Football Practice Report: Aug. 13
Venue: Autzen Stadium
Format: Fast Friday
With a scrimmage set for Saturday evening, the Oregon football team went through a "Fast Friday" workout the day before, as the Ducks would prior to a game during the season.
There was a strength-and-conditioning circuit to start practice, and then the Ducks went right into 11-on-11 drills. With no developmental squads designated this early in preseason camp, they ran plays against each other in an up-tempo, non-contact format – ones vs. ones, twos vs. twos, etc.
When the No. 3 offense took the field it featured a mix of young guys – Jay Butterfield with Seven McGee in the backfield – and non-scholarship players, including Korbin Williams and Spencer Curtis at receiver. There was one exception: At tight end was a sixth-year senior, Cam McCormick, getting one of the first 11-on-11 reps in Autzen Stadium he's taken since suffering a leg injury in the 2018 season opener.
"I haven't been out at a fall camp in a long time," McCormick said afterward. "It's just a different energy. It's nice. I enjoy it a lot. Surreal – it's surreal being back out there."
Since his injury in the 2018 opener against Bowling Green, McCormick has endured a litany of surgeries and setbacks. He was able to play in the 2019 Spring Game, and hoped to do the same in 2020 before the pandemic cut short spring practices. By each subsequent fall, though, he was back on the sidelines.
Until this one.
"To see him out there running around having fun with a smile on his face," sophomore tight end Spencer Webb said, "just as a friend – not even a teammate but as a friend – it's awesome."
McCormick won the starting job to open the 2018 season but his first reception, late in the first quarter, ended up being his only touch of the last three seasons. He suffered a torn ankle ligament and broken fibula on the play, and was out for the year.
After spring of 2019, discomfort in McCormick's ankle led to the discovery of a term that's become all too familiar for him by now – "hardware malfunction." A screw from the previous surgery was aggravating his ankle; it was replaced, only to have the new screw contribute to a ruptured tendon in 2020.
In December of last year, McCormick had his ankle reconstructed by Dr. Robert Anderson, an associate team physician with the Green Bay Packers and former team orthopaedist with the Carolina Panthers. His heel bone was split and then re-fused, to address pronation that was stressing the inside of McCormick's ankle.
His return from that procedure has been methodical. But he's made enough progress to be hopeful for some reps in Saturday's scrimmage.
"He's taking each day one day at a time," UO tight ends coach Bobby Williams said. "He's focusing on doing more in practice each day from a running standpoint, from a blocking standpoint, from a pass receiving standpoint. We try to add more and more to his workload every day."
McCormick feared the ankle reconstruction would lead to yet another lost season. He wondered at times over the past three years if it was time to give up football. But with the support of his family, and former roommates like Juwan Johnson and Dallas Warmack, he soldiered on.
"I don't think I've accomplished what I want to accomplish here yet," McCormick said. "I'm not going to give up on my dream."
Despite the frustrations on the field, McCormick stayed focused off of it. He was diligent about his rehab. After completing his undergraduate degree, he enrolled in the UO School of Journalism and Communication's master's program in advertising and brand responsibility.
McCormick also embraced being part of "a new little team" within the football roster, those players sidelined by injury who spend time rehabbing together. When running back Trey Benson was injured last season, McCormick became a mentor to the freshman.
Now, McCormick is back in the mix with the full team, competing for reps in practice. He wasn't 100 percent sure Friday that he would participate in Saturday's scrimmage. So he's certainly not letting himself dream much about finally playing in a game just yet.
His teammates, however, sure are.
"I might shed a tear," Webb said. "I know what he's been through and what his family's been through. I'm going to be the loudest one on the sideline, going crazy."
Like his teammates, McCormick has had dreams of playing professionally. Battling injuries for three years gave him a new appreciation for the game, however, and the need to savor all it has to offer. One day, football won't be an option. Occasionally over the last three years, McCormick feared that day would be soon.
And perhaps that will be the case. So while he continues to harbor long-term dreams, McCormick is firmly focused on the present.
"I want to enjoy being a college football player," he said. "And I want to show everybody what I can still do. I know it's been a while since I've been out there. But don't doubt me. I've still got it."
Sophomore safety Steve Stephens IV
Other observations: The Ducks piped in crowd noise for Fast Friday, a small preview of playing in front of season-ticket holders who were invited to watch Saturday's scrimmage. … Among the freshman in the mix for special teams jobs, based on Friday's lineups, are Seven McGee, Dont'e Thornton, Byron Cardwell and Daymon David. … Based on practice rotations, two of the most competitive positions battles being waged are between Mathis and Justin Flowe at linebacker, and between Dontae Manning and Trikweze Bridges at cornerback.
Offensive line coach Alex Mirabal
Running backs coach Jim Mastro
Receivers coach Bryan McClendon
Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Bobby Williams
Junior offensive lineman Alex Forsyth
Sophomore tight end Spencer Webb