Oregon running back CJ Verdell has always been raised to aim high and it shows given his lofty goal in his fifth season as an Oregon Duck.
"Like my Dad says, 'Reach past the stars and if you fall short you'll be amongst the stars' so a goal I set for myself is definitely 2,000 rushing yards," said Verdell, Tuesday afternoon.
"I feel I can get it and my coaches feel I can get it. It's just up to me."
Only 35 players in college football history have rushed for 2,000 yards in a single season. For Verdell to do so, he would need to average 142 rushing yards per game, assuming he plays in all 12 regular-season games, the Pac-12 Championship, and a Bowl Game. If Oregon makes the National Championship, then he would need to average 133.33 rushing yards per game.
Heading into 2020, Verdell set out to be the second Ducks running back to have back-to-back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons, joining LaMichael James (2009-2011).
“I’d definitely like to reach that 1,000-yard mark once again, definitely a big goal of mine,” he said during 2020 training camp.
Verdell began the season with back-to-back 100+ yard performances but he injured his thumb in the second game of the season which limited him the following few weeks before missing the final two games of the season. Following the injury (which included a torn ligament and bone fracture), Verdell ran for just 62 yards the rest of the season in minimal playing time while wearing a wrapped-up thumb he described as "basically a club."
He finished with 285 yards rushing on 65 carries leading to three rushing touchdowns.
"I was definitely going through it," said Verdell about how hard it was to miss time. "Especially the Pac-12 Championship. I couldn't even go because... I had to go to the doctor that same day. I was watching it from here. Definitely just one of those feelings like 'Man, I wish I could be out there.' Or at least been out there on the field, rooting the guys on."
"Last year, I know there's a bad taste in his mouth and he's ready to just come out this year and go off," explained Travis Dye.
That's part of why Verdell decided to return to Oregon despite being eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft.
"I had talked to Coach Cristobal, Coach Moorhead, me and Mastro we always talking," said Verdell. "I had told them 'I have no problem coming back. I love Oregon. I love the team. I love the coaching staff. Just a great environment overall.' Coming back was never something I was like 'No, I don't want to do that.' Then talking with my parents, they were with me 100% whatever I chose and when I said I wanted to come back, they were with me full-board."
"We spoke about it in the middle of the season and I think before the season he was leaning more on leaving," added Dye. "In the middle of the season we talked about it a little bit more and he said that he wanted to come back and I was all for it. I told him that this one-two punch can keep going and we're going to be an awesome duo, still.
"I think we are the best one-two punch in the Pac, if not the nation."
For that to happen, however, Verdell needs to take better care of his body. His physical style of running results in extra yards but also means he's susceptible to injuries which cause missed time.
Heading into the 2021 season, staying healthy and upright is a point of emphasis for the three-year starter.
"Picking and choosing when to be physical. Sparing my body, not trying to take too many hits if I don't have to. If I can make somebody miss here I'll do that, not just always lowering my shoulder."
After a down season in 2020, there's no doubt Verdell is hungry to show he's one of the nation's elite players.