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Let's rewind a little over one year ago.
The Oregon Ducks were preparing for a Redbox Bowl showdown against the Michigan State Spartans when junior quarterback Justin Herbert and junior linebacker Troy Dye decided to give Ducks fans one more Christmas present: another season in a Ducks uniform.
And it paid off. Today, the Ducks can not only call themselves Pac-12 champions but also Rose Bowl champions.
The decision as a junior (or three-year collegiate player) to either declare for the NFL Draft or play another season in college holds a lot of weight on each end. The risk of injury; a paycheck; which round your name will be called; family opinions; etc.
Fast forward to Monday, January 13, 2020, and juniors Thomas Graham Jr., Deommodore Lenoir, Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu had that same decision in front of them. They have ALL decided to forgo the NFL Draft and return to Oregon for their senior season.
A big time decision with great impact on an already impressive defensive roster. In 2019, the Ducks defense (under first-year defensive coordinator Andy Avalos) lead the Pac-12 in interceptions (20), turnovers forced (23) and sacks (41), categories that Graham Jr., Lenoir, Scott and Faoliu greatly contributed in.
Now, they're back for another year.
We decided to do this altogether because we all came into together, class of 2017. We all felt we made a change together and felt this decision needs to be made to everybody together as one. - Thomas Graham Jr.
Let's break down cornerbacks Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir's individual impact as well as what it means for 2020.
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.
The minute Thomas Graham Jr. stepped onto the field as a freshman, you knew he was going to be great. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound corner from Rancho Cucamonga, California earned the starting corner spot his freshman year alongside senior Arrion Springs and junior Ugo Amadi.
Graham had offers from Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma amongst others, and chose the Oregon Ducks and then Coach Willie Taggart. He chose a first-year head coach at Oregon over the stability and history that Nick Saban brings to the Crimson Tide. The reason? He wanted to come in and help change a program. Oregon was coming off a 4-8 season with no postgame bowl and hiring a brand new coaching staff when Graham committed.
Loyalty, hard work, and trust all come to mind when thinking about his career at Oregon. The junior ended this past season with 64 tackles (47 solo), five tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble, ten pass breakups, and two interceptions.
With all said, for me I'd like to thank the University of Oregon for everything they've done for me. It's been such a blessing. A lot of childhood dreams have come true. I always told my dad as a kid I would win the Pac-12 championship. I was able to do that. Didn't think I was going to do it in the colors that I'm in but no less than anything, thank you Oregon. All that being said, I'd like to announce that I'm coming back for my senior year. I got one more season left to go in Autzen. Let's see what we got to do Duck nation. - Graham Jr.
Deommodore Lenoir has shown consistent improvement throughout the years at Oregon. A four-star rated prospect out of high school by Rivals and 247Sports, the 5-foot-11, 202-pound corner from Los Angeles, California snagged a beautiful one-handed interception vs. USC and returned it 45 yards. In the 2020 Rose Bowl, he recorded six tackles and recovered one fumble.
The junior cornerback ended this past season with 47 tackles (32 solo), two tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, seven pass breakups, and one interception.
I would like to thank the University of Oregon. I want to thank my family, friends. The relationships that we built over the years, and with that being said, I will be returning for my senior year. Thank you Oregon. - Lenoir
It's not all about football for Lenoir. He stated that the biggest thing for him is being able to get his degree before he left Oregon.
WHAT THIS MEANS
If you thought the Ducks secondary was scary in 2019, it could get even scarier in 2020. A defense that caught the eyes of Dez Bryant among others at the beginning of the season vs. Auburn ended their 2019 campaign with a 2020 Rose bowl victory and leading the Pac-12 conference in multiple team defense statistic categories.
The 2020 Ducks defense will be without linebacker Troy Dye as his career is NFL bound now, but returning starting corners Graham and Lenoir along with returners Nick Pickett, Brady Breeze (2020 Rose Bowl Defensive MVP), Jevon Holland, Verone McKinley III, Mykael Wright, Trikweze Bridges, DJ James and incoming freshmen Luke Hill and Dontae Manning.
I'm a competitive person also. So having great players in one room, it just brings out the best version in everybody. - Lenoir.
What's in store for the Ducks secondary in 2020? With the return of Graham Jr., and Lenoir, the sky is the limit.
A main thought for all of us is just being dominant. The only way you can be dominant is to be consistent. - Graham Jr.
Sorry Pac-12, they're back.