The off-season for the Oregon Ducks football program has been well documented. Last season’s success, which saw the Ducks win the Pac-10 Championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl, has long-since been overshadowed by the off-the-field problems that the team has endured.
This is highlighted by starting quarterback Jermiah Masoli’s season-long suspension following burglary charges stemming from an incident in March in which the quarterback broke into a fraternity house on campus.
In addition to Masoli, Pac-10 offensive freshman of the year LaMichael James was arrested on charges of battery and harassment, with his case still proceeding forward.
Head coach Chip Kelly has has to deal with these frustrations and distractions while preserving the core of his football team, as they look to repeat as Pac-10 Champions.
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“I think they’ve handled it really well, but I also think they are embarrassed because they are members of this football team, and obviously we had some kids make mistakes,” Kelly remarked of his football team. “They understand, though, that’s not them. I don’t think our football team has been affected the way people think they’ve been affected.”
In Masoli’s place steps in Nate Costa, who once backed up Heisman hopeful Dennis Dixon two years ago.
“I’m not tired of answering the questions,” Costa said. “If there is someone who should answer the questions, it should probably be me. The public has a right to know what we are thinking and our thoughts on this whole process. So I’m happy to answer those questions.”
Costa defended Kelly when asked of his thoughts on how the off-season issues have affected the team, and how it will continue to affect team as they get through spring practice.
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“He’s almost like our father on this team,” Costa remarked. “Any time your kids are messing up, you’re going to take some heat for it. I’m sure he lost some sleep over it. You could kind of tell he had that stressed look to him. But when everyone wanted to blame him, I didn’t really understand why. We’re 18 to 22 years old. If you make mistakes, that’s on you. It has nothing to do with his disciplinary policy or the way he coaches or teaches us. It’s on each individual. They are the ones making the mistakes.”
Kelly has not altered team policy in any way as the program will continue to operate and deal with whatever comes, just as they have in the past with Masoli, James and prior to the season LaGarrette Blunt.
“There’s always a rush to judgment,” Kelly said. “I think you have to find out all the facts first before you make any decisions on what you want to do. You also have to not worry about what other people think you are supposed to do.”
While Kelly insists that the decision to dismiss Masoli from the team was a difficult decision to come to, he maintains it to be the correct decision, as neither he nor the program would tolerate such instances.
“I think he made a big mistake, but that can’t be something he’s punished the rest of this life for,” Kelly said. We’ll give him an opportunity to prove he should be allowed to come back. He still has to prove it. It’s not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination.”
Prior to the off-the-field occurrences, Oregon was installed by Online Sportsbooks among the betting favorites to win the 2010-11 BCS Championship. They have since been down-played, with odds at 20/1 on Bodog.