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DUCKS NOTES: Alonso says he's better, and healthy; Harper plays 'significant' role for K-State

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso heads off the field after making a fourth-quarter interception at the Oregon State 23-yard line during the Ducks' Civil War victory Nov. 24. The pick set up a touchdown that gave Oregon a 48-17 lead en route to a 48-24 victory.Kiko Alonso, nearing the end of his Oregon Ducks playing career and hoping to be in the NFL draft mix, has finally started to grant interviews to media outlets.

The Daily Emerald, the university's student newspaper, had a nice story about Alonso after the Ducks' regular-season ended.

On Sunday, the UO linebacker told the Portland Tribune that he just wanted to focus on football, the reason for his season-long silent treatment with media.

"It's not that I didn't want to talk about my past," he said. "It's just that I had other things to focus on. That's about it."

Alonso's past included two alcohol-related run-ins with the law, and two suspensions from the UO team.

"I had to put it in my past and move forward," he said. "I feel really fortunate; (coach Chip Kelly) gave me an opportunity and I had to take advantage of it. I just went out there and did my best."

Alonso overcome such things to have a good junior year, which ended with a defensive MVP award in the Rose Bowl win against Wisconsin.

And, he had an even better senior year, joining longtime buddy and fellow linebacker Michael Clay on the all-Pac-12 second-team list.

Alonso, from Los Gatos, Calif., missed a game with a wrist injury, but returned to make 10 tackles in a heroic effort against USC.

"It's fine," he says, of the wrist. "I don't talk about injuries."

Alonso and teammates are preparing for the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State, Jan. 3 in Glendale, Ariz., after which he and Clay and others will be preparing for the NFL draft.

Alonso said he has been "really happy" about his senior year.

"I feel like I was able to stay injury-free," he adds. "I've been watching a lot of film (this year) and, as times goes on, I've been able to learn more and get better. That's what you want to do."

•Â Who can forget Kansas State receiver Chris Harper's time at Oregon?

Ducks coach Kelly recruited Harper, Darron Thomas and Terrelle Pryor at the same time to play quarterback. Kelly pushed to the last days of the 2008 recruitment period until Pryor signed with Ohio State.

With UO's quarterback situation in transition — Nate Costa going down with an injury, Jeremiah Masoli being worked into the mix and Justin Roper suffering inconsistencies and injuries — the Ducks put the ball in the athletic true freshman Harper's hands in some early games, even though he had looked woeful throwing the ball in practice.

Harper ran 12 times for 60 yards in the opener against Washington, and went 4-for-6 passing for 40 yards with four carries for 25 yards against Utah State. His starring role came at Purdue, when he replaced an injured Roper in the second overtime and helped the Ducks win on LeGarrette Blount's 3-yard TD run; Harper had four carries for 17 yards in that game.

But the beginning of the end for Harper as a quarterback came the next week, at home against Boise State. The Broncos knocked out Masoli, and Harper went in and struggled mightily, weakly throwing passes, going 0 for 3 with two interceptions, and carrying nine times for 21 yards. Thomas entered the picture in the fourth quarter, and almost rallied the Ducks to the win.

Harper would carry the ball six more times, for 14 yards, and not throw any more passes. Then-coach Mike Bellotti and then-offensive coordinator Kelly moved the reluctant Harper to receiver, where he would catch nine balls for 122 yards.

By training camp 2009, Harper, a Wichita native, had transferred to Kansas State. He sat out the '09 season, then made 115 receptions for 1,663 yards and 12 scores in three seasons, as a different type of wideout at 6-1, 235 pounds.

K-State coach Bill Snyder appreciates Kelly for releasing Harper and allowing him to transfer to K-State, which will meet the Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3 at Glendale, Ariz.

"He's significant in our program. He's grown immensely," Snyder says. "I'm awful proud of him. I think (the Fiesta Bowl) will have a big meaning to him."

• Kelly says the Ducks' fourth consecutive BCS appearance does "validate that we're doing things the right way," as far as working on small things to achieve the big end result.

•Â Kelly's offense gets the headlines, but he still contends the Nick Aliotti-led Ducks defense "has been the cornerstone of our success. You don't go to four straight BCS games if you're not playing well on defense."

•Â Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had a season for the ages.

Talk about having a nose for the ball — four interceptions, an overwhelmingly team-leading 15 pass breakups and an astonishing six forced fumbles.

"I want to be a game-changer," he says. "Somebody who can make plays at any time to help the team." Teams targeted Ekpre-Olomu all season; the other starting cornerback, Terrance Mitchell, had no interceptions, no fumble recoveries and eight pass breakups.

•Â Kelly, 45-7 in four years, has refused to address his standing as one of the NFL's hottest coaching prospects.

His agent, David Dunn, has represented several NFL players, including Joey Harrington.

So, it's a curious relationship, Kelly and Dunn, a ready-made NFL pipeline. It appears Philadelphia could be one destination for Kelly, with Dallas, San Diego and Kansas City being others; then again, those teams still have head coaches.

•Â Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has a national record on the line in the Fiesta Bowl game. He has a 69.87 completion percentage, ahead of Sam Bradford's 69.5 for best among freshmen quarterbacks.

•Â UO's defense leads the country with 38 takeaways and 24 interceptions.