A BREAKOUT YEARFROM SOPHOMORE TAILBACK JONATHAN STEWART COULD PUT THE DUCKS INTO THE PAC-10RACE
2005 RECORD 10-2(7-1 in Pac-10)
KEY RETURNEES WRJames Finley (Sr.) Precise route runner caught 57 passes in '05 FS J.D. Nelson(Sr.) A big hitter whose fiery attitude energizes the defense C Enoka Lucas(Sr.) The leader of a line that has all five starters back as well as severalcapable reserves
BIG MAN ON CAMPUSThe rover, a cross between a defensive back and a linebacker, is the key to theDucks' defense, and speedy sophomore Patrick Chung (5'11", 205) is anatural at the position. Lining up anywhere on the field, he often causes theoffense to audible and is around the ball on seemingly every play.
The Ducks don'thave a back on their roster with more than 300 career rushing yards. That wouldseem to indicate that they're looking for a topflight runner, but they're not;they believe that they already have one. They're just waiting for him to showhow good he is.
If sophomoreJonathan Stewart lives up to the reputation that made him one of the mostheralded recruits in Oregon's history, he could elevate the team from Pac-10contender to top 10 material. While his freshman statistics (188 yards, 3.5yards per carry) may not reflect it, Stewart is a potent blend of power andspeed and was one of the country's most sought-after prospects a year ago, whenhe came out of Timberline High in Lacey, Wash.
Stewart's playingtime was limited last season by the presence of since-departed TerrenceWhitehead, a three-year starter, and by injuries. He suffered a nagginghamstring pull early in fall workouts, then sprained his left ankle in thesecond game, forcing him to miss the next two games. But Stewart gave a glimpseof his talent with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against OregonState. "There were a few things that slowed me down in making theadjustment to college," he says. "But overall it was a pretty goodstart. I learned a lot, and I'm ready to take on a bigger role."
The 5'11",234-pound Stewart is quick considering his bulk, but his greatest asset is hisability to break tackles. And while he's strong enough to withstand a pounding,coach Mike Bellotti plans to spell him with Terrell Jackson and JeremiahJohnson. "I think our running backs present various problems to adefense," Bellotti says. "Jonathan is going to run over you; Terrell isgoing to make you miss; and Jeremiah can do both. I love the balance and depththat we have there."
Still, Stewart isclearly the back most capable of providing a punishing ground complement to theDucks' pass-happy spread offense. If he has a breakout year, it will beparticularly galling to Washington fans, since he grew up only 60 miles fromSeattle and acknowledges that he might have enrolled there had coach TyroneWillingham been hired earlier in his recruitment. "But everything workedout fine," Stewart says. By season's end the Huskies won't be the only onesto have had a hard time corralling Stewart.