Between starring at quarterback and studying for a business degree, Kellen Clemens drives around the Eugene campus in a white 1997 Ford F-150 pickup. Pictures of his parents and four sisters adorn the visors, and bales of hay and four horseshoes are in the bed. The truck, in all its modesty, is a keepsake from home. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs got some character to it,‚Äù he says. ‚ÄúI keep the hay and horseshoes in there as constant reminders of who I am and where I‚Äôm from.‚Äù
Clemens was raised in Burns (pop. 2,900), a speck in the high desert of eastern Oregon, but he could easily hail from the pages of a Larry McMurtry novel. He grew up on the family‚Äôs 120-acre ranch, which has 170 head of cattle but no TV. The sixth generation in his family to work the land, Clemens and his sisters each spring would help their parents brand the cattle and then drive the herd 15 miles to a field for feeding. Six months later they‚Äôd make the return trip. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm a country kid through and through,‚Äù he says.
Take the kid out of the country, and the 6'2", 215-pound junior looms as one of college football‚Äôs breakout players this fall. Last year Clemens started all 13 games but was platooned with Jason Fife until the Nov. 8 test against Cal. After Clemens directed the Ducks to two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 21‚Äì17 comeback win, he became the full-time quarterback. Over Oregon‚Äôs last four games Clemens completed 64.6% of his passes for 788 yards and nine touchdowns as the Ducks went 3‚Äì1. A career-best performance in a 31‚Äì30 Sun Bowl loss to Minnesota--he was 32 of 42 for 363 yards and three touchdowns--capped the season.
If an inexperienced receiving corps proves capable, Clemens could emerge on the national scene much like former Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington did in 2000. ‚ÄúKellen‚Äôs best games are ahead of him,‚Äù Oregon coach Mike Bellotti says. ‚ÄúHe got better over the course of last season, and I expect great progress this season.‚Äù
He‚Äôs looking for his program to make a similar advance. Since winning the Fiesta Bowl and finishing ‚Äô01 as the nation‚Äôs No. 2 team, Oregon has gone 15‚Äì11 and allowed USC to overtake it as the Pac-10‚Äôs top program. ‚ÄúThe last two years have been disappointing for us,‚Äù Bellotti says, ‚Äúbut I believe we‚Äôre going in a positive direction.‚Äù --G.M.
2003 RECORD 8‚Äì5 (5‚Äì3, T3 in Pac-10)
FINAL AP RANK NR RETURNING STARTERS 13
KEY RETURNEES (2003 stats)
QB Kellen Clemens (Jr.)
18 TDs beat Dan Fouts‚Äôs team record for sophs
WR Demetrius Williams (Jr.)
51 receptions, eight TDs, 18.3 yards per catch
RB Terrence Whitehead (Jr.)
990 yards rushing and receiving combined
T Adam Snyder (Sr.)
First team All‚ÄìPac-10 following move from LT
DE Devan Long (Jr.)
Conference‚Äôs top returning sacker (11 1‚ÅÑ2)
Points needed by senior kicker Jared Siegel to pass Derek Loville (272 points, 1986 through ‚Äô89) as Oregon‚Äôs alltime leading scorer.
Redshirt freshman Garren Strong replaces the departed Samie Parker, the school‚Äôs second alltime leading receiver. Strong has the size (6'3", 195) recent Oregon wideouts have lacked, and he dazzled in the spring. ‚ÄúHe makes some one-handed catches that make you go, ‚ÄòWow, I hope we got that on film,‚Äô‚Äù says coach Mike Bellotti.
Sept. 11 INDIANA
18 at Oklahoma 25 IDAHO
Oct. 2 ARIZONA STATE 9 at Washington State 16 ARIZONA 23 at Stanford 30 WASHINGTON
Nov. 6 at California
13 UCLA 20 at Oregon State
After taking over the starting job in early November, Clemens connected on nearly 65% of his throws.