Hitting the reset button has been something that has become a part of Cyrus Habibi-Likio’s family history.
Habibi-Likio’s grandfather, Dr. Hossein Habibi, left his life as a surgeon in Iran to move to the United States with nothing but his family, forcing him to reset his entire life. Habibi-Likio may not be making such a dramatic change, but he’s hitting the reset button in his own way.
Habibi-Likio was featured as Oregon’s goal-line back last season and was widely considered as a one-down runner. This season, he wants to change the narrative and show that he can be an all-purpose running back by using his grandfather’s story as motivation.
“I took his mentality and hit the reset button,” Habibi-Likio said. “He had everything there and nothing here, so he had to restart his way up.”
Habibi, who was the head military surgeon in Iran, fled his native country due to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 to seek a better life in America. He found his family’s new home in Oklahoma with his wife and two young daughters, one being Habibi-Likio’s mother, Atousa.
With the money he brought from Iran, he found work in Oklahoma and opened a hardware store with a friend, but the business did not pan out. During his time in Oklahoma he was picked up by immigration. Habibi pled asylum and was forced to re-uproot his life, which brought him to Chicago.
In Chicago, Habibi began doing what he was originally doing in Iran, but this time he had to start from scratch in an entirely different country. He had to learn English and retake all of his medical exams, which eventually placed him in the burn unit at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County until receiving his degree in urology.
“The stepping stones they’ve put out for me helps me not complain and have a more positive attitude,” Habibi-Likio said. “Knowing that I have so much more than them and if they can accomplish what they have accomplished with nothing, with all these resources, I can do a lot.”
Habibi-Likio’s other grandfather, Solo Mone, who is the father of Habibi-Likio’s father, Peni Likio, also uprooted his life to begin a new one in America.
Mone came from the Islands of Tonga, a third-world country located in the South Pacific ocean. Habibi-Likio got a chance to see where his roots come from earlier this summer by taking a trip to the Islands of Tonga.
“Very different, lot of poverty. It was very humbling,” Habibi-Likio said while wearing his bright red slippers with the word “Tonga” in white lettering on his feet. “It humbles me and makes me remember my homeland.”
In the 2018 season, Habibi-Likio carried the ball 18 times for 36 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite playing the goal-line and short-yardage situation role early on in the season, his carries began to dwindle as the season went on. CJ Verdell and Travis Dye emerged as the premier backs on the depth chart, thus giving Habibi-Likio less opportunity.
Habibi-Likio, despite being comfortable with his role in 2018, wants to show he is capable of much more in 2019.
Following the 2018 season, the Ducks lost their senior running back in Tony Brooks-James. This now makes Habibi-Likio an “old head” on the team, but it took a conversation with his uncle, Aremon Habibi, to realize that he needed to step up.
“I think the main thing is his mentality,” Aremon said on how Habibi-Likio has grown over the past year. “He likes to joke around, he was kind of known for being the guy who has the dance moves and the fashion. I had to have a serious talk with him. I was like, ‘Coming into this year all of the older guys in those guys are gone. You, CJ, and Darrian [Felix] are going to be the grown-ups in the room now.‘Maybe you need to stop being a jokester and grow up a little bit.’
“He got real serious about writing out a list of goals of what he wanted to do in the offseason. He has super toned back on his social media usage and just focused in.”
Habibi-Likio’s goal for spring ball was to show off his versatility, and he did. He led all rushers with 12 carries on 47 yards and a touchdown, he also finished with three receptions for 24 yards.
“He has certainly earned the right to increase his role on this football team,” head coach Mario Cristobal said following the spring game.
Heading into fall camp, Habibi-Likio set more goals for himself. He wants to prove his versatility, be a vocal leader, help mold the young players and learn from seniors, such as Justin Herbert, Troy Dye and Calvin Throckmorton to better himself as a football player.
Habibi-Likio has also taken the weight room more seriously this year. Following that same talk with his uncle, his family invested in a weight set and bench press for Habibi-Likio to put into his room inside of his apartment. He used that along with Oregon’s strength and conditioning program to gain 20 pounds between last season and now to put Habibi-Likio into what he says is “the best shape of his life.”
Despite being in a position that is currently nine men deep on the depth chart, Habibi-Likio’s 2019 reset has not gone unnoticed by his coaches.
“He’s just taken his game to a new level,” running backs coach Jim Mastro said. “He’s gotten faster. He’s taken his game to where he can be an every-down back for us.”
Mastro, who has been an essential part in Habibi-Likio’s growth, recruited Habibi-Likio while he was the running backs coach at Washington State. Mastro was one of the first people who recruited Habibi-Likio out of high school and who believed in his talents.
Now Habibi-Likio talents have been on full display for not only Mastro, but the man who’s calling the offensive plays, Marcus Arroyo.
“Cyrus has done an awesome job,” Arroyo said. “Cyrus works his tail off. He’s the epitome of a guy who goes in every day and does his job. He’s proven himself and proved to us that he can do more than just that goal-line short-yardage stuff.”
Now that Habibi-Likio’s reset has caught the attention of his coaches, he has to prove what he can be capable of under the bright lights. And none will shine brighter than when No. 11 Oregon takes on No. 16 Auburn on primetime television in front of a national audience during its week one matchup in Arlington, Texas.
“It’s time to build up,” Habibi-Likio said. “I want to prove a point...it’s a new year, it’s a new me, it’s a new team, we’re excited.”
Follow Gabriel on Twitter @gabe_ornelas