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Risky Business: 49ers Take a Flyer on Masoli

Trouble-prone local product a dicey signing; former Heisman-contending QB listed as running back.

Does Jeremiah Masoli have a greater chance of making a touchdown in the NFL or starring in another police report?

Sure, that’s a snarky question. Even so, the 49ers’ signing of the local product with the checkered past seems unduly risky.

The last thing the 49ers need is extra baggage.

With a new coaching staff needing to install its schemes at warp speed after losing invaluable teaching opportunities to the lockout, and an ownership needing to gain public backing for a new stadium, the organization simply can’t afford any missteps. Factor in widespread roster turnover and rumors of a Frank Gore holdout, and the training camp that starts Friday is sounding more and more frenzied.

So why bring in Masoli, a player whose career has been marred by repeated run-ins with the law, and one who will apparently be asked to make a tough position change just to make the 49ers roster?

Masoli’s talent has never been the issue. He quarterbacked City College of San Francisco to a state championship in 2007 and enjoyed two standout years at Oregon that included making the Sports Illustrated cover and leading the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl in 15 years.

But that talent has also come with a heavy helping of off-field woes. Masoli’s promising career at Serra High School came to an abrupt end after he was convicted of robbery along with five other boys in San Mateo in the summer before his senior season. He spent 90 days in Hillcrest Juvenile Hall and was expelled from Serra.

Nearly five years later, Masoli pled guilty to the burglary of an Oregon fraternity house – an incident that came less than a month after the Ducks’ 26-17 Rose Bowl defeat to Ohio State – and was suspended for the 2010 season, a year in which he was on the short list of early Heisman Trophy contenders. A few months after that, he was kicked off the team for good after being cited for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license during a traffic stop.

Masoli’s reputation has taken so many hits that he established a website whose purpose seems to be largely to set the record straight about his exact transgressions. Apparently, his legend wasn’t matching up with reality after several media outlets reported embellished charges. The ‘Media Mistakes’ section makes for fascinating reading. Masoli wasn’t involved in a string of strong-armed robberies; it was one isolated instance. He wasn’t arrested for burglarizing the frat house or for marijuana possession; he was cited in those instances. And so on.

Now, after transferring and playing his final season at Ole Miss, Masoli is back in the Bay Area, hoping to catch on with the pro team he watched as a kid. After going undrafted in the spring, he signed with San Francisco this week as a free agent.

But after playing quarterback his entire career, the 49ers are initially listing Masoli as a running back. Let’s get this straight. The team thinks his best chance of succeeding as a pro may be to switch him to a totally foreign position – during a year in which there were no minicamps or opportunities to study the playbook until about six weeks before the regular season begins?

Yes, Masoli was viewed as a strong runner as a quarterback in college, but this signing smacks of taking a flyer on a player. That’s always the case with undrafted free agents. They bring nothing to the table but upside, right?

Well, Masoli’s track record shows he’s far from a low-risk proposition.

As a threat with his arm and legs, he may prove to be a great fit in a Wildcat package – which would make him an asset for the 49ers. But if his more noteworthy wildcat exploits come off the field, the San Francisco native could prove to be a public relations nightmare.

It’s the age-old risk-reward debate.

For Masoli’s sake and that of the 49ers, let’s hope he’s worth the gamble.

