A little over seven minutes into his first Civil War as an Oregon Duck, freshman wide receiver Jaylon Redd snagged a pass from quarterback Justin Herbert. His Oregon teammates knocked down the Oregon State defenders in his path. Redd ran 19 yards straight to the end zone, scoring his first collegiate touchdown.
Less than 10 seconds later, Oregon freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. intercepted a pass from the Beavers’ quarterback Darell Garretson and ran for a 20-yard return.
But last season wasn’t the first experience these two had playing football together.
Graham Jr. and Redd have a connection through two sports and two stellar careers at Rancho Cucamonga High School and through their time at Oregon thus far.
Graham Jr. ended the season third on the Ducks with 62 total tackles, and as one of two players to lead the team with three interceptions. Redd ended the season totaling 122 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
“Watching those guys succeed as true freshman was awesome,” their former Rancho Cucamonga High School head football coach, Nick Baiz, said.
Instead of playing on the same team, the two Rancho Cucamonga natives first met competing against each other in club track and field when they were kids.
“It was just something normal,” Graham Jr. said. “We were always competing against each other, and we finally ended up teaming up.”
Their “teaming up” wouldn’t happen until almost 10 years later in their junior year at Rancho Cucamonga High School. Redd attended the school for all four years, while Graham Jr. transferred in as an upperclassman.
“Our relationship in high school made us stronger,” Redd said. “And as we come up here, I know every time I see him push, even though he’s on the other side of the ball, I see him do better. Can’t break that bond.”
Baiz recalls being impressed by Redd’s speed and mentality at his first couple practices with the Cougars. It only took a single day of practice before Baiz called him up to varsity.
“When he was a freshman, we could tell he was something special,” Baiz said. “I remember seeing Jaylon. He was practicing with the freshmen team, and I was watching the freshmen practice, and then about a day later we called him up to varsity because it was like a man with boys.”
Graham Jr. joined the team two years later, and his knowledge of the sport immediately helped him stand out.
“I think the best thing about [Graham Jr.] was his athletic ability and his football intelligence,” Baiz said. “He would ask great questions, where it really makes you know that he understands the game.”
As seniors, they helped the Cougars go undefeated in the regular season for the first time in school history. Redd topped the season totaling 1,693 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns, and Graham Jr. had four interceptions, eight touchdowns and 212 total tackles.
“They were leaders; they led by example,” Baiz said. “Just the competitiveness they would bring to practice was huge. They kind of brought everyone up a level, which was helpful for our whole team.”
Both were labeled as 4-star recruits and earned Under Armour All-American honors. Receiving numerous offers from multiple top-tier college programs, they each decided Oregon was the best fit.
“It was good because coming to college, you might not know all your teammates, and you really don’t know them on a personal level,” Graham Jr. said. “Since I knew him on a personal level, it kind of helped because I knew I had somebody to rely back on.”
Now, as Oregon sophomores, it’s clear the two have adjusted to the collegiate level of play.
“They kind of knew what to do last year,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “Now they know how to do it and why we are doing it that way, so they are more efficient in everything they do.”
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