Junior's in charge: Oregon's new WR coach expects growth from talented group
The Ducks are loaded with talent at wide receiver. Junior Adams needs them to get better.
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EUGENE — At 6-foot-5 with the beard of a fifth-year senior, Caleb Chapman struck quite the silhouette Monday at Oregon Ducks practice. Simply, after years of getting the most out of undersized receivers, the Ducks have exchanged the chip-off-their-shoulder types for athletes with shoulders that appear carved from boulders.
Dont’e Thornton is 6-foot-5 and can fly. Troy Franklin is 6-foot-2 and one of UO’s top-rated WR commits ever. Every player in Oregon’s two-deep at the position is a blue chip, including Chapman, who played his high school ball in Texas and spent the first four years of his college career at Texas A&M.
He comes to Oregon with two surgically repaired ACLs and the desire to prove himself with a healthy season. And he’s found a landing spot in Eugene that’s made him feel comfortable despite an accent not matched by many here in the Northwest.
“I’m still adjusting to everything,” Chapman said. “It’s a little different vibe over here with how things are ran. Everything here is awesome, I have no complaints with the coaches.”
Chapman’s adjustment to a new school in a new corner of the country has been helped by his position coach, Junior Adams. Adams spent the last three seasons at Washington, and quickly established himself this offseason as a key piece of Oregon’s recruiting staff. His current and former players say his focus on life away from the field is the key to Adams’ ability to connect.
“He’s not a coach that will just talk to you about school or football,” former Oregon/Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. said. “He would literally just call to ask me about my family and things like, ‘How are you doing mentally? I know you’re far away from family’ and things like that.”
Junior Adams can relate, because he’s been in that position himself before.
He’ll be the first to tell you he never saw himself ending up in Montana. He grew up in California and put together an All-American career at Amador Valley High School in Fremont. He turned town offers from USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington and others to move to Corvallis to play for Dennis Erickson.
Adams spent three years at Oregon State. He played in three games, caught one pass and was sentenced to 10 days in jail after being convicted of assault following an off-campus party. He spent the first three games of Oregon State’s 11-1 2000 season suspended, then transferred to winless Montana State in the offseason. Adams arrived in Bozeman to the headline of “What’s the price of success at MSU?” in the local paper.
Adams said it’s the best thing that ever happened to him.
“I’m lost for words on it a bit, but I needed it to happen,” Adams said. “You know what I mean? I needed it to recenter my focus on the main thing — getting my degree and getting more consistent on and off the field.
“And off the field was the biggest piece.”
Adams caught 106 passes for 1,635 yards in two seasons, and his 53-yard score in a Missoula blizzard helped end Montana State’s 16-year losing streak to Montana in 2002. Adams remembers not being able to feel his hands at the start of that one.
“It was cold enough,” he said. “Twenty years later, it’s like one of those stories your parents say about walking to school in the snow.”
More importantly, he graduated with a sociology degree and reputation fit for a story featured on Montana State’s website.
“His growth and maturity can be measured in quantum leaps,” Montana State coach Mike Kramer said in 2004. “He is a very special person.”
Special enough for Kramer to add Adams to his coaching staff, jumpstarting a career which took Adams from Montana State to Eastern Washington to Boise State to Western Kentucky to Washington and now here to Oregon, where his hiring was announced along with a press release featuring glowing reviews from Cooper Kupp, the NFL’s best wide receiver, who Adams coached at Eastern Washington.
With Vernon Adams Jr. at quarterback and Kupp at receiver, that Eastern Washington team provided Junior Adams one the favorite wins of his coaching career — when the Eagles upset No. 25 Oregon State in 2013.
“We just asked for a shot,” Adams said. “When you’re playing those games when you’re an FCS team, you’re just asking for an opportunity and that’s what we had.
“Then on the other side of that, [we at Washington] lost to Montana last year. So. Yeah.”1
And now he’s at Oregon, in charge of a position group that’s loaded with athletes but thin on proven production. It’s a group whose collective talent could be the X-factor this season for the Ducks — if only they continue to grow, Adams said.
It’s something he says he’s still expecting from himself, too.
“Being around [Oregon head coach] Dan Lanning is impressive, man,” Adams said. “I’ve been around a lot of first-or-second-year coaches and, man, these first months have been really good. Really good.
“I’m bought in and I’ve learned a lot in my seven months.”
— Tyson Alger
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Saved it for the footnotes: Go Griz.