Justin Herbert from Sheldon High School in Eugene was not highly recruited following a junior year that was shortened when he broke his leg in the third game of the season. When he recovered and returned to action for his senior year, he was off the recruiting radar of many except for Northern Arizona and some interest from Oregon and Washington.
Herbert committed to Oregon on Oct. 8, 2015, but still there wasn't much available for Scout.com recruiting analysts to rate him in terms of 7-on-7 or Nike Camp observations. There were of course some highlight video, but that sometimes cannot really tell the whole story.
Once Herbert enrolled in school last June, more mystery surrounded him, this time by the Oregon Athletic Department's policy of not allowing media to talk to incoming freshmen. Reports from the AD's controlled blog suggested Herbert was doing quite well in fall camp; still though no experienced working beat reporter had been able see the young player with their own eyes.
Herbert's first action came in the very first game -- sort of. He came in on the last snap of the game when Oregon was leading FCS Cal-Davis 53-28. Herbert took the snap in the shotgun formation and promptly handed the ball off. Game over.
Still though, the Oregon coaches suggested that Herbert had done enough in fall camp to warrant him being made the initial back up to starter Dakota Prukop. Oregon's second game of the season was against Virginia and while many expected to see Herbert on the field, the Oregon coaching staff said it wasn't in the plan to use Herbert early on; Oregon was up 44-13 in the third quarter yet no Herbert sighting. Oregon went on to eventually win the game 44-26, to record the Duck's second (and last so far) wins of the season.
The next two games were close as Oregon lost at Nebraska 35-32 then lost again at home against Colorado, 41-38.
No Herbert, obviously close games required the starter to play the entire game.
Finally Herbert got his chance. The Ducks were manhandled by Washington State for the entire game last Saturday night, and in the fourth quarter with WSU out in front 44-20 with 8:03, Herbert was warming up on the sidelines and was going to enter the game after the Ducks went on offense following a kickoff. However, Charles Nelson took the kickoff in the endzone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. The Ducks failed to convert a 2-point conversion and the bloody massacre was little less morbid, as the Ducks now trailed 44-26.
The porous Oregon defense came onto the field again following Oregon's kickoff and again was unable to do anything with the WSU offense and that drive went 83 yards lasting 10 plays culminating with James Williams going in from 3-yards out. Following the PAT, the Cougars were up 51-26.
WSU kicked off and Tony Brooks-James returned the ball to the Oregon 15 with 2:47 left in the game, No. 10, Justin Herbert took the field for his first real college game action.
On the first snap, Herbert saw the fastest set of defenders he'd ever seen, but he remained calm and threw a safe outlet pass to Kani Benoit but there was no gain.
Second-and-10 from the 15.
This time we finally saw what the Oregon coaches were talking about when Herbert took the snap, went through his progressions and hit tight end Jacob Breeland who caught the pass 15-yard pass, turned and ran down the sideline for a 63-yard gain to the WSU 22.
It was a big play, and it was also first-and-10.
The next pass intended for @Jalen Brown went incomplete. Brooks-James carried the ball two more times, gaining 11 yards and now the Ducks were at the WSU 11.
Once again Herbert found Breeland for a 7-yard pass play that put the ball on the WSU 4. The next snap, Herbert rolled out to his right and he kept running into the endzone for the touchdown.
Herbert's first real drive lasted 2:01 and went for 85 yards in nine plays. Following Aidan Schneider point after the score was 51-33, which was the final score.
"It was really cool," said Herbert of the drive. "I was really nervous because those guys (WSU) came a lot faster than I was prepared for, but it was really fun to be out there."
What about the big play to Breeland?
"It was just like what we practice," admitted Herbert. "He was open and I tried to hit him and it was a great play."
What was his mindset in that drive?
"Stay calm, don't do anything stupid, follow my reads, listen to the coaches and try and find an open man," responded Herbert to the question.
For his part Herbert doesn't think that there is any kind of quarterback controversy and he is fully behind Prukop as the starter.
"One hundred percent, he's the guy," Herbert stated when asked if there is going to be a controversy about the position. "I'm confident in him, the team is confident and so are the coaches."
That's about the extent of what we know now about Justin Herbert. For the game he was 3-for-5, 70 yards and a 4-yard TD run, which is not a lot to make any kind of point except what Herbert really represents for the Oregon Ducks is hope.
We may not know a lot about Herbert and likely he won't see any kind of starting roll this season, but what do know is that the Oregon Ducks are 2-3 for the season with a speeding freight train headed in its direction in the form of the Washington Huskies, who haven't beaten Oregon since 2003, when Herbert was five years old.
Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich is deep in troubled waters, about as deep say as Puget Sound and the Ducks desperately are in need of some heroes to show up and make plays so that this season can be turned around. We don't know if that can happen because there are so many things going wrong from poor tackling to undisciplined plays that result in penalties.
Over the last 20 years or so fans make plans for bowl trips before the season starts with the only question being which city they will fly to.
Top-10 ratings, conference championship, appearances in National Championship games and even Heisman Trophy winners are now what is expected at Oregon -- not losing seasons.
All that might be over this year.
While Justin Herbert isn't responsible for the missed tackles or pass interference calls, he along with other freshmen like linebacker Troy Dye, safety Brenden Schooler and four redshirt freshmen offensive linemen do provide hope for the future and perhaps at this point it is a good starting place when talking about Oregon football.