Duck recruit hasn't changed plans
EUGENE — Loyalty is a two-way street.
John Neal's decision to remain an assistant coach at Oregon, instead of pursuing the opportunity to become a head coach at Alabama-Birmingham, was influenced by the impressionable voices on the other end of the cell phone he was trying to enlist to Eugene.
"When I talked to my recruits, there was a lot of concern," Neal said after canceling his interview at UAB and hitting the recruiting trail for the Ducks. "That loyalty and stuff is very important to me, too."
Arrion Springs, a four-star cornerback prospect, is expected to return the favor next Wednesday by signing a national letter-of-intent to play at Oregon.
When news of UAB's interest in Neal first broke, Springs posted on his Twitter account: "I hope this is a joke."
Last week Neal, Oregon's respected secondary coach, visited Springs in his hometown of San Antonio to talk about their auspicious future together with the Ducks.
"I was very concerned. I started setting up (recruiting) visits," Springs said of his reaction to the possibility Neal might leave Oregon. "I was one of the first people he called after he decided to stay. He called at midnight and that cleared everything up. "¦
"Coach Neal is my dude, man. That's my guy right there. He's just straight up with you."
Springs still made an official visit to USC last weekend to hear Steve Sarkisian's final pitch. The 18-year-old also took advantage of the perks of being a prized recruit by taking trips to Oklahoma, Florida State and Miami during the process.
"I think Sarkisian might turn it around, but not against Oregon," Springs told 247sports of the Trojans after returning from Los Angeles. "I'm all done with trips and I'm committed to Oregon. I appreciate the trip to USC, but I'm sticking with the Ducks."
All told, the 5-foot-11, 192-pound standout from San Antonio's Roosevelt High received 28 scholarship offers. Texas courted Springs under Mack Brown and continues to reach out to the local star under Charlie Strong, hoping to flip Springs from Duck to Longhorn.
But playing for Oregon was the goal all along.
Springs gave coach Mark Helfrich and the staff a verbal commitment last July while attending The Opening, a high-profile recruiting camp hosted by Nike in Beaverton, which is not affiliated with the university.
"I always wanted to go to Oregon and wanted to wait on their offer," Springs said. "The uniforms caught my eye, and then I started looking deep into the program."
What Springs found was a very stable coaching staff.
The program followed its tradition of promoting from within as Helfrich elevated linebackers coach Don Pellum to defensive coordinator when Nick Aliotti retired following the 2013 season.
"No doubt," Roosevelt coach Matt Carroll said when asked if the continuity allowed the Ducks to stand out to Springs as the parade of coaches from around the country arrived at the high school. "I thought everyone that came through (from Oregon) talked about working with him to make sure he gets the most out of college.
"The kid did a good job ahead of time knowing what type of coach he wanted to play for."
Oregon returns All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Starting cornerback Terrance Mitchell left the program a year early for the NFL draft, and the Ducks must also replace graduated safeties Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson.
"I was really excited (Ekpre-Olomu) was coming back so I could have a mentor," Springs said. "He'll help me out."
Senior cornerback Dior Mathis, Oregon's top reserve last season who returned an interception 97 yards against Virginia, also returns. Junior college transfer Dominique Harrison is already on campus.
The confident Springs said he isn't planning to sit and learn as a true freshman. He is determined to play for the Ducks immediately.
"I think (Pellum) has a new philosophy. They want to be more aggressive and have a different attitude," Springs said. "I'm coming in trying to start."
Carroll leaned on Springs to play offense, defense and special teams last season.
"Really, he never came off the field for a while," Carroll said. "For the most part he's a great kid, very organized and pretty much a well-rounded student-athlete."
While the Ducks were in San Antonio beating Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl, Springs was in Florida practicing with other elite prospects and playing in the Under Armour All-American game, along with 2014 Oregon quarterback recruit Morgan Mahalak.
Both high-profile commitments said they have tried to sell peers on the idea of joining them in Eugene.
"For sure," Springs said. "I talked to a lot of other recruits to get them on board. I told them if they just visited, it's hard to turn down."
Per NCAA rules, coaches are not allowed to comment on specific recruits until the ink starts to dry on national signing day, but Neal believes his incoming players are "as good as I've ever had."
The talented Springs would be at or near the head of the Oregon class if he remains loyal to Neal.