Recruited little at home, Southern Californians look to prove themselves
EUGENE Ñ Adam Snyder likes to hit the beach, feel the sand between his toes and maybe try to get up on a surfboard.
'Used to go in the morning before high school,' the Oregon Ducks' 6-6, 290-pound offensive linemen says.
Steven Moore doesn't miss an opportunity to watch his old high school football team play and shake the hand of his former coach. 'And I just relax, chill with the family and see my two little brothers,' the Duck defensive back says.
Jason Willis and George Wrighster, meanwhile, make a beeline for their favorite Southern California eating establishments.
'Fatburger. They don't have it up here. Gotta have a turkey burger,' says Willis, an Oregon receiver.
You can take the L.A. guys out of Los Angeles, but you can't take the Los Angeles out of the L.A. guys.
It also pertains to football. When the Ducks (5-0) play UCLA (4-1) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Bowl, it will be 'more than just Saturday's game,' Moore says. 'It's personal.'
That's because about half of the Ducks' 60-man traveling roster came from the Los Angeles and San Diego areas.
All extracurricular activity before the game will be prohibited Ñ no beach, no prep games, no turkey burgers. Coach Mike Bellotti has found that his team plays better when it arrives late in L.A. (8 p.m. today, for example), which prevents the SoCal players from running around the city, fraternizing with family and friends and losing focus.
'It's a good thing,' the bleach-blond Snyder says. 'It's a business trip Ñ until after Saturday night.'
You think the Ducks from Southern California don't use being spurned by UCLA and/or USC (who they play Oct. 26) as motivation? Think again. Sure, there are only 25 or so available scholarships at UCLA and USC every year Ñ usually filled by Los Angeles-area players Ñ but many of the 300-some Division I recruits in the Southland think they should have received one.
'They pass up on talent every now and then. You gotta show them you can play, and say, 'You missed out,' ' says Moore, who prepped at L.A.'s Dorsey High.
Wrighster, from Van Nuys, chose Oregon over UCLA because of its tradition of grooming tight ends for the pros. Willis, a senior and two-year starter, did not get offered scholarships at either USC or UCLA, although UCLA wanted him as 'an athlete' to play defense.
Willis, from St. Bernard, a small private Los Angeles high school, wanted to play running back or wide receiver. So, he accepted the Ducks' wink-wink 'walk-on' offer Ñ when a scholarship opened up at Oregon, he would receive one. And he did.
Still, he says: 'I sort of have a little animosity toward UCLA. I use it as motivation all the time. Going home on vacations, I see UCLA guys, see their fans, I'm the first one to talk smack.
'I'm glad I took the choice of coming to Oregon. I can always go home now, and I know I'm in a better place here. Got a lot of friends on USC and UCLA and I tell them, 'I'm having more fun up here.' '
Given the choice, Willis says, most L.A.-area players would stay in Southern California and play football, if not for USC or UCLA, then somewhere. But who wants to be around parents and family from the rambunctious ages of 18 to 22? It's good to leave, he says.
'It's an important change of pace for a lot of guys,' he says. 'You come up here and get away from the hustle and bustle. Can't get in trouble here. You focus and mature.'
When the Ducks ride in their bus today to their hotel in Glendale, they'll pass a billboard featuring Willis, Samie Parker and Keenan Howry Ñ three Duck receivers who USC and UCLA let escape from their backyard to play Saturdays at Oregon. L.A. schools did little recruiting of them, especially Willis, the small-school kid who made good in Eugene.
'I'm going to look hard for it,' Willis says. 'I try to rub it in, back in my hometown.'