LOS ANGELES— Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert has been creating problems for Pac-12 Conference defenses for three seasons. His junior campaign flashed brilliance that caused NFL scouts to project him as a top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft had he chosen to leave school. Herbert’s decision to stay surprised many, except those who know him, and caused opposing Pac-12 coaches to sigh.
“Seems like Herbert has been there forever,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said of the four-year starter. “Somehow they granted him 10 years of eligibility.”
The hot commodity quarterback certainly has an NFL future but the pros will have to wait one more season before the Eugene-native plays on Sundays. The Ducks and coach Mario Cristobal are grateful for the opportunity for another season with the senior and recognize the opportunity to make the most of his finale.
“It’s really rare… I think what’s really neat about it is that he’s just as grateful for the opportunity. There was no hesitation and no flinching in his decision,” Cristobal said. “He knows what he wants for Justin Herbert and is not going to let anyone talk him out of what he knows is the best thing for him. He has taken another giant step in terms of his development. He is a guy that- who doesn’t love him?”
Yes, the media is all aboard the Herbert train and so are opposing Pac-12 coaches. While coaches raved about Herbert’s talent, they also reeled for an answer on how to defend the 6-foot-6, 240-pound passer with the powerful right arm and sneaky fast wheels. Herbert has become the most hated to love player in the conference.
“He’s such a fantastic player, arguably the best quarterback in the country,” said Cal second-year head coach Justin Wilcox. “He really doesn’t have a weakness in his game. It’s exciting to play against guys like that. We know it will take our best.”
Wilcox has known Herbert and his family his entire life. The two families are tied with a bond to UO through Josh Wilcox, who played tight end at Oregon in the mid-1990s. Wilcox and Herbert played backyard football after holiday meals. If he was home, Justin Wilcox was often the quarterback for Justin Herbert’s team.
21 years apart, Wilcox “thinks the world” of Herbert and his family until game day when Wilcox separates from their history for work. Wilcox was not surprised that Herbert returned for his senior season because “he’s wired the right way.”
36 miles north in Corvallis, second year head coach Jonathan Smith is proud of Herbert’s representation of the state.
“To be able to watch him over the last couple years turn into the player that he is, he’s just impressive, on and off the field,” Smith said. “I’m really happy for him and the future that he has ahead of him. He represents that school and this state in a great way.”
In Hollywood at Pac-12 Media Day, Herbert oozed confidence and comfort. Sitting next to him, teammate Troy Dye gushed about the respect Herbert has earned from the entire team, top to bottom.
“He can make any throw in the world. I swear, I’ve seen him make every throw and it pisses me off every day,” linebacker Dye said. “It’s super cool to have a quarterback like that because he’s a great leader, a great person and a great friend.”
Herbert enters his final season as a Duck with a streak of 28 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, the longest in the nation. His veteran offensive line is projected to be the best in the country and he utilized the summer break to better connect with his receivers. His leadership skills have grown immensely, altering the perception of his shy personality. He is receiving instruction from legends at his position.
Long story short, Herbert is putting it all together for an epic senior season that could be record shattering.
“He’s exactly what you want on your football team,” Cristobal said. “He acts like he’s a freshman that just got here and is trying to prove something. He lives each day as if he’s the guy who’s trying to prove that he belongs here. When your best players are doing that, you’ve got a chance to be a good football team.”
Herbert's work ethic-- you gotta love it. That is, unless your are playing against him.