Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 1/16/12

Adam Jude reported in the Register-Guard this morning that Chip Kelly met with Darron Thomas on Saturday one last time to try and talk him out of his decision to sign with an agent and turn pro. It was probably his most earnest recruiting visit of the winter.

Now the Ducks have one more scholarship to give, and two very talented young quarterbacks will get their shot to lead a team that will contend for a fourth conference championship and a national title.

Photo right: the team Chip Kelly leads out of the tunnel in January will only be as prepared as their conditioning and off season work allows. (huffingtonpost.com photo).

There's enough talent around Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota to make either a realistic possibility. Kenjon Barner will provide the message and the example, the maturity, leadership and direction a team particularly needs from January to August, when contact with the coaches is limited. That's important, because this is the season in which committed teams gain an edge. Off season workouts build camraderie and resolve. This is the time where players dedicated to an individual training program can make huge gains in strength--Hroniss Grasu did so last year, and it earned him a starting job as a redshirt freshman. Barner himself added 15 pounds of muscle to his athletic frame between Glendale and The Cowboys Classic, and it showed with an improved burst and power, spearheading his drive to a 939-yard rushing season with 14 total touchdowns.

Imagine if De'Anthony Thomas makes the same commitment this winter, adding strength and durability to his whipcrack-fast open-field artistry. Imagine Bennett and Mariota with their athletic ability, made more solid and durable by some intense work in Jim Radcliffe's training room. Think about Josh Huff with two rehabilitated, healthy legs, and Tyler Johnstone, Andre Yruretagoyena and Lake Koa'Kai with 20 pounds more power to their blows.

The drive to the 2012 National Championship, or the Rose Bowl or the North Division banner or a win over Arkansas State, starts now. It's starts with pass patterns in the Mo and a group commitment. It starts with positive talk and a healthy attitude, a commitment to getting to class on time and partying smart on Saturday nights, going out in twos and threes and having a safe ride home. It starts with a team that hangs together and articulates one message, develops a belief in one another.

There's no sense feeling sorry for the Ducks because two players elected to leave school and start professional careers. All you can do is praise their opportunity and thank them for their incredible contributions. Thomas leaves with a degree and James is nearing his, and the graduates, Pleasant, Kaddu, Asper and Paulson, all got invited to the combine.

Let their success be example to those that remain. Now go and exceed it.

Nothing treasured comes without a price. To return to the Rose Bowl, the Ducks have to remember the hard work that got them there:

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