Graham eventually backed off his pledge once Williams left for Nebraska. It was ultimately down to Notre Dame and Oregon late in the process.
Now with the Ducks, Graham made 12 consecutive starts last season as a true freshman. He finished with three interceptions and finished second on the team in solo tackles (49) and third in total tackles (62) per his Oregon biography.
He is still the starting corner and has tallied 23 tackles and six pass deflections in 2018.
Braxton Burmeister, QB
The four-star San Diego prospect has a long history with Arizona. He originally committed to Arizona back in March of 2014, his freshman year of high school. He picked up offers from Florida, South Carolina and Washington, but was still committed.
But Arizona landed a commitment from Khalil Tate and Devon Modster for the 2016 class, which ultimately led to Burmeister’s decommitment in March of 2016.
He took visits to Indiana, South Carolina, Utah and Washington, but ultimately decided to commit to Arizona again in May of 2016.
He broke multiple records at La Jolla Country Day School (San Diego, CA) and the four-star prospect seemed poised to compete for the starting job immediately after a frustrating 3-9 season.
Well, in comes to Willie Taggart, who first tried to flip Alabama commit Tua Tagovailoa. When that failed, he set his sights on Burmeister. Burmeister’s quarterback coach was Akili Smith, former Duck, first round pick and NFL bust, who heavily swayed him to Eugene.
To put it bluntly, Burmeister did not look good at all last season when he got his opportunity after Justin Herbert went down to injury. He ended up playing in seven games, going 44 for 77 for 330 yards and two touchdowns to six interceptions. He went 1-4 as a starter.
This season, Burmeister appeared in two games, going 4 for 8 for 27 yards. He underwent minor knee surgery at the end of non-conference play and has been out since.
Austin Faoliu, DL
The 6-foot-3, 285 pound defensive tackle had very few offers until he suddenly picked up Michigan State, Oklahoma, TCU and, of course, Oregon late in the process
It seemed inevitable that he was going to leave once his recruitment blew up and came down to the Sooners and Ducks.
As a freshman at Oregon, he started the first two games of the season and played in all 12. He finished with 22 tackles (2.5 for loss) and a sack.
He is battling an ankle injury and missed last week’s game against Washington State and is uncertain for this week’s matchup. He has recorded statistics in six games this season, totaling 20 tackles and a sack.
Cody Shear, OL
A local Eugene product, the 6-foot-4, 280 pound offensive tackle shut down his recruitment prior to his senior season. He had been waiting for an Oregon offer, but didn’t want to hold out and miss an opportunity on another program.
He had a great relationship with former UA offensive line coach Jim Michalczik and was very disappointed when he ended up at Oregon State, but still wanted to stick to his commitment.
Willie Taggart took over for Oregon in the middle of the recruiting frenzy and sent out dozens of offers and offered multiple offensive linemen. Shear was not one of them.
The night before National Signing Day, Taggart offered Shear and he ended up flipping.
He redshirted last season and is currently listed as the No. 3 right tackle for the Ducks.
Darrian McNeal, WR
Darrian McNeal was the ultimate Tavon Austin clone under Rich Rodriguez. The Florida native was one of the fastest and elusive players in the nation, loved Rodriguez’s scheme, and wanted to get away from home.
At 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, McNeal turned down Boston College, Louisville, Tennessee and USF.
McNeal and Taggart had a great relationship when Taggart was at UCF. McNeal had told me that he loved Taggart, but USF was too close to home.
So when Taggart took the job at Oregon, and offered McNeal, he was awfully tempted. His family assured me that he was sticking with Arizona, and his decommitment shocked them.
McNeal and UO wide receiver coach Michael Johnson didn’t get along, though. He played in three games and posted three rushes for 21 yards and two receptions for 10 yards.
In April of 2018, he announced his decision to transfer. He had picked up some interest from a couple of schools including Boise State, Toledo, and Minnesota, which had former Arizona safeties coach and Florida recruiter Jahmile Addae on staff.
Despite losing Rich Rodriguez, McNeal still had very high interest in Arizona, but has not been contacted by the new staff.
As of now, he is currently out of football. He turned down many offers, but just didn’t want to play this season after his brother became very ill. He is still in Eugene, but not enrolled.
Haki Woods, DB
Woods was a local safety out of Pima Community College, part of the incoming 2018 class, who had said “my decision was made two years ago” at the time of his commitment to Arizona back in October of 2017.
The 6-foot-3, 190 pound safety was unranked, and backed off his pledge just 10 days after he committed. A day later he received an Oregon offer. A few weeks later, he committed and signed with the Ducks, enrolling in January.
He has played in two games this season and recorded two tackles.
Donte’ Williams (cornerbacks coach)
The man behind the strong recruiting surge in 2017 was cornerbacks coach Donte’ Williams. He had helped build what looked to be a Top 25 class when all was said and done. He had strong ties to California and all of the top players seemed to have known him from his days at San Jose State, players raved about how much they trusted him and how he kept it real.
Suddenly in December of 2016, rumors started swirling that he would join the Nebraska staff. He ended up leaving Arizona and apparently did not tell his players. Many felt betrayed, especially since he had been quoted earlier in the year saying “It’s hard to break up a family,” when referring to the fear of the recruiting class decommitting during the 3-9 season.
He brought in a ton of top rated California kids, but was not retained at Nebraska after Mike Riley was fired. Coincidentally, many of those California kids have now left the program.
Suddenly, he ended up at Oregon, and is now the cornerbacks coach. He has been an integral part of the recruiting success there, as they currently have the 4th-ranked class in the nation, pulling in many high-end defensive backs.