Brock Thomas and the Sheldon-to-Oregon pipeline
There's another Irish quarterback heading to Autzen. But Sheldon coach Josh Line wonders why other schools haven't gotten in on Eugene's little secret.
EUGENE — Talk to Sheldon coach Josh Line long enough and you’ll begin to realize for as much as he relishes his gig in North Eugene, he misses the old days.
You can hear it in his voice — Line is somewhat embittered by the whole thing. Not any one entity in particular, rather the state it’s all transgressed into.
We’re discussing the state of recruiting, the NIL era, the transfer portal and the rapid roster destruction it’s introduced to the sport — the frenzy stirred up around all the wrong things. He brings up Jaden Rashada, one of the nation’s top quarterback recruits in the 2023 class. Formerly a Florida commit, Rashada asked for a release on his letter of intent after a formerly agreed upon NIL deal involving the Gator Collective, rumored to have totaled up to $13 million, fell apart.
“What does that mean?” Line said. “It means that he didn't want to go to Florida, he wanted $13 million. You didn't sell him on your program.”
Line knows a thing or two about selling. To be frank, he feels like he’s had to do too much of it of late. He’s been working the phones since the offseason started, finding homes for players like Brock Thomas — an upperclassmen starter at quarterback who committed to walk-on to Oregon earlier this month — and using his own background as a walk-on-turned-starter as a point of familiarity for his players to learn from.
Line left Marshfield High School for the Sheldon gig in 2017, taking over and sustaining a program that’s been one of the most succesful in Oregon this century. He’s quick to attribute his success at Sheldon — like this year’s run to the state title — to the culture he and his staff have built and the player’s buy-in. It’s one centered around the understanding of roles, and delayed gratification when it comes to the development and advancements of such. It means many of Sheldon’s top players are juniors, and more often seniors.
Therein lies one of Line’s gripes with the modern day recruiting landscape.
“If you're not starting on your high school football team and putting up huge numbers as a sophomore and junior, you're not even on the radar,” Line said.
Late bloomers? They’re largely out of the recruiting equation, he believes. During his playing days, and even early coaching days, Line said most players weren’t recruited until after their senior seasons.
“It's almost like what you do your senior year doesn't matter at all,” he said.
Line realizes the competitiveness of recruiting these days means teams rarely have the luxury to wait. And he doesn’t see it changing either, which could be problematic for in-state players.
“I would say in this whole state of Oregon we have so many kids that mature a little bit later,” he said.
Sheldon’s on-field product these past few seasons would suggest it’s one of the more talent-rich rosters in the school’s recent history. Line contends as much and believes when it comes to the prospect of playing collegiately, some of his players are getting the short end of the stick — that Sheldon is a recruiting blind spot.
“Our lack of recruitment is just baffling to me,” he said.
So, while he hasn’t had to sell Sheldon to his current and future players, much of his time during these winter months has been spent reaching out to college coaches, enticing them to take flyers on his kids.
It’s worked out for Sheldon in the past after all, even before Line’s time.
Look no further than the quarterback position. Justin Herbert was set to attend Northern Arizona until an Oregon offer floated in during the week of signing day. Taylor Allie saw snaps as a backup for the Ducks, too. Going back even further, Alex Brink had a serviceable career at Washington State before playing in the CFL and Jordan Johnson spent four years as a starter at Montana.
So, when Line let his mind wander back a few decades through the lineage of Sheldon quarterbacks last week, he came away feeling proud, sure. It’s a tribute to the community, if nothing else. But he’s still slightly dismayed that schools haven’t taken note.
Dan Lanning, however, seems to have.