Eugene, Ore. -- The 2021 Early Signing Day in college football came and went. And for the University of Oregon and Oregon State programs it was drama-free. In past years, early signing days for both programs have been punctuated by at least one 'flip' in which a committed athlete turns around and signs to another school on signing day. In 2021 both schools signed every one of their commits, save for one for the Ducks. Linebacker Jonathan Flowe will likely sign later in the year, as he committed just earlier this week.
Oregon football under Mario Cristobal has recruited at a level never seen before in program history. Depending on the recruiting service, the Ducks are either 5th or 6th nationally so far this 2021 cycle, in the company of Playoff contenders like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia. 20 of their 21 commits signed their letters of intent on Wednesday. At least three players are rated "five star" prospects by at least one recruiting service (QB Ty Thompson, WR Troy Franklin, OL Kingsley Suamataia) and 16 players are rated at least "four star" or better by the 247Composite, which aggregates a players recruiting ranking from the major media serives.
“Overall, just an awesome, awesome National Signing Day and still some more room to get an even bigger class," Cristobal told reporters on Wednesday evening. "It lacked drama which is good. I've been on the other side of these things where the phone is silent. You can't get a hold of somebody. You got this feeling in the pit of your stomach like 'can you get a hold of him I can't. What about you? I can't'. So no drama."
The Ducks have now had the top recruiting class inthe Pac-12 for the last three cycles (2019, 2020, 2021) and are still in the mix for other recruits later in the cycle. The crown jewel of the class, Eastside Catholic (WA.) defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau named Oregon among his final five on Wednesday. The Ducks are in contention alongside USC, Washington, Alabama and Ohio State.
While the numbers of the class don't jump off the page (only 8 total commits for the class of 2021), Oregon State's recruiting class is more about quality over quantity. The Beavers top two recruits for this cycle, running back Damir Collins (Portland, Ore.) and linebacker Easton Mascarenas (Mission Viejo, CA.) are the highest ranked duo since 2017 and two of the top 30 OSU signees since 2000. Part of the reason the class was so small was due large recruiting classes in 2019 and 2020 coupled with a lot of Division I and junior college transfers at the start of head coach Jonathan Smith's tenure in Corvallis.
"So much of our roster is coming back and oftentimes when you go into the JC ranks you're looking for immediate help," Smith explained on Wednesday afternoon. "I'm not putting outside the question that we wouldn't look at something after January."
Oregon State also managed to secure the signings of two other local stars, Hood River Valley offensive lineman Henry Buckles and Hidden Valley quarterback Sam Vidlak. Vidlak, in particular, was the Oregon state player of the year throwing for 44 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions his junior year. His 479 yards and 39 completions in the 2019 3A state championship game vs. Santiam Christian are OSAA records for a title game in all classifications 1A-6A.
"I was just taken by surprise at how great of an opportunity it really was. It was something I couldn't pass up," said Vidlak. Since Coach Smith has got their, they have continued to build and improve and I just want to add onto that and do my part to contribute the best I can to help that program reach new heights. You know, I am super excited to play for Coach Smith and I think it is going to be pretty fun."
Around the state of Oregon, some athletes signed their letters of intent on the Early Signing Day, while others, who missed out on the opportunity to play out a senior football season may still be waiting for their chance on the official signing day later this winter. For Lebanon's Keith Brown, the recruiting process has been over for awhile. He committed to the Ducks back in November of 2019 and has been one of the most vocal peer recruiters for the program to get other players in the class of 2021.
"Keith is like Mr. Oregon," Head Coach Mario Cristobal said of Brown. "The fact that he is so into his hometown, his home state, it's awesome. Those guys are so important in getting guys...to introduce them to our state, the culture, the outdoors. It's a great thing."
The four star linebacker and top ranked recruit in the state of Oregon will be enrolling early this spring, forgoing the possibility of playing his senior season even if there is an OSAA season this spring.
Sheldon offensive lineman Shane Schwake's situation was a little bit different. The top rated recruit in Lane County, he was scheduled to visit schools like Eastern Washington and Oregon State before the pandemic and was primed to see his stock rise with a senior season. Instead, without official visits and the traditional ways of being recruited, Schwake put more stock into the relationships that he had built with coaching staffs to that point. Eastern Washington turned out to be the best fit.
"I drove up [to EWU] before I committed," Schwake said. "Just walked around campus by myself just to see how it was and I loved it up there and knew that's where I want to spend the next five years. I think it was pretty stressful but when you find your home. You're not stressed anymore."
Two other area athletes, tight end Carter Neuman (Sheldon) and tight end Joe MaQatish (Santiam Christian) are committed to the Air Force Academy and Northern Arizona, respectively, but have not signed their national letters of intent yet.