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UO's Cristobal calls it ‘a good start’

EUGENE — Mario Cristobal will have a chance to get the good night’s sleep he’s been looking forward to Friday.

Twelve days after being hired as Oregon’s head coach and only four days removed from the unpleasant Las Vegas Bowl loss, Cristobal welcomed an impressive new crop of talent to the program Wednesday.

Oregon began the 72-hour early signing period frenzy by signing 13 recruits to national letters of intent to play for the Ducks.

“The ones that we cheat are our family members,” Cristobal said during a news conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex after unveiling part of his first recruiting class at Oregon. “They get it, it’s that time of the year. We’ll catch up with them at Christmas. Hopefully Santa does a good job.”

Cristobal said 21 recruits and their families were scheduled to visit campus last weekend, but those plans had to be changed when Oregon was selected to play in an early bowl game.

After some of the practices at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas leading into the Ducks’ 38-28 loss to No. 25 Boise State, Cristobal and several members of the staff headed straight to the airport to go visit recruits in an effort to keep the class together.

“I think the unknown was something like what we got hit with. We had a bowl game right in the midst of signing period,” Cristobal said. “It is something else. You’re the last flight in, you’re the first flight out, you’re ripping through cities and towns and homes making sure that you put your best foot forward to represent your program.”

Despite the pitfalls of the new recruiting calendar and having a handful of high-profile recruits decommit after Willie Taggart’s departure, Oregon’s class is ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 11 nationally by Rivals and second in the conference behind Washington and No. 13 overall by 247Sports.

Taggart’s class at Florida State is ranked No. 70 by Rivals and No. 64 by 247Sports.

“The credit goes to the coaches,” Cristobal said. “Those guys established great relationships and maintained them through some change and some adversity. That’s what recruiting all about.”

Tyler Shough, the touted 6-foot-5, 197-pound quarterback from Chandler, Ariz., who Taggart visited on the same day he interviewed with Florida State, stuck with his commitment to Oregon.

Cristobal credited offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo for identifying Shough as a player they hope will develop into the next Justin Herbert.

“Looks a lot like the guy that plays for us here right now,” Cristobal said. “The similarities are striking, so we’re really excited about him as well.”

Jamal Elliott, a four-star running back from Durham, N.C., who Cristobal described as a “lifelong Duck fan,” was the first prospect to get his paperwork in. Oregon also signed Travis Dye, the younger brother of star linebacker Troy Dye, at running back.

The Ducks lose Royce Freeman, the program’s all-time leading rusher, and fellow senior Kani Benoit. The tandem combined for 2,059 yards and 26 touchdowns this season.

“We know what those bloodlines are like,” Cristobal said of Travis Dye, who averaged 216.6 rushing yards and 9.3 yards per carry last season at Norco (Calif.) High. “We’ve seen it front and center here in Autzen Stadium. His yardage this year, his yards per carry just blows you away.”

Cristobal plans to continue his duties as offensive line coach. He beefed up the unit by landing Dawson Jaramillo (6-5, 295 pounds) of Lake Oswego, Steven Jones (6-5, 295) of Temecula, Calif., and Christopher Randazzo (6-7, 325) of Chino, Calif.

Justin Johnson, a 6-7, 355-pound prospect from Philadelphia, plans to join the offensive line class during the traditional February signing day.

“The kind of neat thing about these guys is they are large men, but mostly guys that turned 17 just recently,” said Cristobal, who coached Alabama’s powerful offensive lines for four seasons before joining Taggart’s staff at Oregon. “Their growth spurts are still ahead of them. … They make it different up front, and certainly we want to win in the trenches.”

Oregon, which signed defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and defensive line coach Joe Salave’a to lucrative contract extensions to retain them on Cristobal’s staff, signed seven defensive players.

Sione Vea Kava, a 6-6, 270-pound defensive lineman, will have two years of eligibility remaining after transferring from East Los Angeles College. Oregon also added Andrew Faoliu (6-3, 255), the younger brother of standout freshman nose guard Austin Faoliu, to the defensive line.

The Ducks’ linebacker group, which returns Troy Dye, La’Mar Winston and Justin Hollins, will welcome speedy prospects Adrian Jackson of Denver and MJ Cunningham of Portland.

The class also includes four-star safeties Jevon Holland of Pleasanton, Calif., and Steve Stephens of Fresno, Calif., as well as junior college all-American cornerback Haki Woods.

“So much talent that is coming to the Ducks!!” Leavitt tweeted between celebratory Pepsis. “Wish we could get out on the practice field today!! Go Mighty Ducks!”

Cristobal said five or six members of the 2018 class will likely enroll early and participate in spring practice.

Portland linebacker Eli’jah Winston, the younger brother of La’Mar Winston, and Salem athlete Teagan Quitoriano are among the seven known recruits still verbally committed to Oregon.

Prospects can sign through Friday or wait until Feb. 7.

“It’s kind of the halfway point, even though there’s a couple days left in this little signing period and things can happen,” Cristobal said. “We’re optimistic that they will. It’s the halfway point and there’s a lot of work to do, but a pretty good start.”