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UO’s George flips sides

EUGENE — After playing three games in three years on the offensive line, Elijah George has switched sides.

The Oregon junior split time at guard and tackle for the Ducks before moving to the defensive line this spring.

“It was my decision; I had it in my heart,” the 6-foot-5, 295-pounder said. “I didn’t want to leave college not knowing if I could play the position. I don’t want any regrets. I have two more years left and I didn’t want to leave thinking, ‘What if I could have played defense?’”

So George posed that question to head coach Mark Helfrich.

“He came to me and wanted a new start, a new life,” Helfrich said. “It happens a lot when guys change positions, and when it comes from them it is better because they think it is the right thing. It is where they are most comfortable and successful.”

George played both offense and defense at Arbor View High School in Las Vegas but had only one college offer on defense. He became the first player from his high school to receive a Division I football scholarship when he signed to play offense at Oregon.

George redshirted his first season and then knee surgery forced him to miss another year. He played against Eastern Washington, Michigan State and Georgia State last season.

“I’m tired of sitting on the sideline,” George said. “I take that weight from the last three years onto the field with me. If I am tired, I say, ‘Remember when I was hurt?’ and I keep going at it.”

George is one of a few additions to the defensive line this spring as new coordinator Brady Hoke installs a 4-3 set. Torrodney Prevot, Justin Hollins, Cody Carriger and Eddie Heard have moved from linebacker to the defensive line.

“I think Elijah can help us,” Hoke said. “I don’t know how much yet, but it is good to have a big body like that. He has got some quickness to him and like the rest of the guys, the terminology and everything else has been different.

“He can help us, but now he is going to have to have a good summer on technique and fundamentals.”

George said his instincts on defense came back quickly.

“It is pretty simple for me, just attack your gap,” he said. “The goal is to hit the guy as hard as I can when I go to the gap and find the ball after that. It is not that difficult.”

Hoke said he wouldn’t make judgments on defenders based on previous performance but will begin to evaluate after spring ball.

“They are all learning and I want to be fair to them,” Hoke said. “You have got to earn it every day.”

That is what George is planning to do.

“I feel like I am able to get a spot where I can get a lot of playing time,” he said. “That is all I want. I want to contribute to the team as much as I can and hopefully get to the top like everyone wants to get to.”

George will have a better idea of his role on defense following the spring.

“He has done a nice job and done some positive things,” Helfrich said. “There are a lot of things going on with the defensive line now and that is a good thing. We will see where that shakes out on the depth chart in the fall.”

George plans to stick with defense for his final two seasons with the Ducks.

“I love it,” he said. “I always wanted to play defense and coach gave me the opportunity. He said if I like it I could stay and if not, I could switch back, but I like it a lot.”