Jalen Jelks hasn’t been to Oregon’s campus yet and won’t until November when the Ducks host Oregon State for the annual Civil War rivalry game.

He’ll be looking at his home starting next fall for the first time.

The Desert Vista senior committed to continue his football career as a Duck on July 22. The 6-foot-7, 250-pounder felt the need to get the decision done before the Thunder left for camp in Snowflake.

“It might have been a rookie move, but I didn’t want to miss out,” he said. “The top programs get commitments all of the time. All it takes is for another defensive tackle to commit and who knows. I had a totally dominant program take a chance on me so why shouldn’t I take a chance on them as well?”

Jelks said he wasn’t enticed by something as superficial as the uniforms that have become synonymous with the Oregon program.

“That’s what everyone asks, but it’s not it all,” said Jelks, who plays offensive tackle and will be used at several positions on defense for the Thunder. “They beat Pac 12 teams by 20, 30 points. Almost no one plays them close.

“They have great facilities that are going to help me get to be the player I want to be.”

The decision allowed Jelks, who has been working out with the Kennard family, to have a clear mind when the football Thunder descended upon the Snowflake campus and it will carry into his senior year, which gets under way Monday as Desert Vista hosts its first official practice.

“It wasn’t overwhelming, but hectic,” Jelks said of the recruiting process. “I wanted to have a clear mind and this is a game changer. I know where I am going and I don’t have to worry about it. I am totally focused on football and what we need to do as a team.”

It falls in line with what was accomplished in Snowflake and what this year’s senior class is prepared to do in the coming months.

“The seniors are setting really high expectations and we don’t really like hearing all this stuff about it being the year that we just rebuild,” said Jordan Rezac, who will have hip surgery on Aug. 15 and be out at least three months. “(The focus) now is going to be to just shock people and playing hard for one another as a varsity team.”

It’s a similar formula that led to a state title in 2011 and nine wins last year before losing to eventual state champion Hamilton in the quarterfinals.

This team might not have as many big names returning as the previous two years, but the talent level is far from drained.

“Our whole team is being underestimated,” said Jelks, who had 39 tackles and four sacks last year. “We have running backs that lift almost as much as me, guys who can run a 4.3 40 and good wide receivers. Talent can only take you so far the rest is heart and believing in the guy next to you.”

Thunder coach Dan Hinds was pleased with the work over the summer, the bonding that took place in Snowflake, and the attitude of the team heading into the training camp.

The Thunder has four weeks to prepare for its trip to San Diego for a game against Mission Hills at noon on Aug. 31 at Cathedral Catholic High in the Brothers in Arms showcase taking place across the country.

There is a lot of work to be done before then including naming a starting quarterback (Hinds said the decision is close, but nothing official) in the coming weeks, but it is clear this group expects to keep the standard right where their former teammates left it.

“Over the next four weeks we need to be focused every practice,” senior Garrison Schwartz said. “So that once the first game arrives we are all on the same page and are ready to go into war together.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com.

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