LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman made what had to be a tough decision for him to sit out Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State.
He made the wise decision, even though it might appear to be selfish on the surface.
"This is hard for him, now," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said today prior to practice at Bishop Gorman High School. "This is not an easy thing for a guy like that."
Freeman, who practiced with the team on Wednesday, was not made available for comment today.
Freeman leaves Oregon as its all-time leading rusher (5,621 yards) and the Pac-12 Conference's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (60). He has given 947 carries to the program, a total that's also a record. Going out a winner in a bowl game was probably enticing for Freeman but the risk of injury isn't worth the reward. Few will remember or care who won the Vegas Bowl within days after it ends. An injury could hinder Freeman, projected to go in the third or fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, for the rest of his career.
Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby would be wise to follow suit. Cristobal said Crosby would announce his intentions on Friday. Projected by many to be a first-round pick, Crosby could literally be risking $10 million or more by playing in the Vegas Bowl. A serious injury could knock him out of the first round and into the later rounds, as it did former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tore an ACL during practice prior to the 2014 Rose Bowl. He ended up getting drafted in the seventh round and never fully regained health in his knee. He is now out of the NFL.
NFL-bound players electing to not play in their team's bowl game is a growing trend. Former Last season, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette sat out their respective team's bowl games.
Cristobal is not in favor of this development.
"I like to see key players play," Cristobal said.
That doesn't mean he isn't with Freeman on his decision.
"Am I disappointed in him? No, I'm not," Cristobal asked. "Do I want to see him play? Absolutely. But I stand by him just like I gave him my word and I don't break my word for nobody."
Cristobal said the entire team backs Freeman, as they should
"They understand that this family thing is not just talk," Cristobal said. "This family thing is real. This family will stick together, support each other and we'll press forward."
Oregon's running game should be just fine on Saturday. When Freeman went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter against California on Sept. 30 the Ducks still won 45-24 and rushed for 328 yards and six touchdowns.
In 2016, after Freeman went down with a foot injury at Nebraska, the Ducks managed to rush for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Crosby was lost for the season in that game.
Interestingly, following practice offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo met with the media and when asked about Freeman's decision said that he was unaware of the situation.
"It's unfortunate," he said. "Obviously, Royce is such a big part of who we area. But guys are going to made decisions based on the betterment for their life. Royce has done an awesome job for us. We're going to miss him...but just like when he went down, we have to find a way to pull together."
The Ducks will lean on senior Kani Benoit, redshirt junior Tony Brooks-James, who will likely be next year's top back, junior Taj Griffin and freshman Darrian Felix.
There is plenty of talent there to win with making Freeman's decision ever more on the mark as being the right move for his future.