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Vernon Adams’ most unusual odyssey

Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. celebrates an Oregon touchdown against TCU during the first half of the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2. He later suffered a concussion and did not play in the second half when TCU staged a dramatic comeback.
Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. celebrates an Oregon touchdown against TCU during the first half of the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2. He later suffered a concussion and did not play in the second half when TCU staged a dramatic comeback.

Nothing went as planned in 2015 for Vernon Adams Jr.

But as the former Eastern Washington quarterback likes to say, it wasn’t his plan.

“I like to think it was all in God’s hands,” Adams said of a year that began and ended with improbable dreams – some already realized and others within his grasp.

But even as Adams takes the next step – into professional football and perhaps the National Football League – he couldn’t help but look back in amazement at an unforgettable year where the peaks and valleys were as outsized as Adams’ own ambition.

Every season of Adams’ life in 2015 began with questions and ended in exclamations:

  • Spring began with his unprecedented move from the FCS football to FBS. For several months he was a man without a team as he tried to stay in shape at a strip-mall health club in Cheney. Spring ended in the joy of Adams becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree.
  • Summer opened with some unfinished business, a math class that needed completion before he could enroll as a grad student at Oregon. Deadlines came and went, but Adams passed the final test after fall camp was under way. Late to the party at fall camp, he still won the starting spot for the Ducks.
  • Fall started with more adversity, as Adams missed almost half a season after suffering a broken finger against his old teammates. However, by year’s end Adams was the highest-rated passer in the nation; by most accounts, he saved the Ducks from a disastrous season.

The Ducks still ended the season in embarrassing fashion, blowing a 31-0 halftime lead against TCU in the Alamo Bowl after Adams took a hard hit late in the second quarter.

“I was blacked out for five or 10 seconds, but I honestly thought I could play, but the doc said my balance was off,” Adams told The Spokesman-Review earlier this week.

“I passed every other test,” Adams said, who meant the Oregon concussion protocol but might as well have been talking about his entire football career.

Too short to get noticed out of high school, the Los Angeles native took his talents to Cheney and rewrote the EWU and Big Sky Conference record books while leading the Eagles to three straight Big Sky Conference titles.

Finding success in the shadows, Adams sought the spotlight and a chance to impress the same experts who’d shunned him in his youth. The move to Oregon was fraught with risk, but once he made the announcement on Feb. 9, Adams forged ahead.

“Oregon it is!” He announced on Twitter.

But by early summer, doubt lurked everywhere, even in Adams’ own mind. Cool in the pocket, he anguished over two failed attempts to pass a final math class required for graduate admission at Oregon.

He had a backup plan that was more about panic than poise: He considered bolting from Eugene and trying out with a Canadian Football League team.

“I wasn’t sure about anything anymore,” Adams said. He was talked off the ledge by family members who urged him to stick with it.

“I’m sure glad I did,” Adams said.

Emotions stayed close to the surface for the season opener against Eastern, where his game was honed. Quarterbacks coach Zak Hill provided the fundamentals, former receivers coach Junior Adams “kept me loose and let me go out there and have fun,” and head coach Beau Baldwin taught him poise and toughness.”

Moments after the Ducks’ 61-42 win, Adams and Baldwin embraced at midfield. The emotions were genuine, and they stay in touch to this day.

The game also reunited Adams with former teammates whom he still calls “friends for life.” He joined some of them last summer in Richland for the wedding of wide receiver Cooper Kupp, and he stays in close touch with receivers Kendrick Bourne and Shaq Hill.

“I still miss those guys,” Adams said this week.

The game was marred by a late hit on Adams by EWU linebacker John Kreifels, who later called to apologize. Adams broke the index finger in his throwing hand on that same play, and didn’t fully heal until midseason.

By then the Ducks – who’d played for the national title the year before – were 3-3. With Adams at the controls, they never lost again and finished the regular season 9-3.

Along the way, Adams finished as the national leader in yards per attempt (10.2) and passing efficiency (179.1) while completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 2,643 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Beyond the numbers, Adams directed thrilling wins at Arizona State (61-55 in triple overtime) and Stanford (38-36 against the eventual Rose Bowl champions). He was at his best on Nov. 21 against USC, throwing six touchdown passes against one of the teams that ignored the 5-foot-11 high-schooler.

Adams didn’t see it that way, preferring to remember the game as a chance to compete against some childhood friends from Southern California.

Adams is there now. On Wednesday he Tweeted a video of himself from Anaheim, wearing Mickey Mouse ears while he romped with his son Vernon Cash Adams III.

His 18-month-old son fuels the dreams and the hard work. Adams signed with an agent shortly after the Alamo Bowl, and this week started two-a-days. He will fly to Florida this weekend to prepare for the East-West game on Jan. 23 in St. Petersburg.

Adams’ goal is simple” to gain an invite into next month’s NFL combine. He’s still 5-11, but figures his stature has grown. He’s projected to be drafted as early as the third round, or not at all.

“I know there’s still doubters out there, but I’m going to work my butt off,” Adams said.

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