Canton Kaumatule is Oregon Ducks' 5-star plan to replace Arik Armstead – OregonLive.com
As Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott bulldozed his way to a demoralizing 246 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-20 victory in the national championship game, the questions about the toughness of the Oregon football program again surfaced.
Could the Ducks truly hang with the nation’s most physical football teams? Would Oregon ever find an answer up front on defense?
With the Tuesday announcement that Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead would forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft, the Ducks defensive line lost a massive piece, and the decries that the Ducks lacked a physical presence only grew louder.
Like flies buzzing near one’s ear, those proclamations are a nuisance to the Oregon football program, especially since its coaches believe they’ve already found a key piece of the puzzle.
Meet Canton Kaumatule, the future of the Ducks’ defensive line.
Entering the class of 2015 recruiting cycle with full knowledge that Armstead, and possibly DeForest Buckner, could leave after the season in order to turn pro, the Oregon coaching staff put on a full-court press for a 6-foot-7, 295-pound defensive end out of Hawaii.
The 247Sports five-star prospect wasn’t just viewed as massive heading into his senior season. Kaumatule was also skilled and team-oriented, according to his coach, Kale Ane.
“He’s a disruptor,” Ane told The Oregonian. “He caves in the whole side. He’s such a dominant player and is such a team kid. He just wants the team to do well.”
Those sentiments were shared by Scout national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins.
“Kaumatule already has an NFL body at 6-7, (295) pounds and a non-stop motor. He’s an improving athlete, very strong at the point of attack and one of the most physical linemen in the nation,” he wrote in a scouting report. “He already looked like a college player when he was just a freshman and he just keeps getting better. He’s relentless in pursuit and plays like his hair is on fire. Older brother Luke signed with Stanford last year and Canton is a much better prospect.”
Oregon hung in with many of the nation’s top programs, and by late October, Kaumatule announced that his two favorites were USC and Oregon. His first visit would be to Eugene for the Nov. 1 game against Stanford.
Despite warnings from his father not to get swept up in the excitement during his trip, Kaumatule was blown away by the experience. He committed to Oregon on Friday night (Oct. 31) – almost immediately after stepping on campus.
“It was a huge surprise to me,” he explained. “My love for the place was growing so rapidly, I kept asking myself, ‘For the next four years would I be happy? Would I be happy?’ There were really no flaws to this trip whatsoever. I felt special and felt like this was the place where I could be happy.”
But even with a commitment, and a signed financial aid agreement, the Oregon coaching staff was hardly willing to let its answer for the future of the defensive line get away. Twice after his pledge, Ducks coaches traveled to Hawaii to meet with Kaumatule, his family and other prospects in the state – and for good reason.
Kaumatule didn’t keep it a secret that even after his commitment his family wanted him to at least take a look at USC. And while Oregon coaches were supportive, they wanted to make sure the game-changing defensive lineman remained firm.
“On my official, they told me that if Oregon isn’t the place for me and there’s another school that makes me happy, then more power to you,” he said. “They are just encouraging me, which really means a lot, as well. They show great interest, but they also show great care.”
On one occasion, three Oregon coaches – defensive coordinator Don Pellum, defensive line coach Ron Aiken and outside linebackers coach Erik Chinander – traveled to Hawaii for a surprise visit with Kaumatule and his family, specifically his mother, who had not yet met all of the coaches.
“It was a great surprise. I was really touched by the coaches coming all the way down just to see me, my mom and my family,” he told The Oregonian. “My mom was really touched by it. The fact that they were able to do that means a lot and says a lot about the school, and them in general.”
Shortly after the unexpected visit, Kaumatule announced via Twitter that he would not be taking that trip to Los Angeles, after all.
Oregon had its successor at defensive end, but he still remained a mystery to many national recruiting experts.
That changed in a hurry.
With a plan to enroll in January, Kaumatule’s final high school experience before arriving on campus in Eugene wasn’t prom or graduation. Instead, he traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida for the Under Armour All-American showcase, where he would compete against the nation’s best.
Having played his high school career away from the mainland, the gigantic Kaumatule was already a bit of a curiosity when he arrived, but the way he performed in practices the first few days left experts wide-eyed.
ESPN recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree called the Oregon commit “the most impressive looking player” at the event, while ESPN Recruiting Nation named Kaumatule “the star” of the first two days of practice.
According to a Twitter post, Crabtree asked five players who was the best player on the field of dozens of All-Americans. All five said Kaumatule.
Before the exhibition game had even begun, scouts and journalists alike were wondering aloud not if, but when, Kaumatule would finally be given his five-star status. 247Sports was the first to make that leap, while ESPN could also bestow that honor before signing day.
That week of practice mattered little to Oregon coaches. After all, Kaumatule was the same prospect entering the week as he was coming out of it. The only difference was that the rest of the recruiting world knew what the Ducks coaches spent the fall believing: Kaumatule, Oregon’s highest-rated defensive line prospect since Haloti Ngata in 2002, is the real deal.
Currently enrolled in classes and ready to begin his college career, Kaumatule is unquestionably the “biggest get” in the class of 2015.
Armstead’s career at Oregon came to a much-anticipated close Tuesday. Oregon’s year-long contingency plan is paying dividends – and he hasn’t even flattened his first quarterback yet.