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Ducks' in-state recruiting drought over

BEAVERTON — Oregon didn’t sign an in-state football recruit last season, a fact that caught the attention of some hometown loyalists and at least one local politician.

The Ducks likely won’t have to worry about that on signing day 2016. With Thursday’s commitment from La’Mar Winston, a four-star linebacker from Portland’s Central Catholic High School, the Ducks now have verbal pledges from the state’s top three players for 2016.

Winston announced his commitment at The Opening, a football camp for elite prospects staged at the Nike World Campus. He chose the Ducks over Stanford and UCLA, donning a neon yellow visor and a pair of Oregon gloves as he revealed his choice.

“It was really difficult, going between Oregon, Stanford and UCLA,” Winston said. “Those two are great schools. I was interested in all three of them, but it came down to what was going to fit me best, and Oregon was that school.”

That wasn’t the only good news for Oregon on Thursday. The Ducks also landed four-star cornerback Jared Mayden, a Sachse, Texas, native who chose Oregon over Ohio State and a host of others.

Verbal commitments are non-binding, but if the players currently committed end up signing letters of intent in February, Oregon will have the makings of a highly rated class. The addition of Winston and Mayden gives the Ducks a 14-man class ranked No. 12 nationally by 247Sports, No. 7 by Scout.com and No. 11 by Rivals.

Unlike some years, that class has a heavy local flavor. The Ducks also have commitments from safety Brady Breeze — a former South Medford player and Winston’s Central Catholic teammate — and tight end Cameron McCormick of Bend.

Breeze joined Winston at The Opening, an invitation-only camp that features roughly 160 of the top recruits in the country. The chance to be college teammates while representing their home state appealed to both players.

“My family won’t miss a game,” Winston said. “My mom will be able to see every game. I can’t express how blessed I am.

“I’m probably going to live with Brady, too, so it’s going to be great.”

Winston made his decision in advance but, in keeping with the theme of The Opening, kept it quiet until his big reveal on ESPNU. Breeze was in on the secret, as was Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne.

Pyne agreed that Oregon was the best fit, realizing that no choice could appease everyone.

“Some people are going to be really happy, and some people are not going to be real happy,” Pyne said. “That’s how it goes when you turn down two prom queens.”

Potential is the operative word for Winston, who is listed at 6-feet-4 and 200 pounds. Most recruiting analysts agree he will need time to develop, but his natural talent isn’t in question.

“This kid does the right things, on and off the field,” Pyne said. “(Oregon is) getting a really phenomenal athlete with a ton of upside who is extremely raw but extremely coachable.”

With three in-state players committed, the Ducks can’t be accused of overlooking local talent in their 2016 class. Pyne said that’s true even in leaner years, rattling off the names of Thomas Tyner, Alex Balducci, Henry Mondeaux and Doug Brenner, all in-state recruits on scholarship with the Ducks.

“I don’t think this is some big coup for the state,” Pyne said. “Look at Oregon’s roster, Oregon State’s roster. ... They try to get the best kids and keep them here.

“I think it’s a good thing that we have a bumper class here, but I don’t think it’s an anomaly (to have players committing in-state). I think they try to get the best kids.”

Breeze, who committed to the Ducks last July, realizes that Oregon isn’t known as a hotbed of elite players. He wondered if the perception might be shifting, though, with the 2016 class making headlines and a strong 2017 class — featuring defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu and cornerback Elijah Molden, the son of former Duck Alex Molden — coming on its heels.

“We’ve got guys that definitely know what they’re doing,” Breeze said. “These next two years of kids in high school, they’re really showing Oregon what we’re all about and how we can actually produce some athletes.”