In 2012, during Dakota Prukop’s redshirt season at Montana State, he stood on the sidelines watching the Bobcats give away a lead to one of their biggest rivals, Eastern Washington.
Prukop, then a freshman, doesn’t remember a lot about that game -- how far ahead they were when it started to go south, with whom he was standing or even whether they ultimately won or lost. But he remembers -- almost perfectly -- seeing the hardest hit he had ever seen in college football. It was on Vernon Adams Jr.
Adams had rolled out to his right, looked downfield and saw nothing. So he planted his right foot to come back without checking his blind side when 300-pound defensive tackle Zach Minter took him out.
“Then Vernon got up and kept playing and I was like, ‘That is a player right there,’” Prukop remembers. “From that point on, I had the utmost respect for him.”
Today, the two are tied by more obvious threads -- two quarterbacks overlooked in high school who went to Big Sky schools and then became graduate transfers to Oregon, a path that is becoming increasingly popular.
But Prukop knows their biggest similarity is that hit, or rather how Adams got up and finished the game. That was the first time he remembered seeing a player who ultimately led him down this path that will see its next stop in a Ducks uniform.
Two years after that big hit, Prukop and Adams were playing on the same field. Prukop had kept tabs on Adams -- the tough player, the star of the conference -- and he was looking forward to getting a chance to play against him.
Adams finished that game with 358 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and Prukop ended with 248 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions as Eastern Washington won 52-51 on Sept. 20, 2014.
“I remember he came up to me from across the field and he congratulated me and he told me that he thought I was going to be the next Big Sky quarterback,” Prukop said. “For me, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Vernon Adams just complimented me.’ ”
“I was worried he was going to take the Big Sky MVP from me,” Adams said.
Adams and Prukop exchanged numbers and began texting. When Adams broke his foot two games later, Prukop was one of the first to get in touch with him. And when Prukop tore the PCL in his knee later that season, Adams was one of the first to text him. Maybe, Adams suggested, Prukop should try to find a rehab center with a hyperbaric chamber -- he had heard those help speed up recovery time.
Prukop made it a goal to return the following season and take down Adams and Eastern Washington. But before they could get to that point, Adams announced his graduate transfer to Oregon. Prukop, who had never really heard much about the process, took note but moved on with his own team.
From Eugene, Adams watched. He’d check his phone after games to see how Eastern Washington and his favorite wide receiver Cooper Kupp had done, then he’d look for Montana State’s results and Prukop’s stats.
Likewise, Prukop kept his tabs on Adams. He didn’t have a TV in his Bozeman apartment, but he would try to catch Oregon games at a Buffalo Wild Wings or a friend’s place.
And at the end of Montana State’s season, Prukop decided -- like Adams -- that he would send out his permission to contact release. Oregon was on that list and he hoped the success the Ducks had experienced with Adams would translate into Mark Helfrich feeling optimistic that it could work a second time with a second Big Sky quarterback.
In December, Prukop took his visit to Eugene. His host was, unsurprisingly, Adams. Later that month, Prukom committed and by January he was on campus. During Oregon’s pro day last week, the two threw together and spent more time discussing Prukop’s transition to the FBS level.
In Adams’ mind, there’s no doubt that Prukop will thrive at Oregon.
“He should have a better season than I did,” said Adams, who finished the season with the second-best passer efficiency rating in FBS. “I only had three weeks to learn the offense. He has all winter, all spring, all summer and all fall camp to get out there, earn the starting spot, the guys’ trust and get that playbook down.”
Their time on campus before each of their respective first games is one of the biggest differences between the two on their otherwise very similar football journeys.
“Vernon and I are different quarterbacks,” Prukop said. “But coming out of the Big Sky, it’s the same mentality -- the hungry quarterback, the kid that wasn’t recruited.”