That was Willie Taggart’s social media code to fans every time Oregon landed a verbal commitment from a big-time recruit in 2017.
At one point during the cycle, the Ducks’ class was ranked No. 1 nationally, but then Taggart picked up the phone when Florida State called with a job offer.
With players petitioning for Mario Cristobal as the Las Vegas Bowl and the early signing period loomed, athletic director Rob Mullens decided to promote the popular offensive line coach to head coach.
Twenty-six months later, the Ducks are coming off a Pac-12 championship season and have signed back-to-back top-10 football recruiting classes.
The momentum started with the 2018 class, which Cristobal and his staff were able to salvage during the chaos of Taggart’s abrupt departure only a year after Mark Helfrich was fired.
“Whatever it ends up being ranked, I know it’s one of the top classes in the country,” Cristobal said at his first signing day news conference at Oregon just over two years ago. “I know when you start looking position by position, for the most part we got the top guys in the areas that we targeted. And that is the most important part.”
When the ink dried on the letters-of-intent, the 24-man class was ranked 13th by both Rivals and 247Sports.
Oregon did not officially land any five-star prospects during the cycle, but Penei Sewell, who chose the Ducks over Alabama and USC, has been a five-star player.
“It’s a great example of the types of battles that Oregon is capable of winning. He’s an ultimate difference maker,” a prescient Cristobal said. “Penei kind of caused an explosion in the room when it was official.”
Sewell became the first Oregon player to win the Outland Trophy and the program’s third unanimous all-American last season.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound junior-to-be will anchor the 2020 offensive line, which will be breaking in four new starters with the graduation of Brady Aiello, Jake Hanson, Shane Lemieux, Calvin Throckmorton and Dallas Warmack.
Sewell will likely be a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, if he chooses to leave Oregon a year early.
“Penei could have went in the first round last year,” Lemieux said at the Rose Bowl. “He’s just one of those special players, a once-in-a-decade type of guy, and I think he’s always been a step up in every sense — physically, mentally and all that kind of stuff.
“And you’ve even seen his game take off from last year to this year, just being more comfortable. It’s only going to progress from this.”
After protecting projected first-round pick Justin Herbert’s blindside for two seasons, Sewell will likely do the same for classmate Tyler Shough.
Cristobal compared the 6-5, 219-pound Shough favorably to Herbert on signing day.
“He looks a lot like the guy that plays for us here right now,” Cristobal said. “The similarities are striking, so we’re really excited about him as well.”
During his redshirt freshman season backing up Herbert, Shough completed 80% of his passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns in mop-up duty.
Entering spring practice, Shough is the clear favorite to be Oregon’s starting quarterback when the season opens Sept. 5 against North Dakota State.
New coordinator Joe Moorhead will also give redshirt freshman Cale Millen and true freshmen Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford a shot at running his offense.
“It’s a blank slate,” Moorhead said during his introductory news conference Wednesday. “We’ll install a new offense, give it to all of the guys, and I’m excited for the competition. But I think there’s certainly plenty of talent to work with.”
Some of Andy Avalos’ key contributors during his first season as defensive coordinator were from the 2018 class.
Starting nickelback Jevon Holland had four interceptions and was second on the team in tackles behind linebacker Troy Dye. Starting safety Verone McKinley, after redshirting in 2018, earned FWAA freshman all-American honors after matching the team lead with four interceptions.
Another 2018 safety, Steve Stephens, adds more depth to a loaded secondary that returns senior cornerbacks Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir and senior safeties Brady Breeze and Nick Pickett.
“They’re like Oregon employees the way they worked the recruiting trails since the moment they were committed,” Cristobal said of Holland and Stephens helping hold the 2018 group together. “Tremendous personalities.”
Running back Travis Dye averaged 6.2 yards per carry and finished with 658 rushing yards in 2019, which was second on the team.
Tight end Spencer Webb, who had 18 receptions for 209 yards and three touchdowns, will have a chance to move into the starting lineup with the graduation of Jacob Breeland and Ryan Bay.
“He’s widely regarded as the best tight end on the West Coast and has started making his way as one of the best tight ends in the entire country,” Cristobal said of Webb on signing day. “We firmly believe that.”
Wide receiver Bryan Addison, who had 18 receptions for 203 yards and one touchdowns, is the leading candidate to replace Juwan Johnson in the starting lineup.
Steven Jones, Dawson Jaramillo and Christopher Randazzo will try to help Sewell reload along the offensive line. The fifth offensive lineman in the 2018 class, Justin Johnson, has medically retired from football.
Karsten Battles, who was recruited specifically to replace four-year starting long snapper Tanner Carew, will be entering his third season in the role.
“When you announce a long snapper, no one gets all fired up. I do,” Cristobal said. “It might be the first time I ever saw a highlight film that actually just showed the long snapper whipping five, six snaps back there. I thought it was a riveting experience for everyone that was there.”
