As we count down the days until the start of the 2020s, I figured it appropriate to take a moment to recognize the exceptional quarterback, and even more exceptional young man, who carried Oregon through its darkest period of the decade.
Justin Herbert grew up near the banks of Willamette River in Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, only a 10-minute drive from Autzen Stadium. As a high school senior, he passed for 3,130 yards and 37 touchdowns with 543 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns and was named 1st team all-state and the Southwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Sheldon won the 6A Football Title in 2012. He lettered in varsity football, basketball and baseball.
In 2018 at UO, Herbert rejected a first-round NFL draft opportunity after the end of his junior season to return to Oregon and lead the Ducks to a 2019 Pac-12 conference title and the 2020 Rose Bowl.
“Hear! Hear! As we approach the new year, let’s raise our glasses to Justin Herbert, one of the greatest Ducks. Herbert is a true Man of Oregon!”
In two days, on January 1, 2020 Herbert will strap up one last time for his revered Ducks. He will lead Oregon football into the next decade by playing quarterback on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl. Then, following the game, Herbert will pass the torch to the other team leaders, upper and underclassmen, along with the 2020 recruits, the pursuit of a National Championship for Oregon. His playing career as a football player at Oregon will end.
But Oregon football hasn’t always been a bed of roses for Herbert. The Pac-12, like playing in any of the Power 5 conferences, is brutal at times. The rigors. The pounding. The media and fans’ unfettered and unfiltered criticisms. Grinding through the day-to-day regimen of training, high expectations, tight scheduling, academic and film studies, game preparations and so many other details and responsibilities across four years is not suited for the faint-hearted.
Fighting through pain and hardship seasons soldiers in war. Iron sharpens iron on the field, in the locker room and in life. Over four years of leading the Ducks, Herbert was sharpened. He matched wits and skills with some of the best QBs and coaching staffs in football. Herbert appeared on some of the biggest college football stages. He played through pain, and sometimes heartache too. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to see the glory, and difficult or impossible to feel the misery and pain of a college quarterback’s football career.
But let’s be clear, Herbert has lived under a spotlight.
The true greatness of a man is marked with humility. Herbert is a great college football quarterback who is recognized and known across America, but he’s also a terrific student, named twice to the Academic All-American team. He’s a loved family member from a legacy football family. Across each of those roles and identities. Herbert has remained polite, reserved and humble. He is a first-class citizen and the best-of-the-best of student-athletes at the University of Oregon.
Herbert didn’t play his “A” game every outing. But does anyone? Sometimes his timing, technique or throws were off, but he kept fighting on and off the field. Some have questioned his progressions, sequencing and anticipation. Others say he throws late or that he could be more vocal and a stronger leader. But nobody pursues perfection harder than Herbert, both on the field and in the classroom; the young man is balanced. Football is important, but there’s more to his life than football.
When receiving the National Football Foundation’s annual presentation of the William V. Campbell Trophy in New York City, President and CEO Steve Hatchell proclaimed the following:
“Matching a 4.01 GPA in the classroom with his record-setting performance on the field, Justin Herbert’s exceptional accomplishments place him among the best student-athletes in the history of our sport, making him the ideal recipient of the Campbell Trophy. He truly embodies the scholar-athlete ideal and we are proud to have him as a member of this elite fraternity. He stands as the perfect example for the next generation to emulate.”
Herbert is a winner. He has consistently won in the important aspects of life and sports. The best part is, we don’t have to say goodbye to him following Wednesday’s Rose Bowl. With his family in Eugene, his younger brother playing football for UO, and his lifelong fandom of the Ducks, it is likely that we will continue to see Justin at university events. For now, simply lift a glass to him or take a moment in respect of him and his sacrifices and accomplishments at Oregon.
Herbert has built a strong foundation. Upon it, the best in life and maybe in football too, is yet to come for him. As fans and followers, we must savor the Justin Herbert Oregon football years of 2017-2020.
Happy New Years to Mr. FishDuck and the many contributors and readers of FishDuck.com. Follow the great Ducks’ Women’s and Men’s basketball teams, Track and Field and other Ducks’ sports as we anticipate the Spring Game and 2020 football kick-off.
Oh, how we love to read about our beloved Ducks – Go Ducks in 2020!
Greenville, South Carolina Top Photo by Ernie Abrea
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
Born in Eugene, Brent Pennington grew up along the Siuslaw river in Lane county. He attended his first Ducks football game in 1960, and was inside Autzen stadium for its opening game in ’67. Brent attended the UO College of Business Administration from 1969-1975 interrupted by U.S. Army service. He has traveled much of the world in the Lotteries and Gaming industry.
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