The “Desert Duck movement” is a growing phenomena within the Oregon football community. Oregon has laid an impressive foundation on the recruiting trail in Arizona in recent years, landing top players like Ty Thompson, Bram Walden, Jonah Miller, Brandon Bucknerand 2023’s lone commit Cole Martin.
Dan Lanning and his new staff understand the success Oregon has had in the Grand Canyon State and have added to the wave themselves with the addition of Martin in January. Now, they’ve got their eyes set on 2023 defensive lineman My’Keil Gardner to keep the pipeline flowing.
The 6-foot-2, 275-pounder from Liberty (Peoria, Ariz.) High School has taken notice of the Arizona presence in Eugene, especially on his visit last weekend – his first time in Eugene.
“It felt like home,” Gardner told Ducks Digest. “Even some of the coaches were from Arizona, so it just really shows me that they have this’ Desert Duck ‘thing going right now.'”
Gardner hung out with Buckner, who attended Chandler High School in Chandler, Ariz. Buckner’s Chandler Wolves played and defeated Gardner’s Liberty Lions twice in 2020.
Another current Eugene resident that once lived in Arizona is Lanning, who spent two seasons on the Arizona State staff. Gardner had the chance to speak with the Ducks head coach, who made it clear that he and the Oregon staff are interested in the talented lineman.
“He told me that they really need a guy like me out there,” Gardner said of his conversation with Lanning.
Not only did Gardner get to interact with Lanning off the field, but he got a front row seat to what he and the rest of the coaches are like on the field during a spring practice.
“You can really tell that the players are buying into the new coaching staff,” Gardner said. “I think they’re gonna go in the right direction. You can already tell when you’re at practice and from talking to some of the players. You can see that they’re buying into it with some of the stuff they’re being taught. “
Gardner, a three-star prospect (0.8850 per 247 Sports Composite) and the No. 7 player in Arizona, came away from the visit impressed with the coaches and the NFL experience in the building, but it wasn’t a one-way street . During his meetings with Lupoi and Defensive Line Coach Tony Tuioti, Gardner got a taste of how they see the game and what they like about him.
“They like my get off and that I’m raw,” he said. “I like their NFL experience and the amount of knowledge they had to help us become better players.”
Gardner is still working through his recruitment and planning out visits, but one thing he knows for certain is that Oregon is all in on him. He was in town with plenty of other high-end recruits like Jayden Wayne, Matayo Uiagalelei, Lebbeus Overtonand more, but the Oregon coaches made Gardner feel wanted during his stay.
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“It showed me that I’m a priority for them and that they’re actually going to recruit me hard,” Gardner said.
Getting to talk football with the coaches and check out practice were definite highlights on his trip, but Gardner enjoyed touring the campus as well.
“Eugene was great. I love the vibe out there,” he said. “I love the college town vibe. The people there are really nice, friendly, and willing to talk. The weather was great. I really loved it out there.”
As is common for many football players growing up in the Western United States, Gardner loved watching Oregon as a kid and described putting on the Ducks uniform as “a dream come true.”
“I felt like a kid in a candy shop,” he said. “You can see all the gear they have and just the stuff that they have to offer. It gets no better than that.
“Every kid’s dream is to go to Oregon or even go see it and take pictures in the uniform. Historically, Oregon is great, and I would love to be a part of that.”
Gardner told Ducks Digest that he’s planning to return to Eugene for the spring game on April 23, but not before a visit to Austin to check out the Texas Longhorns at the end of March. He also plans to head out to Berkeley for an official visit to Cal.
As for what his decision timeline looks like, Gardner said that he plans to graduate early from high school and be committed before December. After expressing his excitement for a second trip to Eugene, it sounds like the Ducks will definitely be a player in his recruitment di lui down the stretch.
* WATCH MY’KEIL GARDNER HIGHLIGHTS HERE *
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