Getting to know the new Oregon recruits: Christian French

Getting to know the new Oregon recruits: Christian French

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Getting to know the new Oregon recruits: Christian French

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Christian French
Cedar Rapids, Ia. (John F. Kennedy HS)

Ht: 6-5        
Wt: 236
40: 4.4
Bench: 265
Squat: 320
Vertical: 37
GPA: 3.2

STATS
’09: 54 Tackles, 7 forced fumbles,; 1 punt return 46 yds (7 Games)
’10 71 tackles, three sacks and 10 tackles for loss; offense 10 receptions 111 yards, 3 rushes 85 yards

RANKINGS
Rivals: , #13 ATH, Rating 5.8, National #91, Rivals 100
Scout: , #17 TE
ESPN: , #30 ATH, Grade 79

OFFERS
Iowa. Iowa St. Kansas. Kansas St, Louisville, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas A&M, Wisconsin

Christian French is the sleeper, maybe the most intriguing recruit in the 2011 class.  Wallace and Lyerla will probably have a more immediate impact.  Two or three of the receivers could be future stars.  Marcus Mariota may have the best package of skills for Oregon’s spread offense ever.  Yep, ever–He’s a dual-threat marvel if he does the work and puts it together.  That’s two or three years away.  Olomu, Cassell and Hardrick can really run and hit.

But French is the one, the athletic package that one player in a hundred has.  6-5, 236, according to his Oregon bio.  He’s run a 4.4 40  and 10.68 hundred meters (Kenjon Barner runs a 10.76, LaMichael James at 10.51–that’s fast company.)  Guys that size simply aren’t that fast very often (Usain Bolt is 6-4, 6-5, but he weighs between 190 and 207 lbs.)

The intrigue, though, goes further than his uncommon size/speed combination.

French has been playing football for just three years.

He gave it up in fifth grade.  “As a kid you get frustrated, wondering why they wouldn’t they let me play this position or that position,” he told Steve Wiltfong of espn.com, “I didn’t understand it because at the time I was the fastest player on the team and they wouldn’t let me play anything but linebacker. I wanted to score touchdowns and all of that, and that was one of the things that made me mad about it, and eventually I stopped focusing on it and stopped playing.”

He decided to focus on basketball instead, until sophomore year when friends and coaches convinced to give football another try.  Head coach Tim Lewis told Wiltfong, “We talked him into coming out, saying that we’d put him at free safety and just let him run around out there and break on footballs, and he kind of bit on that. We knew he was fast. In eighth grade he was city champion in the 100 or 60 or whatever they run. His height was around the same size that he is now, and he was very athletic.”

They put him at free safety, and told him, just go after the ball. “We didn’t have anyone in the junior or senior class we felt comfortable with at that position,” Lewis said. “We told him if you come out, you’ll start varsity. Between those couple things, we got him to come out and play.”

First year playing he was starting for the varsity, with 33 tackles and four pass breakups.  Junior year, 77 tackles and four sacks.  The in-state schools rushed in with recruiting offers.

Senior season, 71 tackles, including 10 tfls, and the offers started pouring in from around the Midwest and the nation. Notre Dame, Nebraska.  USC made some calls.  Lewis said, “He is as aggressive as any football player I’ve ever coached. He can knock down anyone on our football team, the biggest O-lineman, the wrestler, it doesn’t matter. He can run them over if he wants to. He’ll come flying in there and absolutely clean someone up.”

Chip Kelly and Tom Osborne visited in December, just after the Ducks won their second conference title and a berth in the national championship. French committed at a ceremony at his school a few days later.  He wants to major in sports marketing and play tight end, telling Pat Harty of hawkcentral.com,”When they came here, it felt right,” French said. “They came in with a plan and they did a very thorough job. And it wasn’t that the other schools didn’t. I prayed about it and just felt that was the right (decision) to make.”

A few days after committing to the Ducks, Christian had a high school basketball game, against Dubuque.  He had 19 points, three blocks and three dunks.  His team won 68-40, on the way to a 17-5 season.

Lewis told Harty, “He’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve seen, but he’s never hardly lifted,” Lewis said. “He’s had to learn how to run, learn how to play football the past three years. It’s crazy what he could eventally do.”

The best video on French is brief, from espn.com.  Here’s the link.  Nick Aliotti probably cried when he found out the kid wanted to play receiver.  He’s physical and fast.  There’s a play just before the clip ends where Christian is lined up at free safety and swoops in, ranging all the way to the left sideline to run down the ball carrier.

With French, the intrigue is how much further he could develop, a bit like Bo Lokombo when he first got here, lots of athletic ability and great physical gifts, but not much experience.  He says he wants to play offense.  The Ducks graduate two tight ends after this season, have two touted recruits in the fold in Colt Lyerla and Curtis White.  White was a four-star recruit but has had trouble staying healthy.  With a year to develop, and lots of pass-catching drills, who knows.  But imagine a kid that big, fast and aggressive, flying to the football from saftety, outside linebacker or drop end.

At Oregon, the athletes have always wound up on offense: Dante Rosario, Terrence Whitehead, Jeff Maehl, Kenjon Barner.  Offense sells tickets and gets the cool posters and billboards, but defense wins championships.  You wonder if Aliotti is lousy at rock, paper, scissors, because he never wins these battles.  Chip Kelly has a stated policy of letting the athlete choose where they want to go.  Steve Summers of educk.com interviewed the coach about that back in February:

Kelly indicated that he allows athletes to play where they want. He knows that the competition is going to dictate where the recruit actually ends up. The player discovers that he might get earlier playing time in another position and that is why Oregon wants to bring in as many good athletes as possible.

“They’re smart enough to figure it out,” related Kelly.

French has a learning curve wherever he goes on the field.  If applies himself and identifies the right opportunity, he could have an amazing career.  A 6-5, 6-6 tight end with 4.4 speed, he could do some damage.

But it’s awfully tempting to think of a player with that kind of raw ability playing fast and hard on the Oregon defense, 60-80 plays a game.

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