CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Oregon’s rise to the national title game didn’t happen overnight. Before Chip Kelly brought his all-speed everything offense and Mark Helfrich maintained and elevated it when Kelly left for the NFL, the Ducks built a strong foundation under Mike Bellotti, who compiled a 116-55 record in his 14 seasons.
One of Bellotti’s biggest recruits was a running back from Washington. Jonathan Stewart, who had more than 100 touchdowns in high school, chose Oregon despite overtures from some of the biggest programs in college football. Stewart had three very productive seasons at Oregon, and after he rusher for 1,722 yards his junior year, the Carolina Panthers selected him 13th in the 2008 NFL draft.
With the Panthers set to take on the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs on Saturday, SI.com spent a few minutes with Stewart to talk about Oregon and the Ducks’ upcoming game against Ohio State in the national championship.
SI: How did the jersey bet with Kelvin Benjamin go down?
Jonathan Stewart: That wasn’t my bet. That was Ed [Dickson] and Swoll Bones [Brandon Williams]. That was their bet against Kelvin. I’m not sure how it went down, but I saw it happen, and I had to take a picture.
SI: Do you guys have another one, with [former Ohio State players] Philly Brown or Andrew Norwell?
JS: No, not really, not yet. I’m pretty sure something will come up.
SI: Could you imagine you having to wear an Ohio State jersey if the Buckeyes end up winning?
SI: Where’d you watch the Rose Bowl?
JS: At my house.
JS: Yeah. Just turned on the TV in my bed.
SI: Did you expect them to play the way they did?
JS: In all honesty, they have the capability to put up as many points as they want. The defense showed up and played really well, and I think that was the difference in why the score looked the way it looked.
SI: Do you have any plans set up for Monday? There’s obviously a pretty big game you have to worry about on Saturday first.
JS: Not yet. I’m just trying to focus on the Seahawks.
SI: Do you expect Oregon to come out and play the same type of game against Ohio State?
JS: I think it’s going to probably be a little bit more energy. It’s the national championship and it’s the first one in the playoff. The last national championship we played, we went out and lost. To Cam. [Stewart points to former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, standing at his locker on the other side of the room.] There’s a lot riding on this. Marcus Mariota, as great of a player as he is, he’s going to lead that team.
SI: You were instrumental in the rise of Oregon football. What are you impressions of what Oregon has been able to do the past few seasons?
JS: It’s crazy. I mean, from the jerseys to the facility to how fast they run their offenses now. I thought it was fast when I was there and I thought we had a lot of jerseys when I was there. I thought our facilities were off the chain. It’s jumped up 10 notches maybe even more since I’ve been gone. That just shows the greatness of what Oregon is trying to become.
SI: When was the last time you were back? Did it feel different?
JS: Two years ago for the spring game. It still feels like Oregon, but it’s just upgraded.