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Bo Nix, the Oregon Duck
13 months into his stay in Eugene, the Oregon quarterback reflects on his return, his training and what it means to still be in Eugene.
EUGENE — It’s a light day for Bo Nix.
Wednesdays are free from offseason workouts and running, his Oregon Ducks are still weeks away from the beginning of spring practices and, in an office inside of the Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center, Nix sits thousands of miles away from Indianapolis where a handful of his contemporaries will soon participate in the NFL Combine.
Here in February of 2023, Eugene is still the home of the former-Mr. Alabama. He didn’t expect this. Neither did his wife, Izzy, when she moved out to Eugene in August after their wedding with about six months worth of supplies.
It’s not a bad thing, he says.
“She was born and raised in the same town and she went to Auburn, same house her whole life, that kind of stuff,” Nix says. “So it was going to be a new culture for us regardless of where I ended up. So the fact that we ended up all the way out here, it just amplifies our story a little bit more.
“Yeah, we went to Eugene, Oregon.”
And they’re kind of loving it. They’ve been to the coast. They’ve been to the mountains and up to Portland to see the Blazers. The newlyweds enjoy date nights at Elk Horn Brewery and Sabai Cafe. Their schedules don’t often jive — Izzy is a personal trainer at F45 — but they do their best to find pockets here and there. But if she’s working, Nix will often just stay here at the facility. Even with as much has changed in his life the last year, Nix doesn’t do well with free time.
For much of Nix’s life, he reveled in knowing the future. The son of an Auburn quarterback, Nix knew everything about his first school before he ever stepped foot on campus. All of the traditions. All the history. All the pressures placed upon a 5-star recruit like himself.
But here in Oregon, Nix has let himself embrace what’s different, on the field and off. And with his return for the 2023 season, he’s building something no one saw coming: A legacy as Bo Nix, the Oregon Duck.
Earlier in February, Nix found himself on set at the Nike campus with Joey Harrington, Marcus Mariota and Jordan Kent during a taping of Talkin’ Ducks. Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, and Harrington, a 2001 Heisman finalist, are among just a handful of players in Oregon history who’ve experienced as good of a season as Nix had in 2022.
Coming off ankle surgery and the transfer from Auburn, Nix quickly won the job at Oregon and played himself into the Heisman race until a November ankle injury derailed his campaign. His passing numbers — 3,593 yards, 29 touchdowns, 7 interceptions — were easily the best of his career, and Nix’s commitment to using his legs as weapons transformed him into one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks with an added 510 yards and 14 scores on the ground.
At one point, the Ducks were 8-1 and No. 6 in the country.
On set, Nix confidently talked with the former Ducks about his decision to come back to Oregon, the unfinished business left after painful rivalry losses and how he expects to adjust this season under new offensive coordinator Will Stein.
Nix got a little quieter when the conversation steered toward things lifelong Oregon fans had equal interest in, such as Mariota’s newborn, or the logistics of how Sabrina Ionescu and Hroniss Grasu became the Oregon “It” couple. Nix knew a little about Oregon before making the trek out west, having watched Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas and knowing ‘The Brand,’ but some things you just have to be there for.
Nix ate up his first opportunity to have a new college experience.
“I love it,” he says back in Eugene. “Just the simple things like the motorcycle that leads us out onto the field. The fight song. Those little things that you don’t pick up on until you’re here.”
He starts talking about football now.
“Like, I thought Oregon State was the rivalry. Turns out, Washington is a huge rival and I had no idea until I was in it. I’ve loved listening to stories from those guys that’ve been here because you really get to know the hatred and status and temperature.”
It was late in Oregon’s 37-34 loss that Washington’s Alex Cook rolled up on Nix’s ankle and took him out for a crucial failed fourth-down attempt. He still wasn’t 100 percent two weeks later when the Ducks blew a 21-point lead in the second half to Oregon State. Immediately after the loss, news broke that Kenny Dillingham, Oregon’s offensive coordinator who coached Nix as a freshman at Auburn, was being hired as Arizona State’s head coach.
“He helped me unbelievably and I just tried to help him as much as I could. They’re his plays, I just have to make them work,” Nix says. “I can take pride in that because I’ve seen where he’s come from. I know how much work he’s put into it and how much it means to him.
“But anyway, after that happened I knew I had a decision. The injury didn’t help. At one point I thought there was a good chance I could leave, just because you don’t know if you can come back and duplicate all of that.
“But I had a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like with the information I had, there was a lot on the table I didn’t get to this year. I want to win a championship.”
Ask Nix about when it’s felt best to be Bo Nix on the football field and his eyes light up.
He’s got a few examples. One came from that same Washington game, when he sat back in the pocket and unleashed a 46-yard bomb to Dont’e Thorton while under pressure. Those are the planned plays, the ones Nix says only come with the proper amount of practice and visualization.
“It just felt good. Like, that was cool,” Nix says. “When you stand in there and make a throw and you’re getting hit, that’s like the definition of what playing quarterback is.”
But there are other moments, too, that Nix points to when things break down and he has to use his legs, like the insane scramble-to-passing-touchdown he had against LSU during his sophomore year.
“The good thing in something like that is everybody is freelancing, but I have the ball,” he says. “I can do something about it.”
People often don’t give Nix credit for this, but the quarterback is honest when he talks about the 2020 season being a lost one for development. He’s technically in his fifth year of college now here in Eugene, with a handful of injuries and a pandemic having stripped a way a healthy amount of normal preparation time. He’s still learning, he says, and a part of that goes into the way he’s preparing his body. This offseason Nix has focused on his lower half, building muscle and weight in his legs that he believes will allow him to have the best of both worlds.
“When you grow you learn to fit into yourself and what you’re good at,” he says. “I wanted to train to be able to run through some tackles and to be able to withstand the longevity of the season. Because at the end of the day, I’m going to run because I’m good at it.”
He’s also good at checking for the most up-to-date roster. With four years at Auburn, one at Oregon and a good chunk of turnover here this offseason, Nix’s list of career teammates and coaches is getting a bit out of hand. But he gets it. Even with Dillingham’s quick departure back in November, that’s just football here in 2023.
“At this point, turnover and change is yearly,” Nix says. “I feel like it’s not even a possibility for people to be comfortable going into the year with how much change there is now. You just hope they turn over the roster pretty quickly online so you can start matching names with faces.”
Things will start moving again here soon. Spring practice begins in March, then comes a quick summer turnaround before preparations start for the Sept. 2 opener against Portland State. There’s no Georgia on the schedule this year, but with the Pac-12 returning star quarterbacks in Michael Penix Jr., Caleb Williams, Cam Rising and the addition of D.J. Uiagalelei, there’s little let up in conference play.
Then comes the postseason. Then comes the combine. Then comes the draft. Then comes the next move.
But right now Bo Nix is in Eugene. And while someday another quarterback might do an interview inside a building named after him on this campus, that is not today.
“I should remind myself that it’s February,” he says, “and that this is the time to take an afternoon nap and get away with it.”
— Tyson Alger
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