Auburn's Paulson takes wing with high-flying Ducks

Auburn’s David Paulson is playing more regularly as a sophomore tight end at Oregon. Paulson, an Auburn Riverside product, has caught at least one pass in three of the Ducks’ first four games this season. - Courtesy photo/Eric Evans, U of O
Auburn’s David Paulson is playing more regularly as a sophomore tight end at Oregon. Paulson, an Auburn Riverside product, has caught at least one pass in three of the Ducks’ first four games this season.
— image credit: Courtesy photo/Eric Evans, U of O

Some of the names, even the playing styles, are familiar to David Paulson.

Mention the likes of Jeff Thomason, Josh Wilcox, Blake Spence, Jed Weaver, Willie Tate, Justin Peelle, George Wrighster, Tim Day and Dante Rosario, and Paulson pretty much knows he follows some very good company.

The names are part of a growing tight end tradition at the University of Oregon.

Paulson, a sophomore from Auburn, just feels fortunate to be getting a chance to join the position’s exclusive fraternity at the Pac-10 school.

“I wouldn’t say I belong in the same sentence as them, but it’s nice to be playing at the same position,” said Paulson, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end who is receiving considerable playing time these days, even starting for the Ducks when they employ a two tight end set. “I don’t know. Those were great players. I’ve seen some of them play. I’m just making the most of my opportunity, learning and improving each day.”

Paulson is catching on in the Ducks’ spread offense. Although the offense stumbled out of the gates this season, the former Auburn Riverside High School standout is doing his part, providing key blocks with the ground game and making difficult catches in traffic.

He came down with a 27-yard reception, the longest pass play of the game, in his first career start at Boise State on Sept. 3, before returning the following week to add another catch for 11 yards in a win over Purdue.

The Ducks spread their wings last Saturday, erupting for 524 yards of offense in a 42-3 demolition of then-No. 6 California. Paulson pulled in a 15-yard reception on the Ducks' first scoring drive.

“I just put in the hard work in the offseason, got stronger and a little faster,” Paulson said. “I understand the playbook better. I’m not thinking out there, just reacting. I really needed to work on my blocking, and I still have room to improve.”

Added first-year head coach Chip Kelly: “David has the best hands in our group of tight ends.”

Paulson hopes the No. 16 Ducks can continue to explode on offense as they (3-1, 1-0 Pac-10) take on Washington State (1-3, 0-2) at 6:15 p.m. Saturday in Eugene, Ore. Oregon has relied on defense and special teams to bring along an offense still trying to find its rhythm.

Three of Oregon’s next five games are on the road, including a visit to Seattle to face the upstart Huskies on Oct. 24.

“It’s definitely been frustrating because we know we can play a lot better,” said Paulson, who has lined up with another big target, standout Ed Dickson, at tight end. “We haven’t played well (until last Saturday). They’ve been ugly wins, but hopefully we can keep working hard and improving, and hopefully that will show up in the games.”

It did against Cal.

For Paulson, the transition to the Pac-10 level has been gradual. He’s always had the good pair of hands and quick feet. At Auburn Riverside, he was an all-state and all-league performer who got a chance to handle and pass the ball at quarterback.

His good size and skills didn’t go unnoticed. As a heralded recruit, several schools came calling, including California, Oregon State, UW and Washington State, where his brother played.

Given the choice, Oregon proved to be a good fit in the end.

“I like it a lot,” said Paulson, a business major with a 3.65 GPA. “I like the distance. It’s far enough from home that I can be away and on my own, but it’s close enough for my parents (Scott and Kristi Paulson) to drive down and see me play.

“It’s not a big city, but big enough for me,” he added. “It’s a great college town with great fans.”

As a freshman, Paulson made the most of his redshirt season, earning scout team player of the week honors for his work leading up to wins against Houston, Stanford and Washington State.

A year later, he saw his first game action in a win against Utah State.

Over the past summer, Paulson stayed in Eugene, committed to a rigorous offseason training regimen.

In the weight room, the bench press surpassed 300 pounds, as did his totals in the power clean and squat. His speed also has improved. His 40-yard run was hand-timed in the 4.6-second range.

The hard work has paid dividends.

“I kept in good shape,” he said. “My legs didn’t die on me in fall camp.”

This season, Paulson continues to emerge. His best playing days are still ahead.

So far, he is enjoying the experience. The goal is to become a starter, a dependable pair of hands, in the next two seasons, joining a unit that will include 6-7 Dion Jordan and 6-4 Malachi Lewis.

The goal also is to earn his MBA.

Being a Duck has its rewards.

“One of the biggest feelings is when you come out of the tunnel at Autzen Stadium and see all the fans,” Paulson said. “It’s a great feeling when you celebrate a touchdown with your teammates, playing a (fast-paced) game, winning and singing the school’s fight song in the locker room afterward.

“For me, it’s just a great feeling.”

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