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Ducks staying course despite Taggart move

EUGENE — Some of the first recruits Willie Taggart sold on Oregon aren’t angry at their former coach for leaving before the end of their freshman season.

Cornerback Thomas Graham, who started 11 games, looks at Taggart’s decision to leave for Florida State last Tuesday as similar to the path he hopes to follow out of Oregon.

“If he’s chasing his dreams, I can’t blame him,” Graham said. “I’m chasing my dreams by playing college football and trying to get to the NFL.”

Defensive tackle Jordon Scott is one of seven players in Taggart’s initial recruiting class to come from Florida after the coach bolted South Florida for the Ducks.

“I was hurt, but I knew it was the right choice for him and his family,” Scott said. “I can’t have spite for someone making the best decision for their family. I’m happy for him and I’m moving forward.”

Both Scott and Graham said they would move forward at Oregon rather than transfer to join Taggart at FSU or look for another school. The 13 true freshmen who played for Oregon this season would have to sit out a season if they transferred but would still have three seasons of eligibility.

“I’m not leaving, no matter what,” Graham said.

Scott and Graham spoke publicly before practice on Sunday for the first time since joining the Ducks because Oregon lifted Taggart’s ban on letting true freshmen speak to the media.

The two immediately emerged as key members of Oregon’s defense, which statistically moved from the bottom to the middle of the Pac-12 under first-year coordinator Jim Leavitt, whose status for next season under new coach Mario Cristobal has not been clarified as the Ducks prepare to face Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.

Scott planned to go to Florida before he committed to Taggart and dropped 20 pounds before arriving on campus in the spring.

The 333-pounder started the final 10 games of the season and has 30 tackles, including two sacks.

“It was tough losing weight, but it started before I came here and then it continued working with (strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde),” he said. “That is what happens when you run hard and lift weights and stay on the same plan. I feel stronger and lighter, but in terms of football, I can’t really tell the difference yet.”

Scott said feeling lighter was important as he moved on to college.

“It has been interesting, definitely different than I thought it would be,” he said. “It is different from high school, way faster, but I am adjusting.”

Graham is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He also has broken up four passes.

The Rancho Cucamonga, California, native expected to have plenty of work lining up across the field from senior Arrion Springs.

“My dad told me that every coach who ever coached or recruited me said as soon as I was on the field and they see a true freshman, they are going to go after you,” Graham said.

In his second game with the Ducks, Graham had two interceptions in a 42-35 win over Nebraska and got another interception in UO’s 69-10 win over Oregon State. He is tied for third on the team with 54 tackles.

“I had some lows a bit in the middle of the season,” Graham said. “After Nebraska, I felt like my play wasn’t as good. The beginning and the end of the season, I felt those were good. Our defense played well, and I felt more comfortable in myself.”