The Oregon linebacker core has featured some big names in the past. Guys like Michael Clay, Troy Dye, Justin Hollins, and more recently Isaac Slade-Matautia, make up a list of players who have all put together strong college careers in Eugene.
In the sport of college football, players come and go through their respective programs, hoping to reach the pinnacle that is the NFL. Once their four years are up, the question becomes who's next?
Well, many in the Oregon camp would agree we have our answer.
It's Noah Sewell.
Sewell arrived in Eugene as a consensus 5-star recruit and is the second-highest rated linebacker in Ducks' program history.
The only name ahead of him?
That'd be his teammate, Justin Flowe, another former 5-star the Oregon coaches are anxiously waiting to unleash as he battles back from an injury that cut his freshman season short.
Listed at 6'3", 250 pounds, Sewell made an instant impact at Oregon, playing in the 2020 season opener against Stanford. He debuted with four total tackles and one tackle for loss. He would go on to finish the season tied for the team lead in tackles (45) and be named the coaches' Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.
The accolades kept coming when multiple outlets named him a freshman all-America.
Many are now wondering how he'll follow up his stellar freshman campaign.
With seven games under his belt, he's had the chance to adjust to the speed of the college game and build chemistry with his teammates. He would probably be one to tell you he didn't envision having to learn a new defense in just his second year. However, that shouldn't slow him down.
"I think with Noah--I think he's got a high football IQ," said Ken Wilson, linebackers coach at Oregon. "He's been well trained by his dad and brothers who were also really good football players. He's got a very high ceiling, he's got a very high learning curve. He loves football, he's always asking questions, he's very smart."
Growing up playing football against three brothers who would all play division one football has a way of boosting your game. And one of those brothers, Penei, is a lock to go in the first round of next week's NFL Draft.
Fortunately for the Ducks, Sewell isn't the only name on the roster with star potential at linebacker.
"With him (Sewell), Isaac (Slade-Matuatia), Dru (Mathis), Jackson (LaDuke), Keith (Brown), all these guys in the room--they are all quality guys and I think Noah is one of the guys that could really step up and be a big leader."
The talent Oregon has brought in recently has kept with the trend of stepping in and contributing early. Kayvon Thibodeaux broke out as a freshman in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship Game against Utah, and that same year cornerback Mykael Wright appeared in all 14 games, despite not playing in his senior year of high school.
For a player like Sewell--who many college coaches initially viewed as a lineman--to come in and quickly become one of the top players on Oregon's defense is no small feat. He's one of the most college-ready players we've seen come through Eugene, which speaks volumes to not only his talent, but also his intelligence and instinct on the field.
"He started football for us last year on 17 fall practices and he was in playing Stanford so that's the kind of IQ he has with football," Wilson said of his star linebacker.
17 fall practices was a small window to learn so much, but it hasn't proven to be too much for Sewell. Utah's top player in the 2020 class enrolled early in the winter, but was robbed of spring football, a traditional fall camp, and a portion of off-season workouts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A shortened season is better than no experience, but Wilson still views Sewell as a freshman. He may have had a strong first season, but such a small sample size suggests there's more greatness in store.
"He's still a freshman, this was his first spring scrimmage as a college football player. He's got a lot of growth to do and he knows that. I love how he works and how he goes about his business," he said of the way Sewell carries himself.
Defensive Coordinator Tim DeRuyter has made it sound like his defense will take advantage of the different types of athletes Oregon has on its roster. One way he's going to do that is switch up how Sewell is used.
We've already heard about how Kayvon Thibodeaux will play more standing up and we could see number 1 thrive in a more diverse role that showcases all of his talents.
"We're gonna have guys like Noah, who will be a traditional inside linebacker, but we're also gonna walk him up the line of scrimmage and bring him off edges," DeRuyter said of his plans to showcase Sewell in his defense.
The Ducks' DC has a strong history of working with elite talent and assembling stellar defenses. He's going to do all he can to get the most out of the elite talent Mario Cristobal has flooded his roster with.
"There's a lot of talent on our defense that we wanna be able to use different tools--try to make it simple for them but make it difficult for our offenses to figure it out. Take advantage of the tools that the really talented guys have here," DeRuyter said.
A firm grasp of the new defense and a larger leadership role will be the focus of the 2021 season, as well as a Pac-12 and national championship.
Behind Thibodeaux, Sewell may just be the most versatile player on this defense. Sewell is always around the action and will be a fundamental piece of the Oregon defense throughout the rest of his college career.
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