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Lokombo turning defence into offence with NCAA’s Ducks

Oregon Ducks linebacker Boseko Lokombo celebrates after returning a blocked punt 25 yards to the end zone against Washington State on Oct. 29. Eric Evans / Oregon Ducks photo

By Dan Kinvig – Abbotsford News
Published: November 18, 2011 1:00 AM

Fans of the NCAA’s Oregon Ducks are learning what Abbotsford football observers have known for years – that Boseko Lokombo has a nose for the end zone.

Back in 2008, after all, Lokombo racked up a province-leading total of 32 touchdowns as a running back during a memorable senior season with the W.J. Mouat Hawks.

Lokombo’s days as a touchdown machine were supposed to be history, more or less, when he headed south of the border to play NCAA ball – the Ducks use him exclusively as a linebacker.

But on those rare occasions when he does get his hands on the ball, Lokombo keeps making things happen.

This season alone, the sophomore has scored a trio of TDs – on a 67-yard interception return against Nevada on Sept. 10; on a 25-yard return of a blocked punt against Washington State on Oct. 29; and on a  40-yard interception against Stanford last Saturday.

Factor in the fumble he recovered and ran back 32 yards for a score against Arizona State last season as a freshman, and we might as well start calling him Big Play Bo at this point.

“It’s been a great year,” Lokombo, 21, marveled in an interview with The News on Wednesday. “I’m working really hard – learning the defence better, watching film, preparing for upcoming games, and just trying to make plays.

“I’ve always been a playmaker, and I want to keep making big plays and always be around the ball.”

Lokombo’s pick-six against Stanford last Saturday was particularly special.

Not only did it put the finishing touches on a huge 53-30 win for the Ducks on national TV, but it also came against Andrew Luck​, the Stanford senior pivot who has been touted as the best quarterbacking prospect since Peyton Manning​. Luck is so talented, he’s inspired a so-called “Suck for Luck” campaign among NFL fans – where supporters of bottom-feeding teams openly root for their teams to lose to enhance their chances of picking him No. 1 overall in next year’s NFL draft.

With less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Ducks leading 46-30, Luck’s pass glanced off a Stanford receiver and bounced into the arms of a hard-charging Lokombo, who turned upfield and won a race to the right corner of the end zone.

“I was just reading his eyes,” Lokombo recounted. “When I caught it, from there, my mind was just telling me to run and keep running. I couldn’t hear anything. It just felt like everything went in slow motion. It was amazing.

“It was extremely special for me, and it obviously helped our defence a lot. Andrew Luck is a great quarterback, and he’s going to do well in the NFL. It’s a moment that I’m going to be able tell my kids about in the future.”

Lokombo’s propensity for TDs is all the more remarkable considering he’s not even a starter at this point in his career. He shares the snaps at the strong-side linebacker spot with senior starter Josh Kaddu. It’s a position that demands versatile athletic skills – the ability to stuff the run, rush the passer, and drop back into coverage, depending on the situation.

At 6’3″, 232 pounds, Lokombo has the athletic measurables to get the job done – during the Ducks’ winter conditioning, he led all linebackers with a 330-pound power clean, a 2.84-second electronically timed 20-yard dash, and a 4.84-second electronic 40-yard dash.

Ducks coach Chip Kelly​ told The Oregonian newspaper that Lokombo has a nose for the ball.

“He’s around the ball and he’s also very athletic so when he catches the ball on an interception he can do some damage with it,” Kelly said.

After redshirting with the Eugene, Ore. program in 2009-10, Lokombo’s freshman year was a memorable one. He and the Ducks went undefeated in the regular season en route to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national title game on Jan. 10, where they dropped a 22-19 decision to an Auburn Tigers squad led by star QB Cam Newton.

This fall, after losing their season-opener to Louisiana State University – currently the NCAA’s top-ranked team – the Ducks have reeled off nine straight wins to move up to No. 4 in the BCS rankings. They’re in great position to return to a prestigious BCS bowl, and even have an outside shot at returning to the national title game, which could mean a rematch with LSU.

Add it all up, and Lokombo, who was born in Kinshasa, Congo and moved to Canada with his family when he was six, is feeling blessed. On Twitter this week (via his @Bodawg25 account), Lokombo was marveling about how much he’s loving life, and said this is “arguably the best” of his three years at Oregon.

“The reason I tweeted that is, I realized I’m one of the only Canadians at the Division 1 level on an elite team, and doing well,” explained Lokombo, a journalism student who has a special interest in electronic media. “It’s pretty special.

“I’m really comfortable, and I’m just having a lot of fun.”

When you live in the end zone like Lokombo, that much is a given.

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