(This is Part 2 of a two part discussion with Vernon Adams Jr. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here!)
Vernon Adams’ injury during the first game of his Oregon career derailed a talent-laden offense. When Big Play VA was healthy, he was one of the best players in the country. In the final six games of the season, he completed 112 of 169 passes for 1, 865 yards and 21 touchdowns. He delivered wins over three of Oregon’s fiercest rivals - Washington, Stanford and Oregon State - and postponed the collapse of a formerly elite program.
Joey Harrington’s intercepted pass against Stanford on third-and-1. Dennis Dixon’s ill-fated juke against Arizona. Michael Dyer’s bogus run. A late hit on Vernon Adams Jr. by his former teammate John Kreifels. These are the plays that will have Duck fans forever pondering what could have been.
ATQ: Duck fans all around the country want to thank you for beating Washington and contributing to our historic 12-game win streak!
VA: I always loved playing Washington, just because I played them twice at Eastern and lost both times. I redshirted the first time, didn’t play, we lost by three, and the second time we lost by four, high scoring game.
...I loved playing at Washington because their fans were always rowdy, super loud, kind of like the 12th man in Seattle. I was so happy to be a part of that history and keep it going. That was my first game back, Darren Carrington’s first game back, and we both went off. It was pretty awesome extending that.
ATQ: You played in one of the most unbelievably thrilling games in Duck history against ASU in Tempe. Can you break down that 4th down play to go into overtime from your perspective? Was it a blur or did it feel like slow motion?
VA: Man, It’s really instinct, but let me tell you how it all went down. So, it’s fourth down, coach calls in the play. So we got three receivers to the right, and it’s basically he wanted the two inside receivers to clear the DBs and Dwayne Stanford to run like an eight-yard in, and he wanted me to throw it at Dwayne Stanford on an in-route.
And all the DBs knew it was fourth and goal, or fourth and nine, or whatever. So they were all standing on the goal line. All of them. All standing across the goal line. I’m thinking in my head these are one of those plays; I’m gonna take a three-step drop and I’m gonna scramble. So, I took my three-step drop, and as I looked on film later... Dwayne Stanford was wide open. I could’ve just thrown it to him, it could have been so much easier than what I did. So, I took my three-step drop, didn’t even look at Dwayne. Coach told me “Dwayne’s gonna be open, if he aint open, the clear outs gonna be open or something. So just find something.”
Didn’t look at him; I was looking at the rush. I just started running around and just the instinct took over and Dwayne just kept floating across the field while everybody else was coming to the right with me, and I seen Dwayne floating to the left… and as I was throwing it, that’s when I seen Johnny Mundt over there, too. I could’ve thrown it further for him and it could’ve been easier. They ran into each other, caught the ball, and it was awesome.
One of my favorite, probably top three, one of my favorites.
ATQ: You grew up a diehard USC fan. How did it feel to play against your favorite team and against some of your hometown friends?
VA: I was going to their games when they had Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Matt Leinart, just going way back. I mean, I was going to their games as a young guy. Watching those dudes, I always wanted to go to SC.
Growing up, a lot of people didn’t think I was gonna go to college, or be what I am today. A lot of people weren’t believing in me, and when we were playing SC that week, everybody was telling me, like my boy Kevon Seymour who’s from Pasadena, he was a corner, and my boy Steven Mitchell, he’s from Pasadena, they were like, “Oh yeah, they gonna go to work on y’all. Kevon’s gonna pick you off…” And it just kinda reminded me of how everybody would not believe in me (when) I was younger.
My dad was coming to the game, too, and I play my best games when my dad is (at) my game. He was at the Arizona State game, too, and at the Stanford game. I was like, it’s over for them, I already knew we were gonna win.
ATQ: We need to get your Dad some season tickets to Oregon is what it sounds like.
VA: Aww, man. Heck yeah!
ATQ: You were undeniably the most valuable player of the season that year. This was proven in the second half of the Alamo Bowl. Feel free to skip this question if you wish, but Duck fans have a morbid curiosity about what the sideline was like during that second half. How did the coaching staff and players react throughout the historic second half?
VA: Maaaaan, everything was going so good, and then I ran the ball and got hit, but I shoulda handed it off. So, I apologize to my Oregon fans. I shoulda handed it off to the best running back in the nation, Royce Freeman, but I kept it and I supposedly got concussed, which I didn’t really think I was, but they said I was. All I said was my neck was a little sore, that was it, but I passed the concussion test and everything, but they still kept me out. They hid my helmet and everything. I couldn’t even find my helmet.
And I was on the sideline just watching the game and the whole energy coming out the second half. I couldn’t really do much. I was going around trying to keep people up and everything, but the energy and the vibe, and every time they would score I’m looking at our coaches and they look like they have nothing to do. I don’t know, everything looked like it was going down as the second half just kept going, and I was like, oh my gosh, I want to get back in. Let me walk around and try to pump people up as much as I can and it just wasn’t enough.
ATQ: What was the transition like from College Football to the CFL?
VA: It’s a huge difference. It was really hard. Just playing american football for 20 years of my life, you know what I’m saying, and then coming to a Canadian game, it’s like yeah it’s still football, but it’s different for quarterbacks. It’s different for everybody, but really for quarterbacks with the field being wider, the field being longer, only having three downs, so the two-and-outs are quick two-and outs. You’ve got to get something on first or everybody knows you’re passing on second down.
It was a big adjustment for me and I’m still learning, and I’ve been under some great quarterbacks so far. I’ve learned from hall of fame quarterbacks, like Tom Bradys of the CFL, who’s got a few grey cups under their belts. I’ve been pretty blessed my first three years, I’ve played for two different teams and just got traded to my third team this offseason.
I’m with Jeremiah Masoli now, so you know, he’s number one right now, I’m number two, and we’re battling, and we want to do a camp down in Oregon this Summer!
ATQ: What do you think of Oregon’s team this year?
VA: I’m excited. I’m excited for them. Everybody wants them to get back to their winning ways, you know, they were doing so good in the Marcus Mariota era, and then I kind of came in and we did all right, and then that’s when it really started going down, and then it kind of went down the year after that, and the next year was basic, and then this year was alright.
I’m just excited, ya know, new head coach, the guys seem like they like him. I talked to him one time; he seems cool. I didn’t really meet with Taggart and the other guys. Coach Taggart didn’t really seem like he messed with me like that - I reached out to him a few times and he didn’t really say nothing, but Coach Cristobal, he reached out to me. That’s huge, ya know, make the alumni feel like they can come back.
I'm excited for that. I want to see young D Mitchell. Yeah, I want to see what he’s got. All these guys, all these young guys, I want to see what they got. And Justin, he’s going into his, what, junior year? He’s got the size. He’s got everything. We just need him to be healthy for these full next two years, and man, he’s got NFL body, he’s got first round, he’s got everything that everybody wants. We just need him to be healthy and lead the team like we know he will.