As a decorated but undersized high school quarterback from the Los Angeles area, Vernon Adams Jr. received only two college scholarship offers in 2011.
Portland State extended one of the offers, Eastern Washington the other. Adams chose EWU, a decision that proved rewarding for him and the Eagles.
After sitting out his freshman year as a redshirt, Adams became a dual-threat dynamo whose versatility draws comparisons to the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.
A first-team Football Championship Series All-American and two-time Walter Payton Award runner-up, Adams has thrown 110 touchdown passes — including seven during Washington’s 2014 home opener at Husky Stadium — over the course of a career that last week careened into a wall on the far turn. Eligible to compete for a final season, Adams announced he was taking his talents to Oregon, beneficiaries of an NCAA rule allowing graduate-student transfers to play immediately.
A recreation management major, Adams is on track to earn his diploma in June, and here is where the once-happy marriage between the lightly recruited quarterback and the program that nurtured him has reached the irreconcilable difference phase. Coach Beau Baldwin, a Curtis High graduate who is most responsible for Eastern’s status as an FCS powerhouse, told Adams he’s no longer welcome to work out with his former teammates in the football training facility.
“For the next four months,” Baldwin told a Spokane sports radio station Tuesday, “he can’t prep down there with them and he can’t be in our weight room or throwing with our guys. I said to him, ‘What’s your plan for the next four months? How are you going to prepare for your senior year? I love you to death, but one, you’re moving on, and two, you’re moving on to who we’re playing in week one.’ ”
Seems Eastern Washington is scheduled to begin its 2015 season with a Sept. 5 date against the Ducks in Eugene, Oregon, thickening a plot that’s already rife with debate fodder: Is the coach a petty cad for denying his former star — still enrolled at EWU — access to the training room?
Or is Baldwin simply using common sense? Adams not only chose to renounce his association with the Eagles, but he also chose to join a team they’ll take on as their next opponent. He had every right to transfer, but in exercising that right, did he not forgo his right to work out with the teammates he jilted?
Sometimes it’s possible — and necessary — to empathize with both sides of a dispute.
I don’t begrudge Adams his ambitions of playing in the Rose Bowl, and taking a leading role on a national championship stage far more alluring than a Major League Soccer stadium in Frisco, Texas.
And, oh, by the way, Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback Adams figures to replace, won the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Given the Ducks’ point-a-minute emphasis on offense, it’s possible Adams could enjoy still another seven-touchdown passing performance at Husky Stadium.
But I understand Baldwin’s refusal to regard Adams as anybody but an opponent right now. I also understand his frustration. When no other school was interested in Vernon Adams besides Portland State, Eastern Washington identified him, taught him, and polished him, only to lose him to a Ducks program that regards the Big Sky Conference as a Triple-A affiliate.
“Obviously, Oregon doesn’t feel like they recruited or developed a guy to the same level we did in Cheney, Washington,” Baldwin said Tuesday. “When you’re Oregon and over the last three or four years you’re not recruiting a number of guys that can fill in when Marcus leaves, I’m kind of asking the question — I’m flattered, I guess — of what are they doing over there?”
Poaching established players they declined to recruit four years ago, it seems to me, is what the Ducks are doing down there.
This NCAA rule allowing graduate students to transfer without sitting out a season, like many other NCAA rules, is steeped in innocent intentions gone awry. The idea was to encourage a player seeking an advanced degree — from a course of study unavailable at their school — to remain in college. The idea wasn’t to enable players to devote their final year year of eligibility as a springboard to the NFL.
Adams, I should point out, isn’t the first college quarterback to switch schools without worrying about spending a season in hibernation. Wilson did the same thing when he transferred from North Carolina State, diploma in hand, to Wisconsin.
But that essentially was a lateral move, from the ACC to the Big Ten, spurred by Wilson’s motivation to be recognized as a starting quarterback. He was seen as part of a mix at N.C. State, and his desire to pursue pro baseball complicated the issue with Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien.
Adams’ issues at Eastern Washington were not complicated. The Eagles regarded him as their main man, worthy of red-carpet treatment by the only college football program in America capable of giving its players a red carpet.
Adams said no thanks. Taking advantage of an NCAA rule that leaves no room for misinterpretation, he will be throwing passes for the Oregon Ducks in September.
And Baldwin is supposed to accept the sudden morphing of an Eagle into a Duck ... how?
Adams did nothing wrong, but neither did the head coach who helped put him on the map. You’re with us or against us, that’s all Baldwin was saying.
Vernon Adams is determined to take the first snap of Oregon’s season opener against Eastern Washington, and he’s determined to beat the team that gave him a chance.
Work out on your own, kid.