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True frosh find role with UO

10 Ducks skipped the redshirt year and got out on the field

Malachi Lewis is about as baby-faced as an 18-year-old college freshman could be.

But, oh, can he play. A true freshman doesn't get on the football field unless he shows he belongs.

Lewis appeared in all 12 regular-season games for Oregon at H-back and tight end, blocking and running routes and catching three balls for 26 yards.

He was the perfect example of how coach Mike Bellotti wants to handle new Ducks these days.

'We're going to try to play any true freshmen who can get on the field in any shape or form - on special teams, offense or defense,' Bellotti says. 'I want to get them out there.'

Ten true freshmen from the touted 2007 recruiting class played this season, the most in Bellotti's 13 seasons as head coach. Others were ready to play, including linebackers Terrance Pritchett and Eddie Pleasant, but the coaches wanted to preserve their redshirt years.

Bellotti doesn't regret playing any of the true freshmen, even though most saw limited time.

Six players appeared in 10 games or more: Lewis, defensive tackle Tonio Celotto, wide receiver Drew Davis, receiver/safety Jeffrey Maehl, middle linebacker Casey Matthews and defensive end Kenny Rowe.

Receiver/punt returner Aaron Pflugrad played in eight games, starting four before an ankle injury kept him out against Oregon State.

Kicker Daniel Padilla and defensive backs Talmadge Jackson and Anthony Gildon played sparingly.

Gildon doesn't regret not redshirting. He played on punt returns until recently and saw some duty in multidefensive back situations.

'I got a lot of reps with the scout team and worked a lot with the defense, and I was involved in game planning,' he says. 'I feel I have progressed more toward next year, and I got on the field.'

Matt Evensen won the kickoff job in camp and then took over as place-kicker after briefly competing with Padilla, who made 3 of 4 field goals and six extra points.

'He competed and traveled and kicked in games,' says Bellotti, who also coaches Padilla and the other kickers and punters. 'We needed to make sure we had a viable backup kicker. He may not have been the backup kickoff guy, but he'll work into that.'

Lewis was born at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, the son of Sheila Sattiewhite Lewis, a former letter winner on the UO basketball team. When he arrived at camp from Oxnard, Calif., coaches were not sure where he would play. He's versatile, and at 6-3 and 215 pounds he could be a running back, receiver and linebacker. The Ducks needed him at H-back/tight end.

'I got the feel for the college game,' Lewis says. 'I was excited to play, we started off with a good season - No. 2 in the nation - and I was excited to be playing and not watching from the sideline.'

More than half of the 2007 recruiting class took redshirt years. Bellotti says Pritchett and Pleasant, along with tight end David Paulson and free safety Todd Doxey, have been the most impressive among them.

The Ducks didn't need to force Pritchett into action. He practiced mostly at 'Will,' or inside linebacker. 'I just needed to learn the defense,' he says.

Pleasant practiced at 'Sam,' or outside backer.

Terrell Turner and Brandon Hanna, big and prototypical middle linebackers, also practiced, although an injury cost Hanna some time. 'We don't have enough evaluation on Turner and Hanna, yet, at linebacker,' Bellotti says, when asked about their potential.

Paulson 'is one of the best receivers on the team,' the coach says.

And Gildon says of Doxey: 'Every time he's in, he makes a play to get everybody excited.'

The Ducks signed three ballyhooed offensive linemen last February. Charlie Carmichael had knee surgery during training camp.

Darrion Weems 'shows flashes of brilliance but has to learn how to work harder and get himself into better shape,' Bellotti says. Carson York had shoulder surgery and didn't enroll in school last fall; he probably will enter school this term and be ready for spring ball.

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74th Sun Bowl: Oregon (8-4) vs. South Florida (9-3), 11 a.m. Pacific time today, Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas, KXL (750 AM), KOIN (6)

• Coach Mike Bellotti is optimistic that QB Dennis Dixon, who had knee surgery two weeks ago, can return for workouts for NFL teams and still be selected high in the April NFL draft. Kellen Clemens suffered a broken ankle and torn ligaments in November 2005 and went in the fourth round of the '06 draft. 'It was a six-month deal' like Dixon's, Bellotti says. 'The ACL reconstruction is different than an ankle reconstruction, to a degree, but both are serious injuries. Kellen did it. Everybody is going to wait and see on Dennis.'

• The Ducks had the 18th strongest schedule in the country, based on 2007 winning percentages. … Center Max Unger and rover Patrick Chung will start their 38th consecutive games in the Sun Bowl. … Coach Mike Bellotti is 23-23 against top 25 teams heading into the matchup with South Florida, which was ranked No. 23 by the Associated Press.

- Jason Vondersmith