With the sixth pick in the 2020 NFL draw, the Chargers selected Justin Herbert.
Or was he the one who selected them?
“This is the biggest thing that could have happened,” said Herbert’s father, Mark. “It’s perfect for Justin. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him as excited, focused and ready as I am now. We couldn’t have picked a better one.”
Shortly after the Chargers set up the former standout appearance in Oregon on Thursday, a photo of Herbert as a child in a Chargers T-shirt appeared on the Internet. That’s just the beginning.
Raised in Eugene, Oregon, where there is no NFL team, Justin and brothers Mitchell and Patrick Chargers were fans. Each had a sweater. There was a David Boston, a Drew Brees and a LaDainian Tomlinson.
There are family roots in Southern California, one grandfather is from San Diego and the other from Fullerton. A set of great-grandparents was from Orange County.
The family has had many holidays here and visited more often.
“Justin would go to the moon to play,” said Mark. “He didn’t care. But if you had anything to say, it made sense.”
After a short pause, the father added, “I don’t want this to be corny. But you know, the story sounds quite old-fashioned. ‘
That’s exactly how it is now for this latest Charger, a small-town star and multisport prepster who grew up close enough to Autzen Stadium to practically hear the roar and eventually caused that roar itself as Oregon quarterback.
Getting into the NFL might be as big a dream as playing in the league, production for television grippingly captures the Herbert family and captures all their emotions when the Chargers – their Chargers – called.
It was a very real version of fantasy football.
“I’m just so happy for the family,” said Lane Johnson, Herbert’s high school soccer coach. “I tell you, this Herbert family is off the charts. They are as humble and friendly as you can get.”
In Sheldon High, Herbert started appearing as a quarterback in the months leading up to his season.
He had already been an ace-pitcher in the title-winning baseball team and would make an average double-double on the basketball court soon enough.
But his football skills had slowed, especially after Herbert broke his leg early in his junior season.
He had the talent and arm, Herbert whistling steps with the kind of zip that would later in college cause teammates to complain about their aching palms.
But only after the broken leg, after a few months without football, Herbert started to realize what he really wanted.
Johnson, a math teacher at the time, remembers that Herbert regularly came to his room to share his disappointments.
“It was still very emotional for him,” said Johnson. “He felt – and this is typical Justin Herbert – that he was abandoning the team when he was injured. I said to him, “Justin, you were injured. You were not kicked out of the team for smoking drugs. ‘
“I think he should grow up just a little bit and he certainly did. He always said to me, “Coach, I like the other sports, but I like football.” That was a big factor, he got injured and the game was taken from him. “
Herbert’s only scholarship offer came from Nevada before Oregon became interested. One October day of his senior season, the ducks volunteered and Herbert nursed that evening.
There was no other place than Oregon wanted to go to where Herbert’s grandfather Rich Schwab had played.
As children, he and his brothers discovered the ducks from section 12 of Autzen Stadium, rows 32 and 33 – the location of Schwab’s four season tickets.
But when he arrived on campus as a duck, Herbert was buried on the depth map. Wanting to play his senior baseball season with Sheldon, he was not an early participant.
But he was hardly prepared for the opportunity. Despite his limited time around the football program, Herbert’s knowledge of the playbook was so thorough that he was able to take over the starter midway through his freshman season.
This is a student athlete who, while graduating, was a three-time Academic All-America first teamer and received A’s in every class except one. Without football, Herbert would likely go to medical school.
He is a recognized perfectionist, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal called Herbert “a detailed machine.” His handwriting is said to be remarkably accurate. Cristobal joked that Herbert’s notes appear to be “with the laser.”
But in his first shot as a college quarterback, he and the Ducks were woefully short of perfection, going 4-8 and hearing angered at their home stadium.
“It wasn’t Oregon football that I was used to,” said Herbert, before noticing that he went through three head trainers and three fouls with the Ducks. “We continued to fight and faced adversity.”
In his senior season, Oregon went 12-2 to win the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl, a championship secured when Herbert overcame such a passing day rushing for three touchdowns and earning MVP awards.
During his time in Oregon, he even managed to answer doubts about his leadership qualities, doubts that re-emerged during the pre-design process and persisted as a discussion point.
This despite the fact that Herbert won the William V. Campbell Trophy in December – which recognizes academic success, football achievements and exemplary leadership -.
Willie Taggart, Herbert’s second Oregon coach, was one of those who publicly urged him to become a more obvious, more vocal leader. One of his best friends among the ducks, center Jake Hanson, once called Herbert “the shyest guy I’ve ever met.”
As for the Chargers, general manager Tom Telesco did not express concern about Herbert’s leadership, but praised the determination he routinely showed in leading Oregon 4-8 and angered the Autzen.
“Whatever your personality, you can lead,” said Telesco. “We saw him lead. I saw him lead the field with my own eyes. Our scouts saw him lead.”
So, when will Herbert have a chance to lead the Chargers? Veteran Tyrod Taylor is the expected Week 1 starter for 2020, and Herbert is expected to be groomed as his eventual replacement and possible long-term quarterback.
In the meantime, this somewhat old-fashioned sounding story may continue. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, all five Herbert’s Justins selection shared together at the family’s home in Eugene.
There was no trip to Las Vegas, no loud NFL-sponsored design party just off the Strip. There was only one quarterback with his parents and two brothers watching his dream unfold in the most vibrant colors possible.
When Herbert’s phone buzzed on Thursday, he looked down to notice Telesco’s name. A brother, Mitchell, grabbed his arm when his father noticed the caller ID.
“You’re getting married again and have three boys … wow, this could be there,” said Mark. “Winning a Rose Bowl is great. Pac-12 championships and state champions are great. But this is different.
“This is an incredible situation and it is not lost to us or to him. I am so excited for him because of this opportunity. Hope and opportunity, if you have it, you will be fine.”
Staff writer Andrew Greif contributed to this report.