Advertisement
 

Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli is the odd Duck

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Oregon's signal-caller lacks size, has an unconventional style and isn't considered NFL material, but he just might be the most exciting college quarterback.

December 30, 2009|Chris Dufresne
  • OregonÂ’s Jeremiah Masoli, right, is a quarterback whose ball-handling skills have caused havoc for opponents, such as Arizona StateÂ’s Ryan McFoy.
OregonÂ’s Jeremiah Masoli, right, is a quarterback whose ball-handling… (Steve Dykes / Getty Images )

Jeremiah Masoli is the kind of quarterback college football loves and the National Football League recommends to the Toronto Argonauts.

Oregon's junior quarterback is everything the pro guys hate: 5 feet 11 and as fast as he is tall.

He sometimes throws off his wrong foot and has developed this fantastic/terrible habit of plowing people over.

"Running through somebody, there's no better feeling than that," Masoli said Tuesday.

Until you run into Ray Lewis.

Masoli's massive hair, held up by a rubber band, is first-round material -- it makes him look 6-3. From the neck down, though, he's probably a free-agent invite to training camp.

The fact Masoli has led Oregon to the Pacific 10 Conference title and a Friday date against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, and that he might be the most exciting quarterback in college, is not reconcilable with his post-collegiate prospects.

Masoli laughed when asked Tuesday whether he had filed his paperwork for declaring early for the NFL draft.

Yes he had, but don't worry Oregon fans.

"I'm going to stay," he said.

The NFL may not quite be ready for Average Joe and his knee brace.

Masoli represents the big-tent beauty of the college game, where the talent disparity among 120 schools demands you find innovative ways to neutralize the playing field.

The 100 ways to win in college create opportunities and running lanes for maestros such as Masoli, and the sport is better (than the NFL) for it.

Tommie Frazier of Nebraska might have been the greatest college quarterback, leading Nebraska to two national titles. But he never made it to the league upstairs.

Charlie Ward won a national title and the Heisman Trophy at Florida State and went straight to . . . the NBA.

UCLA's Cade McNown was a dynamic dual-threat college quarterback and a bust in the NFL. John Sciarra directed UCLA to one of the great Rose Bowl upsets, over Woody Hayes' undefeated Ohio State team, and starred in the NFL on special teams.

The list is as long as a Rose Parade: Eric Crouch, J.C. Watts, Jamelle Holieway -- guys you paid to see Saturday but rarely Sunday.

"That is why I love college football," Oregon Athletic Director Mike Bellotti said.

The sport, sometimes, seems inside out.

Matt Cassel seldom played at USC but earned a starting job in the NFL.

Washington State's Ryan Leaf earned first-round millions because he was 6-6, had a rocket arm, and looked like a quarterback.

Jeremiah Masoli?

He set the standard for Ducks quarterbacks by leg-squatting 475 pounds.

Ohio State lost at home to USC this season on a game-winning drive led by freshman Matt Barkley, no doubt a future NFL draft choice.

Barkley, though, didn't put fear into the Buckeyes the way Masoli has.

"It's easier to play against a pro-style quarterback," Ohio State linebacker Austin Spitler said. "They're more predictable. They may have more of the mechanics for the pro game, but Masoli possesses so many threats. He blows my mind on film; he's just unbelievable."

Masoli is part thrower, dancer, fullback and magician, a player whose ball-handling skills have embarrassed defenders and union technicians.

True story: Before this year's USC game at Oregon, announcer Brent Musburger said he made a special trip to the production truck just to make sure the camera crew kept its lenses focused on Masoli.

It didn't work, as Masoli faked ABC out more than he did USC.

"One of our goals in the film room is to get the cameramen confused," Masoli joked.

Jim Heacock, Ohio State's defensive coordinator, wasn't amused as he tried to describe the challenge of containing Masoli.

"I wish I wasn't talking about this," Heacock said at one point. "I'm starting to sweat."

Nothing about Masoli's development has been conventional. He arrived at Oregon last year after playing only one year at City College of San Francisco. He figured to be in the mix to replace Oregon superstar Dennis Dixon, but a wrist injury relegated him to fifth string on the early depth chart. A series of injuries to Oregon quarterbacks eventually earned him a chance.

"I got my opportunity and ran with it," Masoli said.

He started 10 games as a sophomore, passing for 13 touchdowns, rushing for 718 yards and 10 scores, and capping the year by leading the Ducks to a Holiday Bowl win over Oklahoma State.

Masoli, breaking in a new line this year, had a rough opener at Boise State but eventually found his footing and Oregon's offense ended averaging 38 points.

"He's one of the greatest competitors I've seen," said Bellotti, who was Oregon's coach when Masoli was recruited. "He is truly unflappable."

Masoli, at 214 pounds, has been known to lead with his head. In last year's Holiday Bowl, he made the highlight reel by running over an Oklahoma State safety on his way to a touchdown.

In this year's Civil War game against Oregon State, Masoli clinched the Rose Bowl berth when, on fourth down, he plowed over safety Lance Mitchell for a first down.

"Man versus man," Masoli said. "I want to win that every time."

But is it any way to make a living?

"I definitely have to ask myself, 'Is it worth it?' " Masoli said.

Masoli grew up in the Bay Area, idolizing San Francisco 49ers star Steve Young, one of football's all-time great run-pass threats. Young, though, was bigger and faster.

Masoli knows the NFL isn't lining up to draft human fire hydrants, but he isn't giving up hope.

"Drew Brees doesn't fit the stereotype, either," Masoli said of the New Orleans Saints' 6-foot quarterback.

Who knows? The NFL is thinking more these days like the colleges with their "wildcat" use of running quarterbacks. It would be nice to be wrong about Masoli and, come two springs, see his name appear on somebody's NFL draft board.

But the truth is the truth.

"He might not get a look," Bellotti said.

So take a long look now.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|