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The Engine that Could: Vernon Adams and his leap of faith to the FBS

Oregon's newest starting quarterback is taking a leap of faith by joining the Ducks. How will this story play out?

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The countdown was officially six hours old by the time the news broke. However, it had been close to seven months since the first hint of an FCS-to-FBS transfer was tantalized before our eyes.

When word officially came down, a fan base rejoiced, rivals snarled, and a whole new precedent had been set – for scholars, for athletes, for those who were told they couldn’t, shouldn’t, and wouldn’t make it.

If it sounds a little fairy-taleish, that’s because it is. Vernon Adams has changed the game. Because he stands a mere 5’11" on a good day, dripping wet at 180 pounds, weighed down by the pressures of being the first, as well as the near-visible chip that resides on his shoulder. Because he was ignored early, then late.

Finally, when no one could ignore him anymore, he took the ball – and his future – and came to Oregon. Coming with him, in shadows, is everyone who couldn’t make the trip before him.

You’ve heard his story before, with other names was attached to it. Too short. Doesn’t measure up. Couldn’t make it with the big boys. Thanks for trying, kid. Best of luck.

But Vernon, thanks to his own will-and-testament, and his willingness to take a chance, could be unlike any of those who walked the ropes of the un-wanted.

He’s taking a risk no one has before. No, he’s not the first player from a lower-division to tangle with the big boys, but to do it in such a high-profile way – at Oregon, nonetheless, a school that won’t shy away from attention – is unheard of.

And the crazy SOB is doing is as a quarterback, too.

When he graduated from Bishop Alemany High School in the San Fernando Valley community of Mission Hills, Ca., he held as many division-1 football offers as I did (zero). This, despite the fact that in his final two seasons he passed for 5,234 yards and 49 touchdowns, rushed for 1,263 yards and 19 more scores, and his teams – willed by Adams’ relentless leadership – went 22-5.

No love.

Talk to his coaches, however, and you quickly find that Adams didn’t sulk; he was thankful for the offers he did get, the ones that would change his life:

Portland State and Eastern Washington. They’re not ‘Bama and Notre Dame, but, hey…it was something.

Leaving the sun-soaked days of Cali behind, he headed to Cheney, WA., blood-red turf and all, to prove a point. He may have been smaller than some in stature, but not in heart. He saw an opportunity to prove all of the god-forsaken coaches who told him he wasn’t cut out for their program -- wasn’t what they were looking for -- wrong.

He did. For three straight unfathomable seasons – some cut short by injuries – he made mincemeat of those who tried to prove those other coaches’ right.

He did it in a way that was almost comical, toying with his competition, turning them into stepping stones on his rise to stardom. He even took on the so-called big-time schools that wouldn’t sniff him.

Talk about making most of the opportunity at hand. Two games against Oregon State and Washington is a small sample size, against teams that won’t sniff the upper half of their own conference, but still: the results are impossible to ignore.

886 yards, 11 touchdowns, zero interception. And as the student bodies of OSU and UW will tell you, zero doubts left.

But will it translate? Can the age-old adage of holding up come into play? College football has been bickering about this for years, especially as it relates to Boise State, who is viewed as just a cute story; all sizzle and no steak.

The arguments against Boise State have always been that there’s no way a program playing in a smaller conference could hold up, week-in-and-week-out, against The Others (for arguments sake, we’ll call the top-5 conferences "The Others". Deal with it). That their once-a-year, show-stopping upsets would be dowsed in realities of weekly competition that is bigger, stronger and faster.

As it stands now, and for the foreseeable future, we won’t know what the boys in blue could do when given a chance. But thanks to Adams’ exemplary math-taking skills, we can now see, on a full-year, individual basis, what happens when an underdog gets his chance.

Like it or not, this may be the best chance for the under-6 foot club to validate itself. But what about Russell Wilson, you say? He needs a phone book at the podium, just like Adams!

True. But Wilson, for some reason unbeknownst to us, was given his shot out of high school. He wasn’t relegated to the underbelly of college football known as FCS; he didn’t fight the perception that he was a minor leaguer, a runt left to fend for his soup. Wilson went straight to the ACC (insert big-time football conference jokes here), then to Wisconsin and the best running game in the country, then to an NFL team where he doesn’t have to do anyth…

…eh, I better stop. You get the point.

To Adams’ credit, he’s taking a leap of faith based on his skill-set alone, and he’s putting his entire future on the line in order to prove he belongs. He doesn’t need Oregon to prove he’s dynamic. The proof is in the YouTube footage. He could dominate for a fourth year in a row, put up ungodly stats and waltz into next year’s combine. There would be questions, sure, but no tape suggesting he couldn’t hang.

He won’t be able to hide in those Duck uni’s. All of his flaws, should there be any (and there will be) will come out in blinding green and yellow colors (and black, and grey, and pink). He’ll be the most scrutinized player in the country, and it won’t even be close. Every maneuver, every missed throw, every failed drive won’t be because his surrounding cast isn’t good enough, it will be because he wasn’t good enough.

When Adams was named the starter yesterday, it was yet another small step in his quest to overcome the stereotypes that have haunted him from the beginning.

That he’s just an FCS-kid trying to hang; just a little brother trying to prove himself to big brother. He should have stayed where he belonged.

But he’s here, ready to win one for all the Rudy’s who couldn’t make it before him.

Thanks for trying, kid. Best of luck.