Star in the making
Former Paradise High football standout sets his sights on a championship
Paradise High School graduate Jeff Maehl is arguably the biggest local sports success story since Chico’s Aaron Rodgers, the star quarterback of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. He’s not a household name yet, but that could change in the coming year.
Maehl is the top receiver for the No. 1-ranked U.S. college football team, the University of Oregon. His team stands undefeated at a perfect 10-0 and is averaging a whopping 50 points per game. If the Ducks win their final two games of the regular season, they will play for the biggest prize of all—the national title on Jan. 10 in the NCAA Bowl Championship Series game.
The 21-year-old Maehl is somewhat overwhelmed by his accomplishments, which includes setting the school’s all-time record for most touchdowns scored in a single year: 11. That feat came during the team’s Nov. 13 victory over Cal Berkeley (15-13).
“It’s been a wild ride, and I can’t believe four years have already gone by,” he said during a recent interview.
Maehl, a senior sociology major, made a special trip home on Friday (Nov. 19) to be showcased during Paradise High’s football playoff game in which Paradise trounced Pleasant Valley 53-0. He was the first athlete in the school’s 56-year history to have his jersey number retired.
The CN&R caught up with him the next day, as he relaxed at his mother Lucy’s spacious, newer home for a few hours with his girlfriend before driving back to Oregon.
“It was a real honor to be appreciated by my old school yesterday,” he said, modestly. “With all the success I’m having now, it made it easier for them to retire my number.”
Maehl was dressed casually, his lean but muscular 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound body topped by a green U of O baseball cap pulled tightly over his wavy brown hair. His mother’s well-kept house announced her loyalty at every turn. On the front lawn two small, green flags with the school’s “O” waved in the wind. Two bright-yellow, foot-tall “O”s adorned the front windows, and inside were a dozen or so of his college’s decorations placed about. He sat at the living room table covered with a green U of O tablecloth upon which rested a handful of mini yellow ducks.
With football and college, Maehl’s trips south to his mom’s and dad’s homes, in Chico and Paradise, respectively, are infrequent. At Christmas he usually has only two to three days to spend with family, and this Thanksgiving he has no time for travel since his team plays the next day. Instead, his parents and grandparents will travel to Oregon this week for the holiday.
Family life is very important to Maehl.
“My mom and dad have been my greatest supporters,” he said. “They’ve made it to all my home games and most of my away games.”
Lucy beamed: “It’s well worth it, and it’s like a vacation every time I see him play.”
Maehl’s rising popularity has been mostly positive, but it can sometimes be uncomfortable, he admitted.
“In Eugene, especially, they’re starting to recognize my face a little more, but to be honest it’s not something that I necessarily like,” he said. “It can affect your personal life, but I know it comes with the territory and people are really mostly respectful.”
In addition to playing football, Maehl played soccer, basketball and baseball while growing up. In fact, back in high school he thought basketball was the sport he would continue to play at the university level. A testament to Maehl’s athletic versatility is the fact that he played the vast majority of his freshman year at Oregon as a defensive back before his meteoric rise on offense.
“It’s crazy to think about how far I’ve come switching from defense to offense,” he said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my teammates and coaching staff.”
Maehl realizes he’ll probably be drafted by the NFL, but he’s diplomatic when questioned about where he would like to play. “Right now I’m just focused on getting this team to a national championship, which would be unbelievable,” he said. “We have to treat the next two games like they’re the championship.”