For a guy seeing so many stars, Andy Avalos was pretty measured on Thursday.
Oregon’s first-year defensive coordinator is one of the big winners nationally during the early signing period with five-star linebackers Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell co-headlining the 2020 recruiting class.
A total of 11 defensive players are part of the Ducks’ 20-man class, which is ranked 10th nationally and first in the Pac-12 by Rivals.
The new crop of talent will join what could be another championship unit next season with the return of defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, the top-ranked overall prospect in the 2019 class, and a list of other proven standouts.
“It's starts with having a plan,” Avalos said. “To get those type of guys you’ve got to have a plan and you’ve got to show them the plan and show them the vision. And they’ve got to believe in it.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to recruit some really good players, really good people that are capable of executing that plan.”
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Flowe and the 6-2, 266-pound Sewell are the top two inside linebacker prospects in this cycle.
“Obviously Noah has a brother here and has been around the program and all that, but this was specific to Noah,” Avalos said of recruiting left tackle Penei Sewell’s younger sibling. “This was about his fit and the things that he's going to be able to accomplish and do in his time here. …
“Justin Flowe, the last addition there, obviously it's a huge get, as all four of them are. The speed, size and explosiveness that not only he brings but the rest of them as well.
“That's what we're looking for. We're looking for runners and hitters, and I think you see that when you pop on these guys’ film.”
Four-star athlete Jaden Navarrette, who is the third highest-ranked prospect in Oregon’s class, will play outside linebacker.
“He played a lot of offense (in high school) as well, and you can see his ability to run, his burst. Really excited about that on the edge,” Avalos said of the 6-3, 223-pound Navarrette. “His burst is really good, so we're excited about that and obviously developing him into an every down player as he grows and learns.”
Avalos is also bullish on outside linebacker Jackson LaDuke, a 6-2, 217-pound four-star prospect.
“Jackson is an unbelievable player and he's extremely smart with unbelievable instincts,” Avalos said. “They’re read and react players, all of them, and they can all blitz and obviously cover.”
Oregon loses Troy Dye in the heart of the defense but returns starting inside linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia and backups Dru Mathis, Sampson Niu and MJ Cunningham.
Mase Funa has shown flashes of stardom as a freshman at the “stud” linebacker spot.
On the back end of the unit, Oregon signed defensive backs Luke Hill, Jared Greenfield and junior college transfer Bennett Williams.
The secondary is already loaded with elite returning skill that includes Brady Breeze, Thomas Graham, Jevon Holland, Deommodore Lenoir, Verone McKinley, Nick Pickett and Mykael Wright.
The defensive line could return veterans Jordon Scott, Austin Faoliu and Popo Aumavae. The rest of Thibodeaux’s touted classmates — Kristian Williams, Sua’ava Poti, Keyon Ware-Hudson and Brandon Dorlus — should also be ready to contribute.
The 2020 class includes defensive linemen Maceal Afaese (6-5, 257), Jake Shipley (6-4, 271), Jaylen Smith (6-5, 266) and Bradyn Swinson (6-4, 257).
“The D-linemen coming in, their size, length, speed and the production on the field is really high,” Avalos said. “So we're excited about all levels — the front, the linebackers, the DBs — and now we’ve got to gel them all together. It’s about getting them ingrained in the culture and making sure this class is bonding.
“When these young men show up on campus here, they've got to have bonds already created so that we can jump in and get to work so we can get moving quickly.”
Entering the matchup with Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif., Oregon ranks ninth nationally in points allowed (15.7 per game) and 23rd in yards allowed (329.6 per game).
Given the Ducks’ success on the field and the recruiting trail this year, Avalos was asked about his head coaching aspirations.
“If a situation ever pops up that is right for my family and myself, obviously you always got to look into that stuff,” Avalos said. “But right now with the guys that we just signed that we’ve got coming in, the guys that are coming back … this is a hard place to leave now. And you know my wife has just gotten settled at our house, so she doesn’t want to go anywhere. And I don't blame her. …
“It doesn't happen this way all the time. It doesn’t. You're in a situation like this right here, you’ve got to take as good care of it is you can and focus on what you're doing every day. Your mind can't wander other places.”
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