Duck vets have known good and bad
'Pigheaded' attitudes, youth and leadership void contribute to slide
EUGENE Ñ At L.A.'s Dorsey High School, Steven Moore dressed for football games in the storage room or outside.
Today, the senior cornerback dresses in a $3.2 million locker room that includes personalized lockers, Internet hookup, satellite television on 60-inch plasma screens, high-tech stereo equipment, an Xbox game machine, climate controls, calibrated lighting and leather couches.
'Man, we don't need all that stuff,' he says. 'When I got here, we didn't have any of that stuff.'
That stuff stamps Oregon players as pampered, he says, and may have led many of them to fall for the idea that they automatically would be Pacific-10 Conference contenders. Instead, the Ducks find themselves 5-4 going into Saturday's game against California, a year after they finished 7-6.
'When I got here, we were still trying to get our name out there,' says Moore, who arrived in 2000. 'A lot of new guys think it's already out there.'
Underdog status had advantages
Most of the seniors agree that the Ducks lack hunger. They yearn for yesteryear Ñ 1999, 2000 and 2001, when the Ducks went 30-6 and won three bowl games.
Not only the facilities have changed Ñ a $90 million Autzen Stadium upgrade and new locker room followed construction of the Moshofsky and Casanova centers Ñ so has attitude, says center Dan Weaver, who arrived in 2000.
'We were considered a program on the rise, going to the Holiday and Fiesta bowls,' he says. 'We went from underdog to one of the super programs around. Having that mentality when you start a season, it really does affect the personality of the team.'
The Ducks have started 6-0 and- 4-0 the last two years, reaching the top 10 in the national rankings.
Oregon had 14 seniors on its preseason roster. Of the seven who arrived straight from high school in 1999, five will suit up Saturday (Joey Forster and Josh Rogers are injured): defensive end Quinn Dorsey, quarterback Jason Fife, fullback Matt Floberg, linebacker Kevin Mitchell and receiver Samie Parker. They have seen the great, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Weaver calls 2001 the 'dream senior year' for players like Joey Harrington, Justin Peelle and Ryan Schmid. 'I wish on everything I could have the senior season they had,' he says.
Weaver says the Ducks have more talent on scholarship, 1 through 85, than past UO teams.
'But those teams had a lot more to prove and had more desire, because no one respected them,' Fife says. 'This team has had more respect and doesn't feel like it needs to earn it.'
Players such as Jason Nicolao and Saul Patu, defensive linemen from 1997-2000, made others work hard and keep the underdog mentality, Moore says.
Leadership goes missing
Coach Mike Bellotti, who lost a great offensive coordinator in Jeff Tedford after the Fiesta Bowl, seems never to point an accusatory finger at himself and his assistant coaches for Oregon's two-year slide. He points to player performance as the team's downfall.
'It's hard to compare talent,' Bellotti says. 'If you look at record and the way you handle adversity, we're not doing as well as we'd like. In general, it's a good football team, but we're playing young people.'
Bellotti says the good Duck teams, through the Fiesta Bowl, had 'vocal, verbal senior leadership varied by performance,' an intangible missing the last two years.
'We have leadership issues, obviously,' he says. 'Good football teams persevere, find ways to create confidence in themselves and teammates, play hard and do not give up.'
Fife says some players just don't follow. 'There are leaders,' he says. 'Some of these players are stuck in their ways and pigheaded.'
Quarterbacks should be leaders, but sophomore Kellen Clemens hasn't won the job outright and has created doubt with poor decisions. Fife realized he needed to be more vocal, but as the No. 2 quarterback behind Clemens, 'I'm in a tough role' to lead by command or performance, he says.
'I'm still vocal, but I don't want to be rah-rah, because talk is cheap right now,' he says.