What kind of guys are they recruiting?
It's a question some fans and letter-to-the-editor writers are asking during an Oregon football season in which several players, including a pair of prominent tight ends, have made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Oregon's longtime tight ends coach, Tom Osborne, said he leaves no stone unturned when researching a prospect's character during the recruiting process.
Before recruiting current redshirt freshman tight end Evan Baylis, Osborne interviewed his teachers, vice principal, lacrosse coach, counselor and even the security guard at Grandview High in Centennial, Colo.
"I probably talked to 12 people at the school and they all said the same thing: Awesome kid, great parents, great background, has all the right intangibles, all the right character things," Osborne said.
Now the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Baylis, who impressed the coaching staff more and more as the regular season wore on, will be counted on when No. 10 Oregon plays Texas in the Alamo Bowl on Monday night in San Antonio.
Colt Lyerla, the starting tight end at the beginning of the season, quit the team on Oct. 6 after being suspended for the Colorado game. He is currently facing a felony cocaine possession charge stemming from an Oct. 23 arrest in Eugene.
Pharaoh Brown, who started the last four games, has been suspended by coach Mark Helfrich for the Alamo Bowl for his role in an on-campus snowball fight.
And Johnny Mundt, who caught two touchdowns against Tennessee on Sept. 14, appeared to run face-mask first into the freshman wall in November.
Baylis said he is ready for the challenge of blocking unanimous all-American defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and the other talented Longhorn defenders at the Alamodome.
"Pharaoh is in my class and he's a good friend. It sucks to see that happen to him," Baylis said. "But we know we have a good competition ahead of us, so we have to work hard in practice to get ourselves prepared for the game. ...
"Opportunities come in different ways. When they come, you have to take advantage of them."
Baylis graduated early from high school and enrolled at Oregon in January 2012. He participated in spring drills that semester and then redshirted last year.
"Guys that come in early, to have success they either have to be really good students or very mature," Osborne said. "Their buddies are going to the senior prom, and they're playing college football. That's a major league difference."
Actually, Baylis was still able to attend his prom back in Colorado after Oregon's spring practices ended. But it was only a brief trip down memory lane for the new big man on Oregon's campus.
"I kind of just felt like I had moved on from high school and that was the right thing for me," Baylis said. "With school and everything, it was a pretty easy transition. I just thought it would help me get ahead of the curve."
Baylis was poised for a breakout season after learning Osborne's techniques and Helfrich's playbook. An injury kept him out of fall camp and behind Lyerla, Mundt and Brown on the depth chart early in the season.
"He has improved so much in the last four or five weeks," Osborne said. "The more he has played, the more confidence he has gotten and the better he's gotten."
Baylis has appeared in 11 games but has only three receptions for 44 yards. His ability to deliver crushing blocks on special teams and put defensive ends on their backs is what stands out in the film room.
"Everybody wants to come in and win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. That's pretty hard to do. And I think (Baylis) has kind of taken more of the quote-unquote normal progression," Helfrich said. "But he's a guy that we expect a ton more from. There's still a lot in there. He'll grow up physically, he'll just grow more from a confidence standpoint. His best days are ahead."
Mundt leads the tight end group with 15 receptions for 261 yards and three touchdowns. When Lyerla missed the marquee nonconference game against the Volunteers because of "circumstances," the 6-4, 232-pound newcomer stepped into the spotlight with five receptions for 121 yards and two scores against the SEC defense.
"Johnny did hit a wall like most of those guys do. It's physically or mentally or both for different guys," Osborne said of first-year players. "Evan has continued to get better and better. Johnny will continue to get better. They have all the right characteristics, all the right intangibles."
Brown, who missed most of fall camp and three games with a leg injury, has 10 receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-6, 241-pound sophomore, now an infamous Internet figure after being shown dumping snow on a car and an ex-Oregon professor in a viral video, was not made available to the media during bowl practices before the holiday break.
"It's all part of growing up. It's an everyday baby-sitting, counseling, teaching, fathering role when you're a coach. It goes on every day," Osborne said when asked about Brown's situation. "You could go two years without an issue and then have four in a week. You're just trying to train these guys and teach these guys to do the right thing every single day."
Helfrich said Koa Ka'ai has also been getting more reps during bowl practices.
Oregon's tight end group contains a true freshman (Mundt), a redshirt freshman (Baylis), a true sophomore (Brown) and a redshirt sophomore (Ka'ai).
"They're just so young. I expect them to play at a much higher level and with much better technique and better fundamentals," Osborne said. "At the same time, I have to remind myself they're young guys that haven't had a chance to play a lot. Having said that, they've played a lot this season."
With quarterback Marcus Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu announcing they will return in 2014, Oregon's offense loses only senior wide receiver Josh Huff and possibly running back De'Anthony Thomas.
The maturing tight end position figures to add to the team's strengths instead of creating distractions for the Ducks.
"It really fires us up. Those are the two really big centerpieces of our offense," Baylis said of Mariota and Grasu. "We're all really coming back together next year, so it makes us want to work harder."
Alamo Bowl sold out
The Oregon-Texas matchup has attracted a sellout crowd for the Alamo Bowl.
Both schools have sold their allotment of tickets (9,500 for Oregon), and the bowl purchased the remaining 220 seats for a San Antonio Food Bank fundraiser.
This will be the final game for Texas coach Mack Brown, who announced his resignation after 16 seasons with one national championship. An Alamodome crowd of about 66,000 is expected.
The Alamo Bowl attendance record is 66,166 for Penn State's 24-17 victory over Texas A&M on Dec. 29, 2007. Last year 65,277 witnessed Texas' 31-27 win over Oregon State.
Oregon tight end Baylis a great character catch
What kind of guys are they recruiting?