Jeff Maehl has packed on 10 pounds since last season, but Oregon's 6' 1", 185-pound senior wideout still doesn't look imposing. "He looks like either a long jumper or a Division II basketball player," says receivers coach Scott Frost. Skinny though he is, Maehl is a big reason that the dismissal of star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli—who was suspended for the season in March after pleading guilty to second-degree burglary and then kicked off the team in June after being cited for pot possession and driving with a suspended license—hasn't severely dampened the Ducks' prospects this season.
In 2009, with the explosive Masoli behind center and Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year LaMichael James in the backfield, the Ducks won the conference title behind a dynamic offense but one that decidedly favored the run. This season James, who ran for 14 touchdowns and 1,546 yards last year, is back, but neither of Masoli's potential replacements—fifth-year senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas—is the running threat that Masoli was. "We'll have to throw the ball more this year," Maehl says.
That's good news for Maehl, an exceptional athlete who was a Division I basketball prospect at Paradise (Calif.) High before Oregon offered him a football scholarship. He played safety for most of 2007, his freshman year, then switched late in the season to wideout to bolster a position devastated by injuries. Secondary coach John Neal still gives Frost grief about the pilfered Maehl. "Coach Neal says he wants him back," says Frost, "but I'm not ready to give him up."
A sure-tackling fixture on special teams since arriving in Eugene, Maehl retains a defensive mind-set on offense. "Being a skinnier guy, I have to take on that aggressive mentality and deliver hits more than just absorbing them," he says.
He blossomed as a receiver late in 2009, making five of his six TD catches in the last four regular-season games, including two in a crucial double-overtime win at Arizona. "That was his coming-out party," says Frost. "He went from being a really good player to being a go-to type receiver, and he hasn't looked back. All signs are pointing to Jeff having a really good season." And Oregon too.