When B.J. Robertson became the football coach at Montana Western of the NAIA level in 2013, coaches from the Football Championship Subdivision’s nearby Big Sky Conference were quick to offer their congratulations.

Just as swift were the condolences they extended to the new coach as soon as they learned that his team had fellow Big Sky foe Eastern Washington, and its spectacular quarterback Vernon Adams, on the schedule as a non-conference game during Robertson’s second season.

“They said, ‘You might be in for a long day,'” Robertson said, with a chuckle.

They were correct, of course.

Adams accounted for 378 yards of offense and five touchdowns in a 41-9 victory on Aug. 30, 2014, a performance that even left Western’s best defender, Joe Coker, shaking his head while jogging to the sideline after missing a tackle on the slippery Adams — twice — on one play.

“I told the kid he can’t feel bad about that because there are a lot of guys who’ve missed him,” Robertson said. “You’d have a tough time tackling him in a phone booth.”

For three years, Adams has tortured small-school coaches — and those from Oregon State and Washington, too — from across the country with his nearly unstoppable style of quarterbacking. Now he’s on the cusp of potentially his most jaw-dropping power play yet by transferring to perennial Pac-12 contender Oregon for his fifth and final season of NCAA eligibility.

With his limited exposure to Football Bowl Subdivision fans, few know how he would fare. But his unusual opportunity has garnered support from some of the very coaches who have tried, and mostly failed, to contain Adams year in and year out — and not only because it means they won’t have to face him again.

“We always cheer for FCS teams when they play FBS opponents and I think we’d certainly cheer for him as a guy playing at that level,” Montana State head coach Rob Ash said Friday. “We’d cheer for him and a lot more than when he was playing against us, too.”

These coaches are monitoring Adams’ decision as closely as the Oregon fan base, who enter the offseason anxious to know who will replace Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The possibly unprecedented leap “up” a level — not one of a half-dozen coaches polled by The Oregonian/OregonLive could think of another quarterback doing what Adams is considering — is being met with obvious intrigue but also subtle opposition.

“I’ll be honest, I want another crack at him,” said Montana defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak. “Since I was promoted a couple years ago I have not had the good fortune of beating him here, but a lot of me will be happy to see him go. He still did enough to beat us. He’s got some magic, I’m not going to lie.

“If there’s one guy who can do it, it’s him. He’s special.”

He will need to be to make the transition a special one, too.

Oregon offered Adams, who is visiting the UO campus this weekend, a scholarship but no guarantee to start (by policy, Oregon coaches say they do not guarantee playing time to any recruit).

It is no lock that he would leave a national championship-caliber team — with some of the best receivers in FCS — and unofficial title of King of Cheney, Washington, for greener pastures in Oregon’s read-option offense, an attack that differs from Eastern’s. The Eagles run more of a “pure spread,” Ash said, which doesn’t stretch the field as much side-to-side or ask its quarterback to carry out designed runs as often as UO’s.

That he would greatly improve his NFL draft grade is not a foregone conclusion, even if his talent makes Oregon’s courting of him a no-brainer.

“I think there’s a real risk for Vernon Adams to do that,” said Robin Pflugrad, the former Oregon receivers coach (2006-08) and Montana head coach who faced Adams in 2013 while coaching at Weber State. “Can Vernon Adams do it? I’m a firm believer he can having seen him and having watched him from afar. It’s just going to be a totally different challenge for him and some of that is mental.”

The biggest reservation coaches have for Adams’ possible jump is not his ability, which is raved about by everyone. Rather, it’s how quickly he can get up to speed in a new system with him likely to miss spring practices as he earns his degree. He could begin workouts with the Ducks in the summer. Under a rule implemented in 2014, coaches can monitor summer workouts that were previously closed to them, but they aren’t full-fledged 11-on-11 practices where Adams can put his knowledge of a new playbook into action.

“If I was advising him, I’d say he should stay,” said K.C. Keeler, who coached future NFL quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Pat Devlin at FCS power Delaware before becoming head coach at Sam Houston State. The Bearkats opened the 2014 season with a 56-35 loss to Eastern Washington.

“I walked out of that saying I don’t think I’ll see a better quarterback in the country and in my time coaching, I can’t list a whole lot better than I just saw,” Keeler said of Adams. “I have no reservation saying he’ll go into the Oregon locker room and that he’ll be as talented as anybody. It’s just there are a lot of things that go into being a starting quarterback.

“I’m disappointed he’s leaving because I think what players have to understand is bigger is not better, better is better. He’s developed an unbelievable following at Eastern Washington and I’d be disappointed he’s leaving our level. I’m not excited that he’s trying to bump up to a higher level. The more he plays, the better he’s going to get, and I don’t know if that’s the situation at Oregon.”

Adams has faced doubts before, as a quarterback with scholarship offers from only Portland State and Eastern Washington out of high school in Mission Hills, California.

He’s gone on to pass for 110 touchdowns at Eastern, 10th-most all-time at the FCS level, and account for 10,438 yards passing and 1,232 rushing.

In two games against Oregon State and Washington in his career, he’s accounted for 13 total touchdowns.

“The intrigue of this particular situation is alluring for him and he’s a guy that, I think in the back of his mind is how well he played against Washington and Oregon State,” said Ash, Montana State’s coach. “I think he’s just something he wants to do and he’s had so much success I’m sure he’s very confident he’ll play.”

He’s been a headache for everyone in the Big Sky Conference. Eastern has finished with at least a share of the league’s best record all three seasons Adams has started.

If he jettisons FCS for brighter lights — his welcome-to-FBS moment would be in Week Two, when Oregon travels to Michigan State — he might just become a pest for a whole new set of coaches in the Pac-12.

— Andrew Greif
[email protected]
503-221-8100
@andrewgreif

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