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Former EWU star Vernon Adams finds a home as starting quarterback in Montreal

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 15, 2019

Quick screen passes regularly spun off the fingertips of quarterback Vernon Adams at Eastern Washington and Oregon, but this one needed some extra zip.

Adams, who starred his first three years in Cheney before a solid graduate-transfer season with the Ducks in 2015, recalled the first time he threw a lateral pass in the Canadian Football League.

It was one of the many eye-opening adjustments the two-time Walter Payton Award candidate and Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year had to make to Canada’s brand of football.

“It was a screen pass, but felt like a 55-yard throw because of how wide the field is,” said Adams, a budding fifth-year CFL talent for the Montreal Alouettes. “The field is wider, longer, the downs are different and there’s more players on the field. It’s a different game up here and it takes getting used to.”

He’s gotten the hang of it.

After more than four seasons as a backup and injury fill-in starter, Adams has recently shown the nine-team professional football league that he may be the next great EWU quarterback to excel north of the border. Beau Baldwin coached them all.

CFL starting quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell – the reigning league MVP for the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampede – Matt Nichols (Winnipeg Blue Bombers) and Mike Reilly (British Columbia Lions) all played for Baldwin at EWU or Central Washington. Adams played for Baldwin at EWU.

Adams filled in for injured starter Antonio Pipkin last month and started the team’s next five games. Montreal won three of those games, and Adams kept the starting job when Pipkin returned.

But Adams, who has thrown for over 1,400 yards with 10 total touchdowns this season, recently suffered a concussion and sat out last week, another small setback in a career dotted with small setbacks.

NFL scouts weren’t high on Adams’ size (5-foot-11) and arm strength, forcing him to take the CFL route after the Seattle Seahawks didn’t offer him a contract following a rookie camp tryout.

He signed with the Alouettes in 2016, where he was primarily a backup who started three games, but was traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2017, where he saw limited action.

Then the Johnny Manziel saga happened.

After the Roughriders traded Adams to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018, where he expected to cement at least a No. 2 spot behind another former Oregon quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, Manziel showed up. With the troubled former Heisman trophy winner and former first-round NFL draft pick in the Tigers-Cats’ quarterback group, Adams was moved to wide receiver, where he never played a down. He soon re-joined Montreal’s roster and, coincidentally, Manziel followed.

With millions of eyeballs on the Manziel reclamation project in Montreal, Manziel was ultimately given the starting job but swiftly flamed out of the league.

“I think this league is all about paying your dues,” Adams told The Spokesman-Review on Monday. “It’s not like the NFL where your’re drafted first and you’re the guy because they invested in you.”

“Bo Levi, Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly, they didn’t do much in this league their first couple years because they paid their dues and learned the CFL game,” Adams said. “You’re learning so many things.”

Adams lives in Seattle during the offseason and was in Cheney this past spring for EWU’s pro day, exchanging old Big Sky Conference anecdotes with former teammates and coaches.

One of Adams’ most memorable performances was his school-record seven touchdown passes and 475 yards against Washington in a 59-52 shootout loss at Husky Stadium.

“Both defenses had a tough time,” Adams recalled. “And that (UW) defense was the best defense I faced in my college career. We would have won if we didn’t have those two fumbles.”

The FCS power Eagles open their season Aug. 31 at Washington, which is expected to challenge for another Pac-12 North title.

Adams made a bold prediction.

“Eastern is winning,” he said. “I don’t care if Chris Petersen – a great guy and great coach – has got it rolling over there. My guy coach (Aaron) Best got it rolling over there, too, and (Eric) Barriere is better than I was.”

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