Oregon Ducks fans have been witness to one of the greatest rises in college football history over the past two decades. The Ducks have risen from cellar dwellers to one of the hottest names in all of college football. And the facilities, the uniforms and the Nike connection have all played a big role in that rise to the top of the Pac-12.
Along with the success and the increased national exposure has come a major boost in recruiting elite athletes to Eugene. It isn't always the high school All-Americans who turn into college stars. Oregon has made a living finding "diamonds in the rough" that have helped build a powerhouse.
There have been some big names in the recruiting world who chose to play their college ball in Eugene, but how many of them have lived up to the hype?
The following is the fourth installment in the series that details...
• The players who came in as two-star recruits or were unrated coming into Oregon and far exceeded the expectations placed upon them by recruiting services.
• The recruits who were rated four or five stars by recruiting services coming out of high school, yet failed to match the hype due to injuries or lack of production.
Let's take a look at the 2005 class.
They were right
Jonathan Stewart: Stewart was among the top three running back prospects in the country by all recruiting services. He arrived at Oregon with hype exceeding almost any player in program history. Even though he battled nagging injuries through most of his Ducks career, he lived up to the hype from day one.
In his collegiate debut against Houston on national television, Stewart took most of the Cougar defense for a ride as he used his much ballyhooed leg strength to fight for a 25-yard gain. From that point on it was a matter of staying healthy.
As a junior, Stewart rushed for 1,722 yards and amassed nearly 2,500 yards in total offense while battling turf toe. In his final game in an Oregon uniform, Stewart rushed for 253 yards against South Florida in the Sun Bowl.
The Carolina Panthers made Stewart their first-round pick when they selected him No. 13 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
They were right
Ed Dickson: Dickson was ranked as a four-star by one recruiting service but was not an elite level recruit out of Bellflower, Calif. After an up-and-down start in Eugene that saw him switched to defensive end after a redshirt year, Dickson found his groove and went on to become one of the greatest tight ends in school history.
With 123 catches for 1557 yards in his career, Dickson is the all-time receptions leader for tight ends in Oregon history.
Dickson was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft when Baltimore chose him No. 70 overall.
Nick Reed: Coming out of Mission Viejo High School in Southern California, Reed was somewhat overlooked due to his much higher-profile teammate, Mark Sanchez. Reed was chosen as the Orange County Defensive Player of the Year and he proved everyone right during his Oregon career.
During his time in Eugene, Reed became the Ducks All-Time sack leader and No. 4 in Pac-12 history with 29.5. He was named an All-American in both 2007 and 2008. His label as a "tweener" made his draft stock drop, but the Seattle Seahawks chose Reed in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Reed is currently on the roster of the Minnesota Vikings.
Palauni Ma Sun: Oregon found yet another star out of the junior college ranks when they signed Ma Sun out of Fresno City College in 2005. The transfer came in and paid dividends right away as he made 11 starts in his first season with the Ducks. After another strong season, Ma Sun signed a free-agent deal with the Washington Redskins.
Ma Sun has played in both the Arena League and the UFL after being cut by the Redskins.
Not so much-
Derrick Jones: After initially heading to USC after a standout career at Long Beach Poly High School, where he was an all-state wide receiver and the California 200-meter dash champion, Jones transferred to Oregon after flaming out in Los Angeles.
Despite the question marks coming in, Jones had the potential to be a breakout star for the Ducks at wide receiver. His speed and talent were evident from the beginning, but Jones could never stay on track off the field and would up being dismissed from the team.
Jairus Byrd: Named the Missouri State Player of the Year while leading his team to the state championship, Byrd somehow slipped past many local schools and wound up signing with Oregon as a two-star prospect.
After a redshirt year, Byrd shared Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors with Taylor Mays (USC) and Alterraun Verner (UCLA). Byrd led the Pac-10 with seven interceptions as a sophomore in 2007 en route to Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 honors. During his junior campaign, Byrd was a First-Team All-Pac-10 performer with five more interceptions to go along with 83 tackles.
After announcing he would forgo his senior season in Eugene, Byrd was picked by the Buffalo Bills in the second round with the No. 42 overall pick. In his rookie season, Byrd tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with nine, including tying an NFL record for three straight games with two interceptions. Despite only starting 11 games, Byrd was named runner-up for the NFL Rookie of the Year Award at the end of his rookie campaign.
Walter Thurmond III: Another overlooked prospect, Thurmond came to Oregon with little fanfare and quickly became a fan favorite. After a redshirt year, Thurmond was named to the All-Pac-10 team each of the next three seasons.
During his senior season, Thurmond suffered a horrific knee injury on the opening kickoff against California and missed the remainder of the year. Thurmond had shown enough to NFL scouts before the injury to become an NFL prospect.
The Seattle Seahawks made Thurmond their fourth-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft at No. 111 overall.
Blair Phillips: Phillips came to Eugene via Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College. Phillips was a big linebacker by Oregon standards and brought a toughness and leadership that quickly endeared him to the Oregon faithful. Of course, his game-winning blocked field goal to end the controversial game versus Oklahoma in 2006 did nothing to hurt his standing with Ducks fans.
Phillips was named the Ducks defensive MVP after the 2006 season and signed on with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free-agent in 2007. After a year in the Cowboys organization, Phillips signed with the New York Jets and spent the 2008 season as a Jet.
Jeremiah Johnson: Johnson was the "other" running back in the class of 2005 and went on to have a stellar career in Eugene before signing on with the Houston Texans in 2009. As a three-star recruit, Johnson snuck up on some opponents. He shared the backfield with Stewart until his senior campaign, in which he shared carries with LaGarrette Blount.
The Houston Texans signed Johnson immediately after he went undrafted in 2009. After bouncing around NFL practice squads, Johnson saw significant time with the Denver Broncos in 2011.
Simi Toeaina: While his career never really took off in Eugene, Toeaina was talented enough to make some impact on the defensive line in Eugene after starting off at Offensive line. Toeaina was signed by the New York Jets out of Oregon.