Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams turns heads in Washington defeat

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Alemany High School coach Dean Herrington lost his voice trying to convince everyone — especially Pac-12 coaches — that Vernon Adams was special. And yet, no one listened.

College programs sent assistants to the school in Mission Hills, California, and watched Adams lead the Warriors to a 22-5 record while accumulating more than 6,500 yards (5,234 passing and 1,263 rushing) in his final two seasons.

Still, everyone said the diminutive Eastern Washington quarterback — who is generously listed at 6-feet — was too small for big-time football. The Eagles and Portland State were the only schools that offered him a scholarship.

I tried telling Pac-12 coaches, ‘I don’t care if he’s 5-[foot]-11. He can play, and he might come back and beat you.’
— Dean Herrington

“I tried to tell Pac-12 coaches, ‘I don’t care if he’s 5-[foot]-11,’ ” Herrington said Saturday after Adams orchestrated a dazzling performance that nearly spoiled Washington’s home opener at Husky Stadium. ” ‘He can play, and he might come back and beat you.’ “

Husky fans won’t soon forget Adams, who carved up the Washington defense like no other opposing quarterback. He finished with a career-high 475 yards — the second-most in school history — on 31-for-46 passing and seven touchdowns, which was the most the Huskies had ever absorbed in the their storied history.

“I didn’t know it was seven, but yes, it is a great honor,” Adams said. “I wish we could have gotten the win. I would have went with zero touchdowns if it would have meant getting the win.”

During a walk from the visiting locker room to the buses in the tunnel after the game, Adams was greeted by a chorus of cheers from several Eagles fans, including 78 coaches and players from Alemany High who were in town for the game Friday against Eastside Catholic of Sammamish, Washington.

Adams spotted Herrington in the crowd, walked over and leaned in for a hug.

“Great job,” Herrington told him. “You’re doing it. Keep it up.”

Still, no amount of adulation could console Adams after the defeat. He orchestrated EWU’s 49-46 upset victory over No. 25 Oregon State last year.

However, before touching the ball, Eastern trailed 14-0. On the Eagles’ first offensive play, nose tackle Danny Shelton burst through the middle for a sack.

Steven Bisig | USA TODAY Sports Images
Adams wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school.

When Adams got the ball a second time, Eastern was down 21-0. Making matters worse, he began cramping in his left hamstring. Then the Eagles lost center Jase Butorac to a knee injury and replaced him with backup left tackle T.J. Boatright.

And yet through it all, Adams was impressive.

“He leads us,” said EWU receiver Cooper Kupp, who had eight catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns. “He’s out there cramping. He’s fighting. He’s got oxygen on the side. He’s grabbing his hamstring. He’s stretching between plays. He’s a warrior.

“That’s why we follow him. He’s got everyone’s back. We got his back. Having that type of mentality as a leader, that winning attitude and that passion, that trickles down to everyone. We want to be there for him because we know he’ll be there for us.”

Despite being sacked six times, he also befuddled the Huskies with his legs — often scrambling away from pressure and darting into the open before throwing to an open receiver.

“The quarterback was better than I thought,” Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson said. “He can throw on the run, scramble and he can run.”

After two games against Pac-12 teams, Adams has 886 yards — perhaps proving he can play big-time football.

“I always wanted to play in this conference, but that didn’t happen,” he said. “I’m happy where I’m at. We can do big things this year.”

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