EUGENE — Ugo Amadi wanted to wear No. 7 when he arrived at Oregon, but Darren Carrington had the number.
Offensive and defensive players can wear the same number, but the Ducks issued Amadi No. 14 instead.
Willie Taggart took away all single-digit numbers in the spring to make players earn them. By the time the coach handed them out last month, Carrington was gone following a DUI arrest.
“Guys had to do things well on the classroom, on the field and socially,” Taggart said of the requirements to earn a single digit. “Those are the guys we call dudes.”
Amadi, a junior cornerback, earned the “dude” label along with No. 7 for his junior season with the Ducks. He was the only returning player to be rewarded with a single-digit number for the first time.
“Once coach Taggart got here, I wanted to pursue that goal to get a single digit,” Amadi said. “I felt like it was time to get one.”
So did Taggart after Amadi reached his goals in the weight room and improved his speed while emerging as a team leader.
“Ugo had a really good spring and a good summer,” the new coach said. “He did well in the classroom and has been real impressive as a football player. Just watching him, I saw him interact with our freshmen like nobody else.
“He would sit to eat with them and get to know them and take them where they needed to go, and not one coach asked him to do that. He took it upon himself to do that, and I was real impressed from afar.”
Amadi wore No. 7 from youth football through Overton High School in Nashville, Tenn., and said it is a nod to his spirituality, noting that God rested on the seventh day. He said the number change midway through his college career has also felt like a new start.
“It’s a little confidence builder,” he said. “It is never the number, it is all about the person, but the seven makes me feel different.”
With a new number, the cornerback formerly known as Ugo also added his full first name to the roster. It’s pronounced Ugo-choo-koo.
“Just something different, I felt like I should go with my whole name,” he said. “It took a while because it is hard for people to pronounce it.”
Amadi also has different coaches with Taggart replacing Mark Helfrich before hiring Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator and Charles Clark to coach cornerbacks.
“Coach Taggart is a good guy, he knows how to relate to us,” Amadi said. “He is up to date with everything that is going on. He can help me with my game and he knows how to talk to players about what we need to work on. How to play emotionally and physically. His big trait is connecting with his players.”
Amadi was a four-star recruit out of high school who committed to three different colleges, but ironically, he would have a new coach this year no matter which of those schools he picked.
As a junior, Amadi committed to Mississippi where Hugh Freeze was fired last month following an NCAA investigation that eventually led to the discovery he called an escort service.
“Glad I didn’t go there,” Amadi said. “A lot of stuff happened, and every year they get hit with a haymaker.”
During his senior year at Overton, Amadi committed to LSU to play for Les Miles, who was fired in the middle of last season.
“Glad I didn’t go there either because the head coach ended up getting fired,” Amadi said.
Amadi committed to Oregon after the Ducks’ 59-20 win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl and just a few days before the Ducks lost 42-20 to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff title game.
He arrived in time for spring football to play two seasons for Helfrich. Amadi started four games and played in all 13 as a true freshman while getting two interceptions, then started eight games last season, including the final four.
Senior Arrion Springs and true freshman Thomas Graham Jr. have usually been with the first unit during the start of fall camp, but Amadi is in the mix to start with more experience than any corner other than Springs.
After communication was often cited as an issue while Oregon’s defense allowed 41.4 points per game, Amadi said that has been a focus of the new staff.
“If you can’t communicate, they won’t put you on the field because they don’t want to be embarrassed and don’t want you to be embarrassed,” Amadi said. “Come out and be confident in your game.”