Justin Herbert stays humble despite Heisman hype

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert never expected to be on Heisman Trophy watchlists. He never expected NFL scouts to be licking their lips at the chance of picking the local kid with the big head of hair and boyish smile in the NFL Draft. He never expected to be the starting quarterback for his local Oregon Ducks.

This wasn’t the plan.

“It’s something that I never imagined,” Herbert said. “I came into Oregon, and was excited to maybe play a down or two my junior or senior year. I was really just excited to be there.”

Despite missing five games during his sophomore season due to a broken collarbone, Herbert threw for 1,983 yards with 15 touchdowns to become the fastest Duck quarterback to reach 3,000 career passing yards.

“You find out how much football means to you, watching on the sideline,” Herbert said. “It wasn’t easy. I took a lot of the blame and I felt pretty bad for a long time.”

But now, Herbert is rolling again after finishing out last season last with a 38-28 loss in the Las Vegas Bowl to Boise State.

“I am sure it’s been on everyone’s mind like it’s been on my mind the past seven months,” Herbert said. “I am just excited to get back out there week one, and get back to playing.”

Last year at Media Day, Willie Taggart said Herbert added muscle over the offseason. This year, the big change for Herbert is his leadership.

“He now is becoming a field general,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “I think he was a quarterback last year, and now he’s becoming a field general.”

Herbert’s first game back from injury last year was at home against Arizona. He and the Ducks beat the Wildcats 48-28, with Herbert going 14-for-21 for 235 yards and one touchdown. On the other side of the ball for Arizona was Colin Schooler, who named Herbert when he was asked who he thought is the best quarterback in the Pac-12 other than Arizona’s Khalil Tate.

The confidence shown in Herbert is partly why he’s now considered a Heisman contender. Unlike some past Heisman-winning quarterbacks, Herbert is a reserved person and tends to stay quiet. Herbert’s much more like the first Heisman-winning quarterback from Oregon: Marcus Mariota.

Mariota comes into Eugene from time to time to check in on Herbert and give him pointers.

“I still have to pinch myself,” Herbert said. “A couple years ago I would read all the articles about Marcus and all those guys … It’s funny how things work out.”

Now, Herbert doesn’t read too many stories about the Oregon football team. In fact, he tries to avoid any of the Heisman hype, having deleted his Twitter account after getting to the university.

“It’s an honor for sure, but I try not to let it take too much from the team,” Herbert said. “I kinda think about those guys and they deserve my best, just like I expect the best from them. [I] just try and make it all about the team.”

Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow

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Shawn Medow

Shawn Medow

Shawn is an associate sports editor and reporter for the Emerald covering football, men's basketball, women's basketball, acrobatics and tumbling, track and field/cross-country and softball. He also hosts several podcasts, including a soccer podcast, on the Emerald Podcast Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShawnMedow.