Running back Lache Seastrunk will be wearing a Baylor uniform tonight in the Holiday Bowl when the Bears take on UCLA, but part of him still feels connected to his old team, the Oregon Ducks.
"It seems like yesterday I was there," said Seastrunk, whose time at Oregon was marked by tremendous promise, frustration and well-publicized controversy before he transferred to Baylor.
"I miss every single one of those guys I came in with," said Seastrunk, who started slow this season but turned into arguably the Bears' most dangerous offensive weapon.
In Eugene, Seastrunk became known less for his tremendous skills and more as the player at the center of the NCAA investigation into the Ducks' recruiting practices. Seastrunk said he feels like his name was dragged through the mud because of his relationship with family friend and mentor Willie Lyles.
Lyles ran a firm called Complete Scouting Services and famously charged the Ducks $25,000 for information on potential high school recruits that turned out to be worthless.
That raised questions about what Oregon was paying for. Did the $25,000 induce Lyles to steer Seastrunk to Eugene?
Oregon, set to appear in front of the NCAA committee on infractions, has proclaimed its innocence.
Seastrunk has always maintained it was a big uproar over nothing.
"The media was going to put their spin on it no matter what," he said. "I was going through thick and thin (at the time) but God had my back through it all.
"It's behind me. It is what it is. I didn't do anything wrong, and I'm still good friends (with Lyles). Allegedly he did this, and gave me that, and told me this, but I didn't do anything wrong."
Gary Campbell, the UO running backs coach, also feels Seastrunk took some unfair criticism.
"I think the kid was innocent in the whole situation," Campbell said. "Some of the things that happened were just lack of knowledge. I won't get into it, but I don't think Lache did anything intentionally."
Campbell said he was disappointed when Seastrunk decided to leave.
"I don't think (the Lyles investigation) had much to do with it," Campbell said.
Seastrunk said there were two compelling reasons to make a change: "I really wanted to be close to my family and, if I stayed at Oregon, I would have never really got my chance to show what I could do."
Low on the depth chart, and homesick, Seastrunk said goodbye to the Ducks in late summer of 2011, transferred to Baylor and sat out the season waiting to become eligible.
During a radio interview with a station in Texas, Seastrunk said of his time at Oregon, "When I first intentionally went there, I felt like ... God wanted me to be there. But God also pulls you out of the storm before it happens. So I felt like something was about to go down and God just wanted me to get out of there."
Whatever his reasons, Seastrunk was worth the wait for Baylor. The Bears (7-5) came back from an 0-4 start in the Big 12 to finish the season with three straight wins, including a huge upset over then-No. 1 Kansas State, all the while riding on Seastrunk's back.
In those three games, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Seastrunk averaged 133 yards rushing. He ran for 185 yards in the Bears' 52-24 rout of Kansas State (including an 80-yard touchdown burst) and ran for 136 yards in a bowl-clinching victory over Texas Tech.
No slouch in the confidence department, Seastrunk calls himself the fastest player in college football.
"I've been proving it every week," he said.
But does Seastrunk think he's faster than Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, who was anointed the fastest player in the nation by Sports Illustrated?
"Me and DAT, now that would be a really good race," Seastrunk said.
Campbell thought about it for a few seconds and said, "Yeah, it would be a good race. Lache has some great speed, but so does De'Anthony. I think De'Anthony is probably a quicker guy, no question. Just straight-ahead speed, Lache has a lot of that."
It also begs the question, would Seastrunk have seen much playing time at UO this season given the Ducks' abundance of talent at the position with Thomas and Kenjon Barner?
"I don't know how that would have worked out," Seastrunk said. "I just don't know."
Said Campbell, "Hard to say. Obviously, Kenjon is one of the best guys in the country and De'Anthony's no slouch, either. It would be hard to project as to whether or not he would be a starter here right now."
No matter, Seastrunk's former teammates are tickled he's become a star at Baylor and a sensation in the Big 12, even if it took awhile.
Seastrunk didn't get significant playing time until late in the season. He had just five carries in the Bears' first three games.
"It tested my patience a lot," he said. "I had to remember what I had already been through. And if I could go through that, I could go through anything. I know sooner or later my opportunity would come."
It came, and Seastrunk ran with it. Ran blazingly fast with it.
"We all loved Lache, and we're happy to see him having success," said Campbell. "The kids talk about it. They say, 'Coach, did you see Lache? Lache is tearing it up.' They're all laughs and giggles about it."
On one particular Saturday, nobody was laughing. Or giggling. Campbell says it was "kind of ironic" that on the same day Seastrunk and Co. blew up Kansas State's BCS title hopes, the Ducks were drop-kicking their title shot with a disappointing loss to Stanford at Autzen Stadium.
Seastrunk, two time zones removed, said he felt the Ducks' anguish.
He said he was "real sad they lost. They shouldn't have lost that game. I would have loved to see them play for the national championship because those guys deserve it. They work hard, and I'd rather see them in it than watch Alabama back there again."
Seastrunk knows that despite the circumstances, and despite the fact he left, there are many Oregon fans who root for his success.
"I appreciate everyone in Oregon that still follows me and enjoys watching me play," he said. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart."