Mario Cristobal was all-caps excited at 5 a.m.
About four hours after the Oregon coach’s tweet, Justin Herbert and the rest of the Ducks sauntered onto the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex practice fields.
The stereo system overwhelmed everything, except for strength coach Aaron Feld’s barbaric yawping, as fall camp began Friday morning.
“They’ve had a great summer and certainly they’ve been eager for this day to come,” Cristobal said. “The day has arrived, and they got after it.”
Oregon returns 17 starters from Cristobal’s first season, which ended with a 9-4 record, and there were plenty of familiar faces running with the first teams during the 20-minute portion of practice open to members of the media.
Herbert was receiving snaps from center Jake Hanson, something they’ve been doing together since 2016.
Left tackle Penei Sewell, left guard Shane Lemieux, right guard Dallas Warmack and right tackle Calvin Throckmorton were also back in their regular spots on a veteran offensive line that will have its hands full against Auburn in the Aug. 31 opener in Arlington, Texas.
The skill players who lined up with Herbert to start camp were running back Travis Dye, tight end Jacob Breeland and wide receivers Juwan Johnson, Jaylon Redd and Brenden Schooler.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Shough took the second-team snaps, and true freshman Cale Millen took the third-team snaps.
“It didn’t look like it was our first day,” said Herbert, who made the decision in December to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft. “We did a great job this offseason getting together, throwing, working on the team stuff. We made some penalties, had some drops and some bad throws, but that’s expected on the first day. Overall, I thought it was a good day.”
Kayvon Thibodeaux, ESPN’s No. 1 overall prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, was getting some reps at the “stud” position in new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ scheme.
Some of the other true freshmen expected to have an immediate impact include wide receiver Mycah Pittman, cornerback Mykael Wright, safeties Trikweze Bridges and Jamal Hill and outside linebacker Mase Funa.
“All these freshmen are just ridiculous,” senior linebacker Troy Dye said. “I don’t even know where they find these kids anymore or what they’re eating. … We’re really excited to see what they can contribute to the team this year.”
Tight end Patrick Herbert is another member of the highest ranked recruiting class in program history who Cristobal said is in the mix for playing time after adding 20 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame in the winter strength and conditioning program.
“It kind of reminded me of high school,” Justin Herbert said of practicing with his younger brother this season for the first time since they were teammates at Sheldon High in 2015. “It’s been fun, and it’s not something you get too often. So it was a special moment.”
It was also an eventful day for true freshmen running backs Sean Dollars, who broke off a long run that caught Cristobal’s eye, and Jayvaun Wilson, who while being pummeled by medicine balls during a creative new balance drill was asked by his position coach, Jim Mastro: “Remember all the times you didn’t return my text messages?”
When Oregon’s practice ended, Cristobal and the dozens of players with interview requests participated in the program’s annual media day on the suite level of Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks, coming off a 9-4 finish, are No. 13 in the preseason coaches poll and were picked to win the North Division in the Pac-12 media poll.
“We never make a prediction part of the process,” Cristobal said. “We've all learned, the good way and the hard way, that when we're really dialed in and focused on what we have to do, we can be a pretty good football team. When we don’t, we can go sideways. …
“I think we're able to talk straight up and never have any issue or confusion or anything cloudy on what the reality is: We have miles to go to where we want to get to, and we’ve got a lot of work to get there.”
Oregon’s second practice will be open to the public Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. on the HDC practice fields. The annual “Fan Day” concludes with an autograph session in the Moshofsky Center.