Auburn's Paulson emerges as high-flying Ducks play for national title

Oregon tight end David Paulson leaps to haul in a pass during the Ducks’ 60-13 thrashing of UCLA on Oct. 21. Paulson, one of the Ducks’ reliable targets, enjoyed a breakout season, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors.  - Courtesy photo/Eric Evans, U of O
Oregon tight end David Paulson leaps to haul in a pass during the Ducks’ 60-13 thrashing of UCLA on Oct. 21. Paulson, one of the Ducks’ reliable targets, enjoyed a breakout season, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors.
— image credit: Courtesy photo/Eric Evans, U of O

When Auburn Riverside standout David Paulson signed with the University of Oregon four years ago, he joined a recruiting effort to push the Ducks to greater prominence.

Little did he know how exceptional the ride would be.

Paulson has since emerged as one of the country’s best junior tight ends and a reliable target for the high-powered Ducks, who will be front and center Monday in the BCS National Championship Game against top-ranked Auburn at Glendale, Ariz. (5:30 p.m., ESPN).

With Paulson playing a supporting role, the No. 2 Ducks rolled to a 12-0 regular season, repeating as Pac-10 Conference champions and earning a shot at the school’s first national title.

Big stuff for a humble kid from south Auburn.

“It’s something you dream of,” said the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Paulson. “It’s something that’s hard to imagine.”

Especially when considering how far Paulson and the Ducks have come.

Paulson, the youngest of three brothers, was a gifted three-sport star at Auburn Riverside who actually played quarterback and linebacker his senior season out of necessity for the Ravens.

He drew plenty of scholarship offers from Pac-10 schools, but found Oregon, its business school and cutting-edge football program to be a good fit.

Paulson arrived in time to help revive the Ducks, who were coming off a dismal 7-6 season in 2006, capped by a forgettable 38-8 loss to Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl.

“We were beaten and down,” Paulson said. “But that’s when we started the rebuilding process, and we just got better every year.”

Paulson’s class has made an impact. The Ducks have compiled a 41-10 mark with back-to-back Pac-10 championships, two bowl wins and a Rose Bowl appearance in the last four seasons.

All-Pac-10 standout

During that time, Paulson has gone from a redshirt freshman project to a blossoming all-conference performer who is light on his feet, soft with the hands and quick off the ball.

“When I came in from high school, I didn’t feel like I was physically ready to play,” Paulson said. “Then I got into a good weight program, worked hard, gained a better understanding of the offense and just kept pushing myself to get faster, stronger, better. I kept pushing myself to play even harder, and that’s important.”

The hard work paid off this season with Paulson emerging as a starter after playing last year in the shadows of heralded Ed Dickson, who now plays for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

“David has been a big target for us. He’s got great hands, and he’s always making clutch catches,” Ducks coach Chip Kelly told The (Eugene) Register-Guard earlier this season.

Paulson has been a reliable option in Oregon’s fast-break attack, a wide-open, up-tempo brand of frenetic offense. The explosive Ducks averaged a nation-leading 49.3 points per game, winning by an average margin of 30.9 points.

Oregon’s hyper-drive spread option averaged 537.5 yards of total offense.

Paulson, a quietly confident player, has done his part. He is fourth on the Ducks in receiving with 21 catches for 370 yards – a team-leading average of 17.6 yards per snag – and four touchdowns.

‘Golden Gloves’

Nicknamed “Golden Gloves” by teammates, Paulson frequently came up with the big catch. He caught four passes for better than 60 yards apiece in runaway wins over Tennessee and UCLA. His longest catch-and-run stretched 61 yards, which set up a go-ahead touchdown at Arizona State. Not one for dramatics, Paulson lost his size-15 shoe during the run.

For his steady efforts, Paulson was one of just four Pac-10 players to win both All-Pac-10 and Pac-10 All-Academic awards this season. He was one of 22 tight ends in the country named to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list. The award recognizes the top tight end in college football.

“David’s a very smart player and a very productive player,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “He maybe doesn’t look as flashy as some other guys, or make as much noise, but we’ll take him.”

In the classroom, Paulson also performs. He has a 3.68 grade-point average in business administration. He is one term away from completing his undergraduate degree and has applied for grad school.

Paulson has enjoyed the experience, the Ducks’ spectacular season under the sun.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Coming into the season, you want to win every game. We were able to do that and keep the run alive.

“It’s been a dream ride,” he added. “For me, starting full-time and being able to contribute has made it a lot of fun.”

Paulson will be supported by a traveling family contingent of nine strong when the Ducks play for the title Monday night. Scott and Kristi Paulson attend all of their son’s games.

The fact the Ducks played in a BCS bowl last year – albeit a 26-17 loss to

No. 8 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl – should help the team focus on the task at hand. The Ducks, like Auburn, also must contend with a five-week layoff.

“We’ve been on a big stage before,” Paulson said. “It may be the national championship, but we’ve got to remember that it’s just football. We just have to play our game.”

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