September 15, 2017
If you ask any of Arrion Springs’ teammates what their best story about Springs is, they’ll all probably react the same way.
They’ll pause. They’ll smile. They’ll hold back a laugh.
And then they’ll pause again, while they really wrack their memory for just one story that stands above the rest. The challenge isn’t remembering; it’s picking the best one.
“He’s just a funny dude,” linebacker Troy Dye said. “I can come up with a bunch of stories.”
Those stories range from how Springs acts during practice and conditioning sessions to the time he bought a pair of geckos off of Craigslist (more on that later), and everything in between.
As he would explain it, Springs has had a “rollercoaster” of a career at Oregon. He’s gone to a National Championship game and through a 4-8 season, which saw the only college head coach he’d played for get fired. He’s played under three defensive coordinators. He’s won, lost, and won back a starting job. He’ll graduate from Oregon after this season, with his eyes trained ahead onto what’s next. He’s hoping it’s the NFL.
But to truly get an idea of who Springs is and how he ended up at this point, you need to start over 2,000 miles southeast of Eugene, in San Antonio, Texas.
Before he learned how to play football correctly, he had to learn how to walk correctly — a task that may seem menial, but for Springs it took months. He had a medical condition in his legs that caused extreme bowleggedness. He was so pigeon-toed that doctors had to fit him with metal leg braces that forced his legs to straighten while he slept.
As the years passed, Springs’ condition improved and quickly became a non-issue. By the time he entered high school, a healthy Springs was solely devoted to football.
Oregon Ducks defensive back Arrion Springs (1) tackles Oregon State Beavers wide receiver Victor Bolden Jr. (6). The Oregon Ducks play the Oregon State Beavers in the 120th Civil war at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore. on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (Kaylee Domzalski/Emerald)
Today, his size and agility make him an ideal cornerback. But back in high school, his size proved to be his biggest hindrance. It was also the deciding factor for him to switch from quarterback to defensive back.
The switch worked as he excelled as a defensive back. The recruiting letters began to pour in from blue blood football programs like Florida State, Texas, Oklahoma, USC and Clemson, just to name a few.
By his junior year of high school, Oregon had jumped into the mix. Former Oregon secondary coach John Neal took the lead on recruiting Springs, and the two meshed well.
But Neal revealed that he almost dropped Springs from his recruiting boards his junior year when Neal perceived there to be an issue with Springs’ grades.
It turned out that Springs was enrolled in several college-level classes his junior year. His grades began to slip because of the advanced workload. Neal, unaware of the advanced classes that Springs was taking, thought that he was simply slacking off in his classes.
But with a couple phone calls, and a discussion with the counselor at Roosevelt High School, Springs set the record straight.
“It gave me a lot of confidence in him that he was in there with all the straight-A students and he was competing and had enough courage to call me and explain that to me,” Neal said. “This is a kid that’s going into his senior year in high school when all this is being figured out, and I almost made a huge mistake on him, but he was the one who straightened me out. I’ve always thanked him for that because that was a really cool thing he did as a really confident kid.”
Springs arrived in Eugene in 2014, a season removed from an 11-2 season where Oregon posted the 13th best scoring defense in the country.
But even before he could make his presence felt on the field, he was making an interesting impression off of it.
Defensive lineman Jalen Jelks, who was part of the same recruiting class as Springs, remembers how Springs got his two geckos. Jelks said that Springs really wanted to get a pet shortly after the two arrived on campus, and had somehow stumbled across two leopard geckos for sale on Craigslist. So, naturally, he bought both.
None of Springs’ teammates know what happened to the geckos — Springs apparently didn’t have them long — but they do know that they vanished as strangely as they had arrived.
“I don’t know what happened to them things,” said Royce Freeman, who lived with Springs at the time. “I came back one day and they were gone. Guess it didn’t work out.”
But what did work out, at least for Springs, was his adjustment to a deep and experienced Oregon secondary his freshman year.
He stepped into an Oregon defense that had racked up 17 interceptions in 2013, the 23rd best in the country. He was expected to compete for playing time with players like Troy Hill, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Erick Dargan. The odds were against him, but that hadn’t stopped him before.
He played in nine games his freshman year, including the Rose Bowl, and showcased the skills that Neal had seen back in high school. Granted, Springs took his lumps — Neal called him a “typical freshman,” one who had starting potential but lacked the maturity and consistency to earn hefty playing time.
Oregon Ducks defensive back Arrion Springs (1) breaks up a pass meant for Washington State Cougars wide receiver Tavares Martin Jr. (8). The Oregon Ducks play the Washington State Cougars at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. on Oct. 1, 2016. (Adam Eberhardt/Emerald)
“All this stuff is a process,” Neal said. “It’s a mental process, it’s a physical process, it’s an emotional process, and all of a sudden you’re thrown into the fire and all that stuff is going on all at once.”
Springs soaked up all he could that year from players like Washington, Ekpre-Olomu and even Deforest Buckner and Arik Armstead. He gives them a lot of credit for helping him adjust to college football.
“It was just really fun to be a part of,” Springs said. “I had those guys pushing me. I thought I could play but [those guys] were just taking it to the next level, like what it really takes to play at this level and play really good.”
It certainly showed the following season when he started all 13 games for the Ducks and finished seventh on the team in total tackles.
While Springs thought he had turned a corner that season, 2016 would serve as a harsh wake-up call. Springs started in Oregon’s first eight games of the season but was replaced by sophomore Ugo Amadi for the last four.
Both with and without Springs on the field, Oregon’s defense was one of the worst in the country that season. But like most important things in his life, Springs used this low point as motivation to improve.
“Just learn how to bounce back,” he said.
Springs started the 2017 season on a better note. His three pass breakups against Nebraska gave him 30 for his career, tied for eighth best in Oregon school history with Cliff Harris. He leads the Ducks with five broken-up passes this season, three more than anyone else on the team.
His teammates also say that he’s grown more mature and confident. What’s impressed them the most, though, is how he’s always stayed true to himself throughout his ups and downs at Oregon.
“He definitely has a big personality, has a lot of self-confidence and he does a really good job of staying true to who he is,” safety Mattrell McGraw said. “He doesn’t let anyone change him, regardless of whether the situation is going bad, going good.
“He’s going to always be Arrion.”
That approach has gotten him this far. Why stop now?
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris