LOS ANGELES — Only one padded practice remains for the Oregon seniors.
After numerous trials and tribulations that Oregon seniors have gone through during their tenures, they have arrived at their final padded practice ahead of a date with Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl to kick off the next decade.
Select Oregon offensive players were made available to the media and amongst them were Justin Herbert, Jake Hanson and Shane Lemieux. The three combine for 142 starts, and have gone through three head coaches in the span of four years.
Despite a turbulent journey, the seniors have stuck together and forged a bond that helped get Oregon to a Rose Bowl. The Ducks have their final full contact practice on Sunday at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, before going through a walk through practice tomorrow.
“Yesterday, I got to admit, yesterday was the first day where I was like OK ‘this is my last Tuesday practice of my career. This is special man,’” Lemieux said. “Getting done with that practice and walking off the field, I was like ‘aw man, one more padded practice.’ It’s definitely hitting me now.”
Lemieux is not the only offensive lineman that has a “weird” feeling of Sunday being his final padded practice, but so does Hanson. The two have been playing side-by-side for the past four seasons, and began to forge a bond when they lived together their freshman year.
Their freshman season ended 4-8, along with a mass exodus of the coaching staff following the firing of then-head coach Mark Helfrich. And among those coaches was Steve Greatwood, who recruited Lemieux and Hanson. Despite Greatwood’s departure, Hanson and Lemuix did not budge.
After a low freshman season, they now are on the verge of a 12-win season if they can get past Wisconsin on New Year’s Day.
“It’s been a really long road with a lot of hard times,” Hanson said. “When we first came in our goal was to win a conference championship and make it to the Rose Bowl. We’ve grown individually and as a team. We’ve really created something special that we’re all really proud of. To be here to finish up our careers is a really great feeling.”
For the man they’ve been trying to keep upright these last four years, it’s gone by fast for him.
Herbert entered his freshman year quiet, shy and, to him, didn’t do certain things that he needed to do for his team. Now, despite being an introvert, has forced himself to get out of his comfort zone. He has now become a vocal leader and a leader amongst the team, and is now doing things that his team needs him to.
“When I showed up my freshman year I wasn’t a quarterback,” Herbert said. “I think I’m a completely different person than I was when I showed up.”
After experiencing hard times as the signal caller of the offense, Herbert now leads one of the best scoring offenses and is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. Herbert, after spurning a chance at the NFL Draft, is getting to live out a lifelong dream in his senior season.
“This has been every bit of the experience that I ever wanted,” Herbert said. “Playing in the Rose Bowl with these guys, it’s been special. For us to comeback from 4-8 and be where we are now, I wouldn’t believe it when I was younger but it’s been a lot of fun.”
Now, the seniors have a chance at a storybook ending that include one of their goals they set when arriving at Oregon, but a top-10 foe is standing in their way.
“Got to win the game to make it that much more special,” Hanson said.