It wasn't supposed to end this way for Vernon Adams.
Heck, nothing about this season went the way Adams hoped for when he transferred to Oregon this summer from FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington University.
Injured in Oregon's season opener against his former school, Adams was unable to lead the Ducks to a win at Michigan State in the season’s second game. With him on the sideline, the Ducks muddled their way through a 2-3 record.
Once he returned, victories over Washington, Arizona State, Cal, then-#7 Stanford, then-#24 USC and rival Oregon State validated the hype that surrounded his arrival in Eugene as Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota’s replacement.
Star quarterbacks, according to the conventional football wisdom, must stand taller than 6-feet and weigh at least 200 pounds. At Eastern Washington, where he was generously listed at 6-foot and 180 pounds in 2011, Adams may not have looked the part, but he definitely played the part on the field.
Playing injured with a bit of reckless abandon early on, you could see his growth from year to year – staying in the pocket more, learning his reads, anticipating defensive tendencies, etc. He always found ways to make plays.
A California native, Adams wasn't recruited by any of the big-name schools that he grew up hoping to play for. Instead, he wound up in Cheney, Washington, a small town outside of Spokane, to play for EWU. The high-potent offense fit Adams like a glove and after splitting time in the 2012 season, he began etching his name in the annals of Eagles football.
A two-time runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, which is annually awarded to the most outstanding player in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Adams was an athletic marvel with personality to boot.
He could always be seen dancing to the stadium music or what was playing in his headphones during pregame warmups. He had an easy-going nature, a smile on his face and was always good for a good quote during my time covering him in college.
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He loved a challenge. At times, it seemed like he craved it. The bigger the supposed obstacle, the better he seemed to perform.
When he announced his transfer to Oregon in early 2015, it didn't come as that much of a surprise. At the time, I said, “If a Pac-12 school comes calling, you go. No hesitation.” Adams and the Ducks seemed like a perfect fit. He wanted to see how he could do against the big boys.
The uproar was loud and voracious.
Typical, Outrageous, Petulant: Those were a few of the “nicer” words that were said about Eastern Washington and their athletic department. It wasn't that EWU was preventing his transfer, but once Adams decided he was going to Oregon, the school’s facilities were off limits. Adams became the opponent.
Transferring to Oregon was a business decision for Adams, who wanted to focus on providing for his future and his young child, along with fulfilling his own NFL dreams. Often compared to Seattle Seahawks star QB Russell Wilson, Adams needed to prove to the pro scouts that he could excel at the highest level.
With Oregon as the first opponent on their 2015 schedule, Eastern Washington made a business decision too. Adams, their former star player, was a Duck as far as they were concerned.
“Yet another bad decision that showed all that was wrong with the NCAA,” was how some put it. The outcry was large and loud.
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Adams did his best to avoid the noise and focus on the goal ahead, which was to pass one more final exam so he could graduate from EWU and then go on to play his final season at Oregon.
Adams was still on scholarship, which Eastern Washington honored so that he could finish his schooling. After a rumored first failed test, Adams finished some additional classes in Eugene, passed his test and was finally able to join the Ducks in August, one month before the season opener against his former team.
A few weeks later, he was named Oregon’s starter.
Fast forward to January 2nd, 2016: Vernon Adams was leading Oregon into the Alamo Bowl against TCU with a national television audience watching.
Eastern Washington, after a strong start this year, struggled down the stretch with inconsistency and missed the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Oregon also struggled in his absence due to his early-season injury. They went 2-2 without him. Upon his return, the Ducks won six straight conference games. Coming into the final game of his college career last weekend, Adams threw for 25 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions while passing for 2,446 yards, an average of 310 yards per game.
He helped stake the Ducks to a 28-0 lead in the Alamo Bowl, connecting on 13 of his 19 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown.
During his third offensive possession, on 3rd and 5 at TCU's 46, the Horned Frogs defense had Adams on the run. As he scrambled to get away from the pursuing rush, he stumbled, regained his balance and fired a 30-yard strike to Evan Baylis for a red zone first down.
With 4:52 left until halftime, Adams laid on the turf for several minutes after taking a hit to the head from TCU’s Derrick Kindred. After being taken to the locker room for further observation, he returned to the sidelines in street clothes and could only watch helplessly as his team, after leading 31-0 at halftime, fell apart in the second half. TCU came back to win 47-41 in triple-overtime.
“It just sucks I couldn’t be out there to help the team,” Adams said after the game. “It’s just a tough feeling. Especially for me, it being my last game. I got all my crying out during halftime.”
It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Vernon Adams.
Given his talent and journey thus far, he’ll make sure to build off that unceremonious ending as he seeks the ultimate validation at the next level.