Freshmen filling vital roles for No. 3 Oregon
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Oregon senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has some sage advice for the Ducks' up-and-coming freshmen.
Savor every moment.
As players like Ekpre-Olomu, and perhaps junior quarterback Marcus Mariota, aspire to finish their college careers with a spot in the first playoffs and a national championship bid, they're being helped along the way by a group of promising freshmen including running back Royce Freeman and receivers Charles Nelson and Devon Allen.
''You tell the younger guys that you have to take every opportunity you get and you can't think that you're just going to do it next year or next week because it goes by fast,'' Ekpre-Olomu said after Saturday's victory over Colorado, his last at Autzen. ''I remember playing my first game here and now I played my last. It goes by faster and faster every year and you think you have time, but you have to remember that the time that you think you have, you really don't have.''
The No. 3 Ducks (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) are preparing this week for the annual Civil War game against Oregon State (5-6, 2-6). Following that, Oregon has already secured the North's berth in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 5 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The South's representative has yet to be determined.
Freeman was excited for his first Civil War.
''I know it means a lot to the Oregonian people out here,'' said the native Californian who has drawn comparisons to Jonathan Stewart. ''It will be interesting. I heard the environment can be hostile. It'll be a great experience.''
In the game against Colorado, Freeman ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He became the first true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season for the Ducks, and has 1,050 going into the Civil War.
He also set an Oregon freshman record with 16 touchdowns this season, surpassing LaMichael James, who rushed for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2009 - the year he won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors.
''Coming in, I just tried to go as far as I could, not to really set any goals,'' he said, adding: ''Knowing I have 1,000 yards, it makes me want to run even more.''
Also in the Colorado game, freshman Charles Nelson had three catches for 62 yards, but he made them count with two touchdowns.
Nelson has five touchdowns this season, including a TD on his first college touch with a 50-yard punt return in the opener against South Dakota.
''I think I've come a long way, learning everything and just taking in everything,'' Nelson said. ''This has been a great experience as a freshman, being able to get out there and play and help the whole team come out with victories.''
Allen, a redshirt freshman, has caught 34 passes for 168 yards and six touchdowns.
Allen grabbed attention last summer when he won the 110-meter hurdles at the NCAA track and field championships. His time of 13.16 seconds set a meet record, besting Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt's mark of 13.21 set in 2006 for Tennessee. He became the first freshman to win the national title in the event since San Jose State's Dedy Cooper in 1976.
So far this season, freshmen have scored 29 of Oregon's 68 touchdowns, or 43 percent. Other rookie contributors include receiver Darren Carrington, tackle Tyrell Crosby and offensive lineman Doug Brenner.
''There's so many guys, so many young, talented players here. It's pretty fun to watch,'' Mariota said. ''It's fun to see them grow. They'll continue to get better as their careers progress.''