Homegrown Talent to Humble Hero – Profiling Justin Herbert

Photo: USA Today

Two and a half miles. That's the distance from his front door step at his childhood home in Eugene, Oregon to Autzen Stadium. From not having any social media accounts at all to suiting up in the one of kind highlighter uniforms weekly, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is living the dream of being the hometown hero while also being on center-stage for one of the best programs in the country.

The dreams of throwing touchdowns in the shadows of his own backyard against some of the top defenses in the country weren't always a reality though.

Driving the length of the field in only his third game as a junior quarterback at Sheldon High School, Herbert had already experienced a large amount of success.

Leading his team to a 2-1 record and already having tossed 10 touchdowns, the breakout season that he imagined was finally happening, but still in its early stages. A three-sport athlete growing up, Herbert was supremely talented in basketball, baseball, and football, but his fandom and attachment to football was a result of his family roots and past greats.

From seeing the likes of Joey Harrington to Marcus Mariota, and even the smaller forgotten about program legends in Jeremiah Masoli and Dennis Dixon, it was easy for him to be a diehard Ducks fan growing up. He is not the first person in his family to suit up for the institution though.

Herbert's grandfather, Rick Schwab, donned the flashy colors as a wide receiver during the early 1960s. Having seen the pictures of him and experiencing the prime of many of the schools all-time great signal callers, he always dreamed of one day being at the center of the massive "O" logo at midfield.

As he ran down the sideline during the memorable third game of his second to last season as a high school student-athlete, a low hit took him down following a 35-yard scamper during the waning moments of the third quarter. Attempting to get up, but he just couldn't. His short-term dreams were shattered right before his eyes.

All of the images that he had of himself alongside his future teammates of running out of the pre-game tunnel with the decorated Ducks decal on his helmet, to having the tightly snugged uniform with the Herbert family name across the top of his back, were now in danger of just being left as a mirage.

Diagnosed with a broken femur, it was one of the toughest moments of his career. Seeming to be on the verge of hitting his stride and garnering lots of college attention, the little amounts of traffic that he possessed already began to scurry away one-by-one because of his devastating injury.

Doubt began to creep into his mind and he was content by settling with playing with his older brother, Mitchell, who was a receiver at Montana State. Northern Arizona and Portland State were the other schools who extended a scholarship offer, but the interest remained lukewarm. 

Using it as motivation, Herbert didn't get back up to speed until the spring during baseball season. As a first-baseman and pitcher, fresh off of surgery just a few months prior to, he was named as a second-team All-State selection. Posting a batting average that hovered around .400, he helped lead the program to a 2-1 victory over West Linn in the 2015 Class 6A State Championship. 

The hero of the game? You guessed it, Herbert. In the fifth inning, he hit an RBI single that tied the game 1-1, but after Sheldon's starting pitcher struggled during the earlier portions of the outing, it was Herbert who came in for relief and pitched a shutout during the games final four innings to secure the programs second title in three seasons.

Besides throwing occasional fastballs, slinging touchdowns, and carrying the Eugene moniker, the 6-foot-6 quarterback has a heavy effect outside of the playing surface as well. Herbert, a biology major, and three-time Academic All-America first-team recipient, carries a 4.08 overall grade point average. 

A truly phenomenal accomplishment, Herbert hasn't made a grade below an A since he receiving a B in English while rehabbing from his gruesome leg injury during his forgetful junior year.

A program that's had their fair share of standout throwers, Herbert is only the ninth first-team academic All-American in program history. As only the third quarterback to win these honors, he joined Bill Musgrave (1990) and Joey Harrington (2001).

Helping others and surpassing what seems like impossible odds is an area that he strives for. Everyone that's been exposed to Herbert's mantra says that you don't understand his smarts and humble nature until you experience his personality.

Not only does he serve as the face of the Oregon football program, but also the Biology department as well. Receiving an A grade in what is known as one of the universities toughest class, Herbert went so far as to take the class again, but this time he served as a teachers assistant to help assist others in the class.

His lasting impact has also extended internationally as well. 

Herbert enjoys taking yearly trips outside of the country, specifically to Uganda (2018), to prepare and eat meals with the impoverished youth, as well as building playgrounds for them that usually ends with a competitive game of basketball or soccer on the newly constructed playing surfaces. 

Even though his collegiate career got off to a fast start, it hasn't always been sunshine and roses. 

In 2016, he became the first true freshman quarterback to claim the starting position in 33 years. Finishing his first season with 19 touchdowns to just four interceptions, the buzz surrounding Herbert in his hometown was similar to a rockstar returning home for a final concert performance while on tour.

In 2017, similar to his junior year at Sheldon High, injury adversity began to strike again. Just five games into his sophomore season, Herbert suffered a broken left collarbone while rushing for a touchdown in the first quarter against Cal.

An eventual 45-24 victory, but the win left a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans as their star trigger man was sidelined for what was believed at the time to be six-to-eight weeks. 

Herbert returned in five weeks to finish out the final three games of the season against Arizona, Oregon State, and Boise State. Compiling a 6-2 record, the excitement around him and what he could bring to the table in 2018 were still at an all-time high. 

All he did in 2018 was orchestrate his team to an 8-4 record, while not up-to-par for many, his performance stayed steady. Rumors surfaced on whether he would enter his name into the 2019 NFL Draft, but he never wavered and always wanted to return to Eugene, not only to fulfill his lifelong dream, but to also get a chance to play with his younger brother, Patrick, who will be a freshman tight end this upcoming season.

Herbert now enters his closing year with a nation-leading streak of 28 consecutive games recording a touchdown pass. The 28-game streak is the second longest in program history behind Mariota's 41 consecutive games (2012-2014) with a touchdown pass.

Already with 7,070 career passing yards, he's also only 1,274 yards away from second-place in school history. Catching Mariota's 10,796 is a lofty goal, but needing 3,727 yards is seen as an obtainable task according to his standards.

It's no secret as to why so many are excited about Justin Herbert. It's not just his talents while inside of the playing arena, but the impact he has off of it.

Already establishing a name for himself in the community that he's called home for two decades, he's now trying to prove to NFL evaluators that returning for his final season was the correct decision.

The hype will be aplenty, but he still remains his quiet and humble self. As has already happened, there will be plenty of critics of his reserved and laid-back nature.

The questions surrounding if he eventually can be the leader of other men in a locker room will be another that arises, but one thing is for certain, Justin Herbert remains himself and persevered through plenty, but he has been able to stay afloat amid the negatives and many are looking forward to seeing how he performs during his final moments where it all began in Eugene, Oregon. 

Written By:

Jordan Reid

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Founder of ClimbingThePocket.com. Former QB and Coach at North Carolina Central Univ.