Have the Oregon Ducks Found Their Russell Wilson In Vernon Adams?

Vernon Adams

The distance between the cherry-soda turf at Eastern Washington and the football Taj Mahal of the Oregon Ducks is 448 miles, and it took quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr. seven months to make the trip.

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Seven months in which Adams tried to make the bold leap from the height of FCS football to the height of the FBS, only to trip over a math class.

Seven months in which Adams left the womb of the locker room that had nurtured and sustained him for four years only to arrive in limbo. He couldn’t join his new team until he hurdled the math class that stood between him and the undergraduate degree he needed to transfer without redshirting. He failed to pass it in the spring, and had to retake it this summer.

Seven months in which his former coaches and teammates wouldn’t get on the field with him, and his future coaches and teammates couldn’t.

Not that seven months is a long time, but Lewis and Clark made it back to St. Louis in six.

Adams’ expedition concluded Thursday, when he took his math final and then sent out an Instagram that included the news: #EWUalum. That night, Oregon added him to its 105-man roster.

Adams has been painted as the savior of the Ducks, the Russell Wilson-sized playmaker who will replace Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and perform the magic Wilson has created five hours north with the Seattle Seahawks. Adams, his believers say, will do in the Pac-12 what he did while leading the Eagles to three consecutive Big Sky championships. He moves around the backfield like a squirrel on roller skates, and he can drop a football over a receiver’s back shoulder at 40 yards.

He will do all of that and more, unless he doesn’t.

Unless Adams doesn’t beat out Jeff Lockie, Mariota’s best friend in the locker room and heir apparent. Unless Adams can’t learn the offense and his teammates and the campus and be comfortable two weeks from Saturday, when Eastern Washington, his former team, comes to Autzen.

Unless Vernon Adams gambled on himself and lost.

In the end, that’s what the transfer is. Adams pushed in all his chips — his career, his friendships, his comfort zone, his time with his 13-month-old son, who remained in Washington with his mother — and told the dealer to deal.

“It can either work out really good for me or it can be not so good for me, you know?” Adams said. “Either I’m not ready for the speed of the game and I was meant to stay at Eastern, or I am and it’s going to boost everything else and it’s going to help me get to where I need to get to.”

That place that Adams needs to get may be a professional career, or a college coaching career, personal goals that he believes will be more attainable at Oregon than at Eastern Washington, where he has been the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award (the FCS equivalent of the Heisman) in each of the last two seasons.

Dean Herrington, Adams’ coach at Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany High, thinks Adams will win his bet.

Herrington floated the idea of a transfer to Adams at the end of last season. Herrington suggested UCLA, but Adams thought there would be too many distractions at home. Herrington called Oregon graduate assistant Joe Bernardi, who had played high school football for Herrington’s brother. That moment is forever etched in Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich’s memory. Or not.

“I don’t remember,” Helfrich said, laughing. Turns out his staff gets calls from players interested in transferring to Oregon almost every day.

Adams, on the other hand, remembers the class he was in (Budgeting), the time (11 a.m.), the building (Physical Education) and the Duck assistant who called him (receivers coach Matt Lubick) in January.

“On the iPhone, it said, ‘Eugene, Oregon,'” Adams said. “I was showing everybody in class. ‘Look! Oregon called me!'”

Sometimes a Duck assistant will remember the player from high school recruiting. Adams needed no re-introduction. The Ducks’ offensive staff and players had seen Adams take apart two Pac-12 defenses on coaching video. He opened the 2013 season by accounting for 518 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in leading the Eagles to a 49-46 upset of No. 25 Oregon State.

Last season, Adams threw for 475 yards and seven touchdowns when the Eagles pushed Washington to the brink of an upset before succumbing, 59-52.

Or, as senior wide receiver Bralon Addison recalled saying, “‘Oh, that’s the guy we were watching ripping guys on film!’ Before I actually knew his name, we knew him by No. 3 on Eastern Washington. We would see him play against guys we were scouting. He’s a good player. When we heard the name, I put two and two together. Oh yeah, this guy can help a lot.”

“Marcus was really impressed with him,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “I remember that. I didn’t know much about Vernon as a kid. It’s so different talking to a guy that’s been playing for three years as opposed to a freshman because they get it a little more. They understand. I’ve been impressed with him. I think he’s going to fit in real well.”

Still, Frost described the transfer as “a little dangerous.”

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Ivan Maisel

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