PASADENA, CALIF.- Oregon running back CJ Verdell plays football with one motto in mind, something his Dad told him when he was young: Be the hammer, not the nail.
Which would explain the edge the sophomore runs with that caused Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, the nation’s top running back, to say that Verdell “runs like he’s angry.”
When facing that nation’s No. 1 rushing defense in Utah, who allowed an average of 56 yards per game, Verdell rushed for 208 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns to become the Pac-12 title MVP.
Junior wide receiver Johnny Johnson III smiled as he shared a story about his teammates relentlessness:
We leaned on him, we knew someone was going to have to make a big play. CJ Verdell came through. He’s never satisfied. Even after he makes a huge play, I’m coming up to him on the sideline, I’m talking to him about it and all he ever says is ‘I’m not done yet… We just started.’ -Johnny Johnson III
Verdell felt like he had something to prove against Utah and he feels the same underdog mentality heading into the “Granddaddy of them all”.
Let the other guys get all the attention. That way when we do make noise, it'll be a big surprise to everybody… I’d gladly take that title of underdog.- CJ Verdell
This season, Verdell became the fifth running back in Oregon history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. His impact on the offense isn't overlooked by quarterback Justin Herbert, who singled him out when asked about how the Duck offense finds success:
That guy sitting right there (points at Verdell) is special, and I know any time we hand him the ball, throw him the ball, he's going to do something really special about it. Especially having an offensive line like we have blocking for him and leading the way for him, it's been a lot of fun, and it's been an honor to play next to him. –Justin Herbert
Herbert, Verdell and the entire Duck football team spent a day at Disneyland as part of their pre-Rose Bowl tour of Southern California. Verdell, the Mater Dei High School graduate, hadn’t been back since his grad night, but identified his favorite ride immediately: The Guardians of the Galaxy (formerly the Tower of Terror). It’s a high-speed elevator attraction with g-forces that will make your voice hoarse the next day. Verdell said “you can’t beat” that butterfly feeling in your stomach.
The combination of the chip on Verdell’s shoulder and his love for adrenaline serve him well on the football field. The downhill runner excels at making defenders miss with great change of direction and can be patient in the hole.
Verdell can do it all, which is what the Ducks are counting on come January 1, in the 106th Rose Bowl.