If a college football fan had somehow not heard of CJ Verdell’s name before Saturday, he has no excuse after No. 12 Oregon defeated No. 3 Ohio State at Columbus.
The senior red jersey was instrumental in the Ducks’ 35-28 upset over the Buckeyes, rushing 20 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He also added three receptions for 34 yards and another touchdown. In fact, he put the Ducks on the board with each of his first three touchdowns, giving them a 21-7 lead. The first two were a touchdown run and a reception of 14 yards each. The third, a 77-yard rushing touchdown, opened the game for the Ducks:
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To be sure, Verdell was not the only playmaker in Saturday’s game. Running back Travis Dye and quarterback Anthony Brown combined for 18 carries, 108 yards and a touchdown in the victory; Brown also completed 17 of 35 passes for 236 yards and two pass scores. The defense also made several important plays. Despite giving up 624 yards against the Buckeyes’ offense, they limited them to 6 of 15 at third down and 2 of 5 on conversion attempts at fourth down. The Ducks also secured an interception in Ohio State’s penultimate series to help clinch the victory.
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But it all started with Verdell and his tough and dependable career to kick start the surprise. With that, here’s what you need to know about Verdell after he helped lead Oregon into Ohio State’s upset.
Verdell has already made a name for himself in Oregon
If this is the first time you’ve heard of Verdell, it wasn’t for lack of trying by the senior running back. He rushed for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons as a red-jersey freshman (1,018) and sophomore (1,220) in 2018 and ’19, combining for 18 rushing touchdowns in those two seasons. He also caught 41 passes for 440 yards and two touchdowns during that time.
In fact, by Oregon Athletic SiteVerdell is only the fifth running back in Oregon history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. After his performance Saturday, he has 2,758 career yards, tying him with Sean Burwell for seventh all-time in Ducks history. He also has 24 rushing touchdowns, tying him with Saladin McCullough for ninth in Ducks history.
Verdell’s only “inactive” season was in 2020. After starting the season with back-to-back 100-yard games, a thumb injury affected the then-red-jersey junior. He played in five of Oregon’s seven games (remember, the season was shortened considerably due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and missed the Pac-12 championship game and Fiesta Bowl. He finished with 65 carries for 285 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
Verdell did not like soccer when he was a child
It may seem strange, but Verdell did not like the sport of soccer very much as a child. According to a report by The athleticVerdell sobbed before soccer practice because he wanted to stay home. His father, Chris Verdell, “almost had to force him to go practice.”
Part of the reason for his displeasure came from his first youth soccer coach, who played him along the offensive line during a winless season. While he logged a few blocks of pancakes, his father felt the coaches wasting his natural speed and athleticism on the offensive front.
“I told the coach, ‘He’ll never be a lineman if he continues to play, and he’s the fastest kid on your team. How about you try it in the backfield? Just try it once,'” Chris Verdell said.
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To his recollection, his son’s first carry was for a touchdown. From then on, he became “obsessed” with the competition.
“CJ started running and, man, he hit the corner and kept the field,” he said. “A guy jumps on it, drags the guy, and then he rolls off. The coach is running down the touchline with him yelling the whole way, and he went for a touchdown. “
Verdell played safety as a freshman at Mater Dei Catholic High School (Chula Vista, California) before permanently moving to running back in his junior year.
Verdell ran 2,000 yards in high school, twice
Coming out of high school, Verdell was only considered a three-star player, and the No. 443 pick in the country, according to 247 Composite Sports Classification. He was considered number 27 in his class, which included such talents as Najee Harris, Cam Akers, D’Andre Swift, and more.
Whatever the reason, Verdell’s rating could not have been the result of his high school production – he ran twice for 2,000 yards. In his freshman year, he rushed for 2,135 yards and 28 touchdowns. A year later, he rushed for 2,399 yards and 36 touchdowns.
He was also a versatile threat, catching five touchdown passes, returning a kick for a touchdown and intercepting two passes. At the California Division V-AA state championship, he scored three touchdowns and rushed for 153 yards when the Crusaders beat Immanuel 56-21.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.