Fans call him the MaehlMan, but the flashy nickname kind of belies Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl's low-key demeanor.
Maehl, a senior who started his career as a safety but transitioned to receiver, is thriving in top-ranked Oregon's spread-option offense — even though he's sometimes overlooked while the attention goes to the Ducks' speedy ground game.
Maehl has 31 catches for 423 yards and five touchdowns. He had 10 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown against Washington State on Oct. 9. That extended his streak to 27 games with at least one reception.
With 132 career catches, Maehl has moved past Bobby Moore — now known as Ahmad Rashad — into seventh place on Oregon's career list.
He's also coming into his own when it comes to a leadership role on a team that's dominated by a sophomore duo putting up big numbers, running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas.
He admits that he sometimes gets "riled up" during games, but the Ducks are such a special group this year that really no heavy-handed chaperoning is necessary, Maehl said.
"I'm a pretty quiet guy out there. I try to lead by example, with my work ethic, and at practice," he said. "But we have such a good group right now.'
And what make it so good?
"We're one unit, one team, and we all go out and play for each other," he said.
Maehl's first season with the Ducks was in 2007, when Oregon was skipping its way up the rankings on the shoulders of quarterback and Heisman contender Dennis Dixon. Oregon was up to No. 2 when disaster struck and Dixon's knee gave out, sending the team reeling.
It wasn't just Dixon's injury that wounded the Ducks. Maehl started as a reserve on the secondary, but got noticed as a special teams player and was moved to wide receiver in November when injuries to teammates pressed him into duty on the offense. He started at the new position for the final three games of that year.
Maehl finished last season on a tear, with five of his six touchdown catches in the final month. He finished the year with 53 catches for 696 yards and was a favorite target of then-quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
Masoli got into some much-publicized trouble in the offseason and was kicked off the team, but Maehl picked up where he left off, developing a rapport with Thomas.
"I feel like it took me a while moving from safety to receiver my freshman year. It took me my sophomore year to really start learning the position at the college level, then my junior year I was steadily improving all through the year," he said. "At the end of the year I had a couple of good games and I just tried to carry that into this year."
Maehl has been climbing the Ducks career lists, albeit quietly.
At the halfway point of this season he has 31 catches for 423 yards and five touchdowns. He had a career-best 10 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown against Washington State on Oct. 9. That extended his streak of games with at least one reception to 27.
With 132 career receptions, Maehl moved past Bobby Moore — now known as Ahmad Rashad — into seventh place on Oregon's career list.
Coach Chip Kelly said he "thinks the world of Jeff."
"He can really run, runs great routes, has a great understanding of what we're trying to do, is really getting a lot better in run-after-the-catch, and doing a lot of different things after he catches the ball," Kelly said. "I think he's one of the top receivers in this league."
Oregon's ever-improving passing attack is a dimension the team seemed to be lacking in past seasons. Maehl said some of the credit should go to new receivers coach Scott Frost, who is best known for being Nebraska's quarterback in the late 1990s.
"We feel like we can make an impact. It just depends on what teams want to stop. If they want to load up the box and try and stop our running game, then they can give us (the receivers) the ball and we'll take it," he said. "I think it's a kind of pick you poison thing for defenses."
The Ducks (6-0, 3-0 Pac-10) had an open date this past weekend and will face UCLA on Thursday night at Autzen Stadium.
While Kelly insisted the rankings don't make a lot of difference, Maehl said the players are well aware of what is happening to the team — being No. 1 and the resulting attention. Only they don't care.
In that sense, the Ducks have completely bought into coach Kelly's 'Win The Day' mentality, which is exactly what separates this season's Ducks from those of years past, Maehl said.
"Back in '07 when we had Dennis, obviously the injury to him really hurt us, and the injuries to everyone else really hurt us," he said. "I think our mindset is a little more focused this year, on who we've got each week, and not looking ahead to what could happen. It's talking one week at a time."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.