VENTURA, Calif. - Thomas Duarte's reaction is the lasting image of a playoff win that saw him make multiple fourth-down catches, pick up a couple of sacks and notch a key interception. His stamp was all over the game from the start. In a way, this was his victory. So it was fitting that he led the celebration among his Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei teammates just after the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Mater Dei had gone on the road and defeated St Bonaventure 21-0. Afterward, the highly recruited wide receiver played to the visiting crowd that had traveled more than four hours to support the cause. He pumped his fists, shouted his championship aspirations and finally ripped off his helmet.
Under his facemask? A strip of eye-black adorned with the Oregon Ducks' logo. Duarte took time out of his bullish celebration to caution against reading too much into it. According to him, the "O" just under his eye wasn't to be taken as a sign. Instead, he had other reasons for wearing it, even if they don't make much sense.
"I have a friend up there -- he doesn't play football - that told me to wear it," Duarte said. "He told me to wear it for him. I didn't put it on because I'm definitely going to choose Oregon or anything like that. It was just for him. I'm just wearing it."
Who knows why high school players do the things they do? Reading into a 17-year old's choice of accessories is silly. So when Duarte says he hasn't given much thought to his recruitment as of late, you take him at his word.
The same goes for when he tells you that he has no favorite.
"I told myself that I wouldn't take any visits until after the season," he said. "Now we're playing for the championship, so I'll be waiting longer. That's been the plan from the start."
Exact dates for visits have not been set, but Duarte does have a loose travel itinerary - a final five of sorts.
"It's narrowed it down to Notre Dame, ASU, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon," he said. "I'll probably set all those visits this coming week or the next week."
A timetable for a decision is, of course, rough. Since Duarte is yet to take a single official visit, the next few weeks of his life project to be a whirlwind. That said, the 6-foot-3 wideout is being aggressive with his projection.
"I don't think I'll wait all the way until signing day, but it's going to be a month or so before I choose," he said.