Following the departure of Marcus Mariota, Coach Mark Helfrich began the quest to find a grad transfer that could immediately fill the shoes of Oregon’s legendary Heisman winner. In walked Vernon Adams Jr. - Eastern Washington’s star quarterback.
In hindsight, the Duck’s 2015 team had a plethora of problems, most of which had nothing to do with the offensive side of the ball. Although the season as a whole is one that most Duck fans would be glad to forget, no one can put the blame on Vernon Adams Jr. (AKA Big Play VA).
Despite an injured throwing hand, despite the stress of competing against his old team, despite playing with an inconsistent offensive line and downright bad defense, and despite only three weeks of practice before the season began - Big Play VA had one of the most impressive seasons in Oregon Duck history.
Addicted to Quack was lucky enough to chat with Vernon Adams Jr. This is part one of a two-part series in which we breakdown his brief but eventful career as a Duck.
ATQ: Who were some of your closest friends on the team?
VA: Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, those are my dudes. Bralon Addison, he got me though, he was the one that got me to Oregon. He was my host, and he was telling me like “Yeah, man, I need you here, bro. I need you to come here.” And Dwayne Stanford, I was cool with him, too.
I’m cool with everybody, you know what I’m saying, I’m cool with everybody - I’m the QB. Those four dudes are probably the dudes who I kicked it with the most outside of football. Devon Allen, he’s a cool dude, man, he’s a cool dude. I’m like super close with his family now, you know what I’m saying? Like, I call his auntie, auntie, and his dad, pops. We were really close. He was always giving me rides to and from practice. We had a lot of freestyle sessions together.
ATQ: What made you decide to transfer to Oregon?
VA: There’s a few reasons. For one, growing up, Oregon was my dream school. I always played with them on NCAA, the college game… I liked the uniform, and if you’ve ever seen me play, I’m a pretty swaggy quarterback. I’m out there wearing swag and stuff, and looking pretty up there, looking nice.
Also, like I said, growing up a fan and they were the first team to really recruit me, going through that whole process. They were the first team to come at me and say hey, we need you, like, we want you on our team. They came to my house that same week and was really serious about it. So, I took my visit that weekend and it was an amazing place. Everybody, man, felt like they really wanted me there and there was a fan environment, and the uniforms, and the fans, and everything, the Nike connection, everything, from top to bottom.
It was high class, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it at Eastern Washington. They treated me so well there, like I never thought I’d ever be treated. It was a hard decision, and the last thing- I really thought it’d give me a better shot at playing at the next level.
ATQ: What was the transition like from Eastern Washington to Oregon in terms of learning the playbook?
VA: I had three weeks to get adapted to it, and I went hard. I was up at the facility pretty much at 6 AM, two hours before everybody else would get there, and then stay til 9, two hours (or) three hours after everybody left.
During lunch breaks, and everybody’s going to take naps in the middle of training camp, I was up at the facility meeting with Coach Greatwood or Coach Lubick just to figure out how the linemen gonna block on this play, how the receivers gonna run their route on this play. Just really trying to get the playbook down, cause I knew I wasn’t transferring there for no reason. I knew I was transferring there to be the starter.
ATQ: How often did you find yourself throwing out the playbook and scrambling?
VA: I’d probably say 25 to 50 percent. Almost half the time I be doing that, because if I didn’t get it off to my first read in time, and then by my second and third, pressure’s coming. That’s a big part of my game, scrambling and then extending the play, and there was a few times a game where I know I shouldn’t have done it, and I don’t do it now.
...I only had three weeks to learn the offense so sometimes in the game I didn’t know the play and I’d be like ‘okay, think’. I would forget, so, I’d be like, I’m gonna do a three-step drop and then run around and whoever comes open comes open.
ATQ: How surreal was it to play against your old team in your first game as a Duck?
VA: It was crazy. It was like it was practice. It was kind of weird seeing all my boys over there. I was just happy to get that game over with. I didn’t like the way the game ended, ya know, cause I got hurt. I was happy to get it over with and get all the beef out of the way with all the Eastern fans, cause they were beefin’ with me there for a minute.
I can say I got at least fifty percent of them back, but when I first transferred they were all mad at me, everybody was mad at me. Especially because we were playing each other first game of the season. Then after that, it kind of died down.
ATQ: Did you immediately realize the extent of your injury after that first game?
VA: I kind of knew as I was walking off the field. Like, I got hit, and my finger somehow got caught and it broke right there. I kind of hit my head, too. It looked like I got up slow.
I was walking off the field and I’m like, damn, my finger hurts. And they’re thinking I’m concussed and I was looking at my finger and it was crooked, and I’m like “I think my finger is broken,” and they were like, “No, we’re not gonna worry about your finger. You’re concussed.”
We started going through the concussion protocol and I passed everything quick, and I’m like, “Can you look at my finger now?” They finally looked at my finger in the locker room and they were like, “Oh, yeah, it’s broke.”
ATQ: Was your finger in pain during the Michigan State game? Was there any discussion with the coaches about sitting on the bench for the game?
VA: So, Oregon’s rule was if you don’t practice during the week you don’t play. So, when they told me that, I said “Okay, well, I’ll try to practice.” I tried to throw a bubble route, a quick little five-yard bubble route. I couldn’t even throw it. I skipped it to him. So I said, “I guess I’m not playing next week.”
Basically, they told me they needed me to play. I didn’t practice all week against Michigan State, but when we got out there, they said, “This is on national television and we need you to play.” We shot my finger up, I played, and I guess I broke my finger a little more because I was, like, stiff-arming and I couldn’t feel it, ya know? I wasn’t supposed to play until we got out there Friday and they told me ‘we need you to play.’
Below is a recap of the Oregon - Michigan State game, focusing on Oregon’s highlights. Normally I wouldn’t include such a long clip, but I find this fascinating after hearing the extent of Adams’ injury; despite having a severely damaged finger, Adams’ finished 22-39, 309 YDS, 1 TD and 2 INT. His favorite target, Bralon Addison, had a memorable game as well - finishing with 138 YDS on 7 receptions.