Senior running back CJ Verdell returned to Oregon for his fifth season with big goals in mind. He wants to be the first Duck to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
"I feel I can get it, and my coaches feel like I can get it," Verdell said. "It’s just up to me."
Verdell said he never considered leaving for the NFL. Personal goals aside, he decided to come back to Oregon for something bigger: a national championship.
"My main goal since I’ve been at Oregon and since (Mario) Cristobal has taken over the program and we’ve been going in the direction that we’ve been going--definitely want to get into that playoff and win a national championship," Verdell said.
"We feel like we got the guys to do that."
The Chula Vista, California, native leads a solid, albeit banged-up running back group. Travis Dye and walk-ons Cross Patton and Aaron Smith are all seeing carries behind Verdell in the spring.
Sean Dollars suffered a "pretty significant" leg injury during team workouts, according to Head Coach Mario Cristobal, and is expected to return at some point this season. Trey Benson is recovering from a broken leg and is expected back in the summer.
The Ducks’ offense will have some different pieces on the field than when Verdell last suited up on December 5 against Cal. Quarterback Anthony Brown didn't see any playing time until the Pac-12 Championship Game, and Verdell has yet to take a handoff from him in a game.
"He does a great job rallying everybody, making sure he knows everybody, and building a good bond and chemistry with other players," Verdell said of Brown.
"When Tyler (Shough) was the main guy and (Brown) was backing him up, he was still doing the same things, so the transition was very natural for him."
Another difference to the offense is that Verdell will no longer share carries with Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who has since transferred to Boise State.
"Cyrus came in the same year as me, so I’ve known Cyrus as long as I’ve been here," Verdell said. "Seeing him go is definitely a little bittersweet, but I’m excited for him."
Verdell appeared primed for another 1,000-yard season in 2020 before a thumb injury slowed him down. He rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Ducks’ first two games, but suffered a thumb injury against Washington State that included a ligament tear and a bone fracture, according to Verdell.
He tried to play through the injury with a club on his hand in the final three games of the regular season, rushing for just 62 yards on 27 carries after the injury. He did not to travel to Los Angeles for the Pac-12 Championship Game and did not play in the Fiesta Bowl.
"I was definitely going through it, especially the Pac-12 Championship," Verdell said of his battle with injuries. A doctor's appointment prevented him from making the trip.
"It was definitely one of those feelings like ‘man, I wish I could be out there or at least have been out there on the field rooting the guys on.' "
Verdell finished the shortened 2020 season with career lows in rushing yards (285), rushing touchdowns (3), and yards per carry (4.4). His injury-plagued season came after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to begin his Oregon career.
In his three years of play, Verdell has already established himself as one of the top Oregon backs in recent history. He ranks ninth in Oregon career rushing yards with 2,523.
Verdell would be the fourth Ducks running back to amass 2,000 yards from scrimmage in a single season (Royce Freeman - 2015; Kenjon Barner - 2012; LaMichael James - 2011).
No one has ever rushed for 2,000 yards.
Royce Freeman holds the single-season rushing record with 1,836 rushing yards, set in the 2015 season.
With a healthy season in year two of Joe Moorhead’s scheme and an experienced offensive line, Verdell could make history in his final season at Oregon.
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