2022 linebacker TJ Dudley traveled more than 2,600 miles with his family from Montgomery, Alabama, to Eugene, Oregon, this past weekend to take his first visit since the recruiting dead period expired.
And who was the first person he saw?
It was Oregon Head Coach Mario Cristobal, who greeted him once he got off the plane at the Eugene Airport. Dudley would be seeing plenty of Cristobal over the weekend.
He arrived on Thursday and his visit had all the typical components: meeting up in the lobby and eating breakfast with the staff, touring the Oregon campus, and checking out the facilities that many across the college football landscape describe as second-to-none.
When the 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker wasn't with the staff, he was spending time with another Alabama native, freshman quarterback Robby Ashford from Hoover, who was his host on the trip.
"He's a great guy, he's like a big brother to me," Dudley said of Ashford. "I was with him most of the time. He took me under his wing."
TJ Dudley Oregon Official Visit
The two had many conversations throughout the weekend, but most of them focused on the Oregon program and why he should play his college football with the Ducks in Eugene.
Some of those reasons?
"It's a great development place. Not only the players, but the coaches also said they get you prepared for life," he told Ducks Digest. "Oregon gets you prepared for life and there's a lot of connections there."
If you've been following Oregon recruiting, those reasons aren't anything we haven't heard before. But Dudley took them to heart because of how genuine his interactions felt with the players and staff.
"They were keeping it real with me. Not just telling me things to try and get me there."
One of the many players he got to meet was Oregon freshman linebacker Justin Flowe, one of two Oregon players he models his game after.
"It was cool (meeting Flowe)," Dudley said. "I had known him before, but that was only through Instagram. He's a great guy."
Another reason Dudley has Oregon in his top six is the talent Mario Cristobal has brought to Eugene in recent recruiting cycles, including the highest-rated linebackers to ever sign with the Ducks.
"Especially playing along two great linebackers like (Noah) Sewell and (Justin) Flowe. It means a lot," he said of teaming up in Eugene. "Even before all this happened I used to watch them when they were in high school-- modeled my game after them. Being able to have an opportunity to play with them is crazy."
Another highlight of his visit was the photoshoot in Autzen Stadium, where he says he can picture himself playing.
"I’ve been an Oregon fan since I was little," Dudley said. "Being there and putting the uniforms on, it was like a dream come true."
Aside from strong interactions with current Ducks, the staff blew Dudley away.
"I spent a lot of time with all of them, even (Mario) Cristobal. Every time I turned around Coach Cristobal and the whole coaching staff was there," he said.
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The frequent interactions with Oregon's head man left a strong impression and may help the Ducks surge ahead in their push for one of the most sought after players in the country.
"He was there every step of the way," Dudley said of Mario Cristobal. "Usually the head coach isn't there the entire time. Everywhere I went he was there: when I got off the plane, as soon as I landed, everywhere I went he was there. Honestly it just showed he really cared."
The strong words don't stop at Cristobal though, as Dudley also had great things to say about the rest of the Ducks' staff.
"It was awesome, literally all of them. I knew most of them through Zoom, I just had great conversations with them everyday I saw them."
Dudley holds 29 offers and has a top group loaded with blue blood programs such as Alabama and Clemson. So why make Oregon the first trip in over a year, with so many of his finalists much closer to home?
"The communication," Dudley said. "I talk to Coach (Ken) Wilson everyday and I talk to the whole staff on Zoom at least once a week. Just the communication and the buildup was amazing. That was the reason."
Will he make a return trip to Eugene?
"Of course. Maybe for the camp in July, but definitely a game," Dudley told Ducks Digest.
As for other trips coming up, the Alabama linebacker will take an official visit to UCF this weekend before going to Alabama for an unofficial visit on June 19, Texas on June 25 for an official, and will take his official visits to nearby Auburn and Alabama during the season.
He hopes to make a decision before his senior season and wants to enroll early if his school allows it.
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