Vernon Adams placed a knee onto Eastern Washington’s red turf, grabbed a football and proceeded to fire short, quick passes to Miles Richardson, his friend and former backup quarterback.
Behind the former two-time Walter Payton Award candidate hung a poster-like banner of Adams and his laundry list of accolades.
He was recently back at Roos Field giving a helping hand at EWU Pro Day, catching up with old teammates and coaches before reporting to the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes next month.
Clad in a black EWU football shirt and a necklace with a sizable No. 3 pendant, Adams, who racked up 11,463 yards and 121 touchdowns for the Eagles in three seasons, felt at home in his rare return to Cheney.
That wasn’t always the case four years ago.
Adams wasn’t allowed to use the Eagles’ weight room – on former head coach Beau Baldwin’s orders – as he finished his degree.
Baldwin, now the offensive coordinator at California, wasn’t interested in helping his Week 1 opponent.
After leading EWU to three Big Sky Conference titles and a pair of FCS national semifinal games, Adams, one of the division’s most productive and electrifying talents, announced his decision to play his final college season at Oregon while he was still enrolled at EWU.
Oregon opened its 2015 season against EWU and Adams went on to rack up 346 total yards and two touchdowns in a 61-42 win over the Eagles at Autzen Stadium.
He did well in Eugene, too.
Oregon and an injury-riddled Adams – he missed three games due to a broken finger – went on to reach the Alamo Bowl, a game in which the shifty QB helped the Ducks build a 31-0 lead over TCU before getting knocked out of the game with concussion symptoms just before halftime.
Without the services of Adams – the Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year and East-West Shrine Game MVP – Oregon went on to lose 47-41 in overtime.
Adams is now 26 years old, a father and entering his fourth season in the CFL, where he’s primarily a backup (1,056 total yards and 11 touchdowns in nine appearances) and gunning for the starting job this spring.
Minicamp tryouts with the Seahawks and Redskins didn’t pan out for the 5-foot-11 signal-caller after going undrafted in 2016.
He recently discussed a range of topics with The Spokesman-Review.
SR: How are things going in Montreal? Are you liking the French-Canadian city?
VA: It’s fun. You can get caught up in it, but I’ve definitely been working on my professionalism. I’ve definitely changed. I signed a two-year contract back in October, an extension, so I am blessed to do that.
It’s been fun. It’s a good city, but the Canadian football is a different type of game. You have to earn your stripes. You can get your opportunity and go out and have fun with it.
What’s it like seeing three of the CFL’s nine teams have a former EWU quarterback? Is it now kind of known around Canada that a little school in Washington is a quarterback factory?
VA: Right, because you have (CFL MVP and two-time Grey Cup winner) Bo Levi Mitchell in Calgary and (Winnipeg Blue Bombers veteran starting quarterback) Matt Nichols. TJ Lee, a defensive back, is (with the BC Lions). It’s pretty cool, and I think the FCS guys, the small-school guys do well up there. They’re good athletes, too.
It’s a fun game, and it’s pretty cool seeing all those guys up there, former Eagles especially.
Do you feel more settled in up there? I know you bounced around those first three years, but it seems like you’re now in a position to do some good things in Montreal.
VA: Absolutely. I’ve been on three different teams in three years, and going into my fourth season – and second stint with Montreal – I’ve learned a lot. Going from backing up Kevin Glenn in Saskatchewan and Jeremiah Masoli in Hamilton, it taught me how to be a professional. When I first got into the league, I didn’t work as hard. I wasn’t the first one in and last one out, even though I’m the quarterback.
When I got with those guys, they really nipped it in the bud. They’d tell me ‘This is how it is, or you’re going to be out of this league soon, so you need to change.’ I started really learning.
I didn’t know how to be a backup. I was thinking that because I had all of those accolades in college, that I should be the guy. But it’s not that. You have to earn your stripes, put in the work, because this game is different. The field is wider, it’s longer, there’s three downs, 12 players. All of that is hard for an American quarterback to adjust to.
Like, you’ve been playing the game for 21 years of your life, then all of a sudden you’re going to Canadian rules. It’s hard. So I really had to take the time to get better, and I really see myself taking control in this fourth season, working harder and playing more.
Do you still have a pretty good relationship with EWU? I know when you decided to transfer to Oregon for your senior season in 2015, a few people weren’t happy. You’ve been supportive of EWU on social media.
VA: I claim both schools (EWU and Oregon). Eastern gave me my first opportunity, I got my degree from here, met my son’s mother here, so now I have a beautiful son. Eastern did so many things for me.
But look at all the coaches who left their previous schools for bigger, better jobs. They can do that, but we can’t? No, this isn’t slavery. I got my degree, and I got interest from another team, and I thought it was a better business move. Obviously, I didn’t end up in the NFL, but I just thought if I played against higher competition, maybe it could be different.
I claim both schools because they both showed me so much love and still do to this day.
Did you talk to (former EWU star quarterback) Gage Gubrud at all about his recent graduate transfer to Washington State?
VA: Not really. I just woke up one day and saw that he transferred there.
Do you think his game will translate pretty well down in Pullman?
VA: Definitely. They’re the Air Raid. They’re always throwing, and that’s what we do at Eastern. But last season, (Eastern) ran a lot more. I think he’s going to be perfectly fine there. He’s going to be the guy.
EWU currently has an electric, dual-threat quarterback in Eric Barriere, who many have compared to you. And, like you, he’s also a Los Angeles-area recruit. What are your thoughts on him?
VA: Oh, man. He’s going to be better than me. He’s the truth. If he keeps focused and keeps doing things right, he’s going to be an All-American and All-World. He’s already bigger than me, he’s faster than me. He’s a great, smart football player. He’s going to be the real deal.
When you saw that EWU was getting one of the top prep QBs in the Los Angeles area (La Habra), are these the results you expected?
VA: I knew it was going to be the perfect fit for him. I thought it would be just like my story, but his is going to be a little bit better.
Is the EWU brand becoming more popular among athletes in Southern California? Especially now that the Los Angeles Rams currently have two starters (receiver Cooper Kupp and linebacker Samson Ebukam) from EWU.
VA: Definitely. Especially after my recruiting class came in (2011). We had a few SoCal guys, and after that, we really started to go after SoCal guys, and I was hosting them on their recruiting trips.
A couple years ago, (EWU linebacker Chris Ojoh) reached out to me on Twitter when he was in high school. He went to my high school, Bishop Alemany. I was recently going through my messages, and he was asking me ‘Why should I go to EWU?’, and I wasn’t even there anymore, it was after Oregon. I still recruited him to come here, because it was a great place.
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