Troy July 29, 2011 at 04:18 AM
Good article, thanks. I did not have all this information. A lot of good points.
Chris Corbett July 29, 2011 at 04:18 AM
You are going to have every man who reads Patch viewing this. It might break records for "hits." At first, I thought I was on sfgate.com. I did a double take! This is a refreshing change...
LM July 29, 2011 at 06:14 PM
Scott, You failed to mention the investigative report from SI.com or even list his website for reference: www.jeremiahmasoli.net. Many family and friends of his family live here in the Bay area and will vouch for a kid who made a few bad decisions hanging with the wrong crowd. In all your negative points, you also failed to point out that despite being kicked off the Oregon team, he stayed in Eugene (as the most hated man on/off campus) to complete his Bachelors' Degree. As the SI.com article by McKnight points out, he took a plea deal because none of the then witnesses would talk - especially the players. But they did talk for the story. It's linked on the front page of his website. Hopefully you will interview him after he makes the team, maybe after speaking to the young man you'll change your mind. Being close to the family, he'll never put his family thru something like that again. He's all about making the right decisions. BTW, I believe Coach H knows how to judge a person, I'm glad he took the 'risk'. One thing we do agree upon...wildcat package!!! He will be a great weapon for the team.
Troy July 29, 2011 at 06:31 PM
If he has a Bachelor's degree he shouldn't have a problem getting a job. We don't need another Michael Vick type tarnishing the 49er's image. Any one agree?
Jeff Groton July 29, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Nice article, Scott! First off, he would be a better fit for the Raiders. The 49ers have a history of class, while the Raiders seem to get characters with a spotty past. Second, did the 49ers not learn anything from drafting Alex Smith? A QB with many wins and championships on his resume, college spread offense product of a system, undersized, needing substantial adjustments to fit the pro mold...the only hope for the 49ers is that Masoli turns out to be a better running back than Smith became at the position he was seemingly already trained for. Huge gamble. Long term 49er success and a return to glory may depend on finding your way into the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Trust me, as you know I'm a Broncos fan, and that's my only hope as well. Oh yeah, speaking of the Broncos, how did their Maurice Clarett gamble pay off? The 9ers should have remembered that one.
Big Hurt July 29, 2011 at 10:04 PM
Can anyone say 'Lawrence Phillips?' ... I had high hopes that the Harbaugh-Baalke regime wouldn't make the team a win-at-all-costs organization. I'd rather have SF be an embarrassment on the field than off. Masoli may not be a ticking timebomb, but as a UFA he isn't a smart choice. But hey, even with Crabtree out indefinitely, a Gore holdout, butterfingers Smith back at QB and a defense with fewer playmakers than last year, Masoli may help SF still make some headlines. That's what the NFL is all about, no?
9erFaithful July 30, 2011 at 12:43 AM
You do realize you're writing about a young man's childhood? Juvenile Hall, plea deal, marijuana possession. I am a 49er faithful but spare me the talk about a classy organization. This is NFL football not Congress or the next head of Calvary Christian church. There are a-lot more pressing 9er issues to write about then a coming of age athlete trying to fulfill a dream with a checkered past! Key word "PAST." I mean it's not like he raped a girl and still making millions as a basketball Laker. Go write about Tiger Woods if you need a target to sound off on. They're older and make way more $$$.
Jim Hunter July 30, 2011 at 08:55 PM
Robbery, burglary and drugs? That sounds like Strike 1, Strike 2 and Strike 3 to me. Shame on the Niners. I love rooting for homegrown players to make it big. But my heart is not in it with Masoli.
MA July 31, 2011 at 12:35 AM
I really enjoyed reading this. I think Masoli deserves an honest chance with the Niners. Like any other athlete, he needs to make sure he's a good role model going forward. He's now going to be held to a higher standard than he was previously, and this is his chance to prove himself to us.
Jess Brown August 01, 2011 at 06:32 PM
I'm interested in how the Serra community and Oregon alums feel about Jeremiah Masoli playing for the 49ers. Whether these groups see any red flags seems significant. But if those close to organizations jilted by Masoli in the past don't raise their eyebrows at the 49ers' pickup, then I don't think the rest of us necessarily should.
Hot Air August 01, 2011 at 09:38 PM
This cat flushed a golden opportunity at the Heisman and a BCS title down the toilet. So why should we assume Masoli’s a reformed man? Hopefully the smell of green (some fat NFL paychecks) is enough to keep his nose clean. But if the Niners so much as get a whiff of another green substance (think Masoli’s glove compartment up in Eugene), it should be adios, Jeremiah. It seems a stretch he can catch on at RB, or as a Wildcat option, but we all know the Niners can’t rule out any potential playmakers. How can SF sit idly as nearly every other team gets busy in the free-agent bonanza?! Get moving, Baalke!
Paul Padilla August 02, 2011 at 05:18 AM
When I first heard he had signed, I said no way. But this article expressed facts that I did not know. It does seem that he wants to redeem himself. Judging from the crimes, I say give him a shot. Who knows? He could be the diamond in the rough the 9ers uncover this year. Honestly, with the way the 9ers are handling the free agency market and the way our players are going down like flies I'm all for finding the Cody Ross's of the world to help put the 9ers.
Scott Campbell August 02, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Those interested can hear from Masoli himself. Just heard he's set to join the Fitz and Brooks Show on KNBR 680 in a few minutes -- 12:15 p.m.
Chris Corbett August 02, 2011 at 07:22 PM
awesome, thanks!
Scott Campbell August 03, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Here's a link where you can find and listen to Masoli's KNBR interview earlier today. No fireworks. No tough questions. The biggest tidbit of information? Masoli said he’s played exclusively quarterback so far in camp. He said he's been doing a solid job and learning a ton from Harbaugh. http://knbr.com/ShowsSchedule/FitzandBrooks/tabid/594/Default.aspx
Chris Corbett August 03, 2011 at 12:35 AM
This is so cool--national sports on a local platform, linked accordingly and appropriately, of course!
Chris Corbett August 04, 2011 at 03:58 AM
Jed York was on KNBR today, and I could not have been less impressed! He is a joke. I don't care if he has a top notch education and wealth; he could not answer questions, sidestepped the ones he didn't like, and was an all-around horrible rep for the Niners. To top it off, he backs Harbaugh's decision to keep our current struggling QB...I wish his mother chose a non-family member for thus all-important job of president.
Jim Hunter August 04, 2011 at 07:11 PM
York was the driving force behind bringing in Harbaugh, a coveted coach. That’s gotta count for something. But I think the Wonder Boy is being judged largely on whether he gets a new stadium. And to date, that’s been a big flop. I can’t believe San Franciscans approved the stadium deal in 1997 … and we still are at a standstill. Sad.
Chris Corbett August 04, 2011 at 07:15 PM
It does count for something! However, I need a new QB, and it seems that we are keeping Alex Smith because we can't get anyone better. This is unacceptable!
Jim Hunter August 11, 2011 at 12:06 AM
It looks like Masoli is gonna be the 3rd QB. How many undrafted, 5-foot-11 QB's have any success in the NFL?! ... As for the Alex Smith thing, it's clear he's the place-holder until Kaepernick is ready. I kinda understand why the Niners brought Smith back. Harbaugh got to hand him the playbook before the lockout. Anyone else SF brought in wouldn't have gotten to dive into the playbook till late July -- which would've been a disaster. Kaepernick is the future. Let's hope he isn't forced into action prematurely, stunting his development.
Timothy Rath August 13, 2011 at 01:51 PM
Great story. Jeremiah Masoli is an unfortunate name to have in the respect that everyone will always remember what they've read about you, not like a John Smith. From a personal perspective, it seems to me that if the man is willing to show up back home after his transgressions in the city, then he deserves respect, if not a chance on the field. From the football and business perspective, this guy has proven himself in both the Pac-10 and the SEC, two of the toughest conferences to play in. The potential payoff outweighs the risk.

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