Eastern Washington University quarterback Vernon Adams was all smiles this past weekend as the EWU Eagles (not the Vikings, as the photo may suggest) defeated the 25th-ranked Oregon State Beavers in a 49-46 shootout on OSU's home field. EWU, a member of the Big Sky Conference, became only the third FCS school to take down a ranked FBS opponent. (The other two, for anyone wondering: Appalachian State over 5th-ranked Michigan in 2007 and James Madison University over 13th-ranked Virginia Tech in 2010.)
The banner victory has earned Adams, a redshirt sophomore, national attention, including an appearance Jim Rome's radio show and comparisons to Russell Wilson. (Adams says he's always worn number 3.) Sounds like a Breakout Performer if ever there was one.
What’d you have for breakfast this morning?
Biscuits and gravy in the dining hall. I never had it growing up in the city, but all my country friends out here introduced me and I like it now.
What was the play call on the game winning touchdown?
It was just a boot out pass. I knew there was about 20-something seconds left and I wanted the ball in my hands. I would have passed, but I saw an open lane and tucked it and thank God, I got in the end zone.
FACT Watch the the game winning touchdown at 0:57 along with more highlights.
If you didn’t have that lane, who was the primary target?
Probably my tight end, Zach Wimblery. He would have been wide open in the flat if his man had come up on me. But his guy stayed with him and I got the lane.
You mishandled the snap on the ensuing extra point, which would have put you guys up four with less than 20 seconds left. Still confident in your special teams skills?
Definitely. My hands… I just dropped it. It was a great snap but I just dropped it. Man I was so scared -- I didn’t want them to go down and kick a field goal that tied the game. I was down on myself, but my teammates assured me, "Vern, we’ll be okay." The field goal attempt looked good where I was standing, but then I saw my two safeties running off the field so happy and I knew we had won. That's when all the emotions came down. It was an amazing feeling.
FACT Adams is pictured below wearing number 3 in 1999, his first year of tackle football. Oregon State defensive back Malcolm Marable is also pictured (#2), as well as his OSU teammate, defensive end Akeem Gonzales (#72).
What was the most memorable play of the day for you, other than the final touchdown?
On 4th and 2 early in the fourth quarter we ran a little out route and I threw it it to Ashton Clark, who made a huge catch to continue the drive. If we don’t convert there, Oregon State gets the ball with great field position and a chance to go up two scores.
You ran 16 times on Saturday. Last season you ran 65 times total. Does the uptick indicate a change in offensive strategy for 2013, or was it based on the match-up?
No change in the offense. Whenever I got pressure I just scrambled out into a lane. They brought a lot of zone pressure so I just had to get out of there to try to avoid sacks and get first downs.
Your poor punter Jake Miller got on the field only once. Think he was bored?
[Laughs]. Yeah. Guys were telling me that Jake was standing on the sideline saying, "These guys don’t even need me. I’m going to go back to Cheney [Washington, where EWU is located]."
FACT As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Adams executed a circus-like scramble beginning at Sacramento State's 10 yard line that eventually resulted in a touchdown pass from near the 30. The effort earned Adams a spot among the finalists for the GEICO Play of Year.
Leading up to the game, had you guys talked about the two previous FCS victories over FBS ranked teams?
We didn’t think about that at all. We just got ready to go play our hardest. And that’s what we did. We did it as a family, we did it as a team and we couldn’t have done it without Eagles fans in that that section there.
Who’s the smelliest guy in your locker room?
One of the lineman. I can’t say my O-linemen because those guys protect me, so I'll say one of the D-lineman because man, those guys are nasty. They get down and dirty in the trenches. I can’t name names, though. I don’t want anybody coming after me.
FACT Being a charismatic starting quarterback means starring in calls for alumni support:
What’s the most unique item in your locker?
An article on the semifinals game we lost last year to Sam Houston State. It says “End of the Road” with a picture of me on a knee, looking at the scoreboard, and I was crying. I keep that in my locker to remember to always work hard. I don’t want this road to end. I even thought about that picture during the Oregon State game.
FACT Adams nearly led the Eagles to an incredible Buffalo Bills-style comeback win against Sam Houston State. With his team down 35-0 at halftime, Adams threw six second-half touchdowns (one of them below). But the Eagles ultimately fell short, losing 45-42.
Eastern Washington has played tough against Pac-12 schools in recent years. Do you think EWU is capable of competing regularly in the FBS?
Definitely. Obviously we’re a little bit smaller but I feel like we can compete. We play hard, practice hard, study film hard. It’s not really up to us but if we had the chance, we could do it.
FACT EWU's quarterback coach, Zak Hill, attended the high school game pictured below the week Eastern received Adams' recruiting film. (That's Adams in the center, mid-touchdown run.) After the game, Eastern extended Adams an offer. Oregon State DE Akeem Gonzales, who was Adams' teammate at Alemany High School, is also pictured wearing #67.
You were ranked 32nd this preseason among FCS quarterbacks, according to one evaluator. Any thoughts on that assessment?
I don’t like to look at that stuff. When I was young I used to always follow the hype, the ranked quarterbacks, star quarterbacks. But I don’t look at it anymore. I’m blessed and I’m thankful God put me in this position. I don’t care about numbers—I just want to get us to our ultimate goal, the [FCS] national championship.
Eastern Washington gave you your first offer during the recruiting process. What made you feel like it was the right fit?
A few things. They had just gotten the red turf and I like red. They had just won a national championship and the Big Sky championship. I had a few offers in the Big Sky, and they were the best team in the conference, so why not? Also in 11 of the past 12 years, we were the top school GPA-wise with an average a 3.2. Another big plus. There’s a great coaching staff with great backgrounds. And I’m a winner. I don’t like to lose. I hate losing more than I like winning. That’s why I chose to come here.
FACT In 2010, EWU installed this red turf at its home stadium, Roos Field.
A number of FCS quarterbacks have become successful NFL QB’s: Joe Flacco, Tony Romo, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, to name a few. Do you see yourself in the NFL one day?
If it happens, it happens. I honestly think I might be too small, but look at Russell Wilson. We’re about the same height. He just works real hard and is a great leader. If it doesn’t happen, I’m so blessed anyhow to be playing football this long and at this level, making my family proud.
As far as style of play, which current NFL quarterback do you most resemble?
A lot of people are comparing me to Russell. I would say him, or Colin Kaepernick. I like how they think. I wouldn’t call myself a runner, but if I have to get out of there, I will. That’s the plus of being a dual-threat quarterback.
FACT Adams attended the Alemany senior prom as a junior with his "first love" and current best friend, Heavin-Lee Rodriguez. They coordinated outfits admirably.
Which college team did you root for while growing up in Pasadena, CA?
I’m not going to lie, I rooted for USC. UCLA was right there at the Rose Bowl, and I went to a lot of UCLA games, and had a lot of family and friends go to UCLA. But I was definitely a USC fan. I liked Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart and I went to a lot of SC games too.
Favorite football movie?
Friday Night Lights
Name of your first Pop Warner or little league team?
Pasadena Ponies. Blue and gold!
What website do you visit most frequently?
Most common phrase to come out of Coach Baldwin’s mouth?
"Win the day." We take it day by day. That’s what he always says. Work hard and win the 1-on-1 battle.
Last movie you saw in the theaters?
You’re Next with my girlfriend Cheyenne.
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life?
Would you rather spend a week walking everywhere backwards, or shuffling sideways?
That’s weird. I’d walk backwards. Everybody would get thrown off wondering, "What’s he doing?"