There were some notable misses in the 2018 class — wide receivers Jalen Hall and JJ Tucker, running back Jamal Elliott and defensive back Kahlef Hailassie all left the program.
Hall is facing armed robbery charges in Los Angeles. Elliott (North Carolina Central) and Hailassie (Weber State) are playing at the FCS level. Tucker has not joined another program since entering the NCAA transfer portal last fall.
Oregon recruiting review: Class of 2018
Name | Position | Ht./Wt. | Hometown
Bryan Addison | ATH | 6-5/180 | Gardena, Calif.
Then: Late addition was released from his UCLA letter-of-intent
Now: Tall target has a chance to earn starting wide receiver spot in 2020
Karsten Battles | LS | 6-1/240 | San Antonio, Texas
Then: Two-star recruit, No. 3 long snapper prospect
Now: Entering third season as Ducks’ reliable long snapper
Isaah Crocker | WR | 6-1/175 | Sacramento, Calif.
Then: Four-star held offers from Alabama, Nebraska
Now: Has appeared in one game entering redshirt sophomore season
MJ Cunningham | ATH | 6-3/230 | Portland
Then: Developmental three-star recruit from Madison High
Now: Inside linebacker had nine tackles as redshirt freshman
Travis Dye | RB | 5-9/170 | Norco, Calif.
Then: Best known as Troy Dye’s little brother
Now: Enters junior season with 1,397 career rushing yards
Jamal Elliott | RB | 5-10/180 | Durham, N.C.
Then: Chose Oregon over Tennessee
Now: Transferred to North Carolina Central
Andrew Faoliu | DL | 6-3/255 | Santa Ana, Calif.
Then: Three-star prospect, younger brother of Austin Faoliu
Now: RS sophomore DT had five tackles (2.0 for loss) in 2019
Kahlef Hailassie | CB | 6-2/185 | Elk Grove, Calif.
Then: Late February flip from Colorado
Now: Backup safety entered transfer portal last October
Jalen Hall | WR | 6-4/192 | Long Beach, Calif.
Then: Left Oregon after participating in one spring practice
Now: Facing life in prison after being arrested for armed robbery
Jevon Holland | S | 6-1/182 | Oakland, Calif.
Then: Four-star prospect with 21 major offers
Now: One of the best defensive backs in the Pac-12
Adrian Jackson | OLB | 6-2/210 | Denver
Then: Top-ranked recruit from Colorado
Now: Finally healthy and ready for bigger role
Dawson Jaramillo | OL | 6-5/295 | Lake Oswego
Then: Developmental three-star prospect
Now: Will compete for starting spot in 2020
Andrew Johnson | OLB | 6-2/222 | Tifton, Ga.
Then: Had interest from SEC schools, including Alabama
Now: Will compete with classmate Adrian Jackson at OLB this spring
Justin Johnson | OL | 6-7/355 | Philadelphia
Then: Helped staff recruit other talented classmates
Now: Medically retired from football
Steven Jones | OL | 6-5/340 | Temecula, Calif.
Then: Top offensive guard prospect in California
Now: Listed at 6-7, 354 pounds and projected to start in 2020
Verone McKinley | CB | 5-10/170 | Carroliton, Texas
Then: Three-star cornerback prospect
Now: Named to FWAA freshman all-American team at safety in 2019
Christopher Randazzo | OL | 6-7/325 | Chino, Calif.
Then: Three-star recruit held offers from ASU, Utah and Washington State
Now: Will compete with classmate Steven Jones at right tackle
Penei Sewell | LT | 6-5/349 |Saint George, Utah
Then: Made signing day splash choosing UO over Alabama, USC
Now: Reigning Outland Trophy winner, unanimous all-American
Tyler Shough | QB | 6-4/187 | Chandler, Ariz.
Then: Stuck with Ducks despite Willie Taggart’s departure
Now: Frontrunner to replace Justin Herbert as Oregon’s starter
Steve Stephens | S | 6-0/185 | Fresno, Calif.
Then: Ranked as No. 10 safety prospect by Rivals
Now: Backup safety, special teams contributor had an INT in 2019
JJ Tucker | WR | 6-2/168 | Harbor City, Calif.
Then: Late addition to the class who chose Oregon over Wyoming
Now: Left the program last October
Sione Vea Kava | DT | 6-6/270 | Monterey Park, Calif.
Then: East Los Angeles College transfer
Now: Graduated after playing reserve role last season as a senior
Spencer Webb | TE | 6-5/235 | Sacramento, Calif.
Then: Signed with Oregon after late offers from Oklahoma, Notre Dame
Now: Projected 2020 starter had three TD catches in 2019
Haki Woods | CB | 6-3/192 | South Bend, Ind.
Then: Transfer from the now defunct Pima (Ariz.) Community College program
Now: Graduated from UO after emerging as key special teams contributor
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.