The Oregon Ducks reaped the recruiting benefits of going to the BCS Championship Game with several top prospects signing letters of intent. But fans had to wait a few hours to learn the decision of the team's biggest catch.
Los Angeles Crenshaw High School running back/cornerback De'Anthony Thomas announced he would play for the Ducks on Wednesday night, long after the bulk of Oregon's 2011 recruiting class had been unveiled.
The five-star recruit had given a soft verbal commitment to USC last year before the Trojans were hit with NCAA sanctions that resulted in a two-year postseason ban. Then reports surfaced that Thomas had visited Eugene last weekend.
At 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Thomas is smart, fast and elusive. He rushed for 1,299 yards and 18 touchdowns, and added five interceptions, leading the Cougars to their second straight City Section title last season.
While the consensus is that Thomas will be a cornerback in college, he is very similar to current Oregon running back LaMichael James in size and speed.
James was a Heisman Trophy finalist for the Ducks, who went undefeated in the regular season but lost to Auburn in the national championship game. The Ducks finished the season ranked No. 3.
Among those who formally signed letters of intent to play for Oregon was 6-foot-4, 285-pound offensive tackle Andre Yruretagoyena from Chaparral High School in Arizona, who committed to the Ducks last June after entertaining interest from at least 17 schools. With family in Oregon, Yruretagoyena follows in the footsteps of notable linemen Haloti Ngata and Fenuki Tupou.
Last summer Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle told The Associated Press that Yruretagoyena has agility and athleticism to go with his size.
"Those guys don't grow on trees," Ragle said.
Oregon also captured a homegrown prospect in Colt Lyerla, who played linebacker and running back at Hillsboro High School. At 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds, Lyerla gained attention as a junior when his 61-yard "Hail Mary" scoring reception against Glencoe High School became a hit on YouTube. Some considered him a five-star prospect.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly called Lyerla "arguably the best athlete in the country." The Ducks listed Lyerla as a wide receiver.
Overall, Oregon got letters of intent from 20 high school athletes and two junior college players. The class includes 13 players on offense and nine on defense. Five wide receivers and five offensive linemen signed.
Another standout of the class was running back Tra Carson, who went to Liberty-Eylau in Texas -- the same high school as James. Carson had 54 touchdowns as a prep player, breaking James' record of 52. He was 35 yards shy of James' 4,220 rushing yards.
The Ducks lost four-star defensive tackle Christian Heyward, who picked USC over Oregon and San Diego State, while defensive end Roderick Byers decommitted from the Ducks and signed with Clemson.
Jerrard Randall, one of two quarterback recruits for the Ducks, did not sign a letter of intent because he was still trying to qualify academically.