When some kids turn 6 years old, they celebrate by going to the bowling alley.
Maybe they have a party at the swimming pool, or invite their friends to Chuck E. Cheese's. Patrick Herbert did something different, something that makes perfect sense if you know anything about the family he grew up in.
“My birthday party was at a Sheldon game,” said Herbert, a starting tight end and defensive end for the Irish. “We took a bunch of kids and got autographed wristbands from running back Zach Todd.”
Going to Autzen Stadium and meeting LaMichael James wouldn’t have been a bigger thrill for 6-year-old Patrick. That’s how it was in the Herbert household, where all football dreams started in the same place: Sheldon High School.
Before Justin became the starting quarterback at Oregon and a future NFL draft pick, the Herberts’ highest aspiration was to wear the Irish jersey and play for a state championship. Mitchell and Justin, the two oldest, had that feeling many times, combining to appear in nine state title games in football, basketball and baseball.
Entering his senior year, Patrick — who’s been committed to Oregon since May — was still looking for his first. That will come Saturday when the Irish face Lake Oswego in the Class 6A championship game in Hillsboro.
“This is wonderful for Patrick because it kind of takes him out of the shadows of his brothers,” said Mark Herbert, who coached his sons’ Sheldon-area Kidsports teams throughout their youth. “They obviously had tremendous success as part of teams (at Sheldon).
“This is neat for Patrick because it’s his group of guys.”
The Herbert story has changed significantly since Justin emerged as one of the top quarterback prospects in college football. Entering his senior year at Sheldon, it seemed likely that Justin would follow Mitchell’s footsteps and play at Montana State, if not Portland State or Northern Arizona.
Oregon gave Justin a late scholarship offer despite having two other quarterbacks committed, essentially taking a flier on the local kid. He stunned everyone by winning the quarterback job midway through his freshman season and, as a junior, is considered one of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks in the country.
Now the Herberts have ESPN camera crews visiting their house and agents calling at all hours. The attention can get overwhelming, but they haven’t lost sight of what’s important.
On the Friday of the Civil War, Patrick’s Sheldon team played Clackamas in the 6A semifinals. Asked where his parents would be, Justin answered: “They’ll probably be at the semifinals, to be honest.” (They actually attended both.)
It’s not a stretch to say that, in the Herbert household, Sheldon always came first. Long before any of the Herbert brothers dreamed of playing at Oregon or in the NFL, their goal was to contribute to a title run at Sheldon.
Mark Herbert attended Sheldon and his father, Roger, coached the Irish track team for 34 years. The boys’ other grandfather, Rich Schwab, was a wide receiver on Oregon’s 1963 Sun Bowl team and a local high school coach before his death in January.
Growing up, there was no doubt that the Herbert boys would play high school sports at Sheldon. At a time when other football prospects were joining 7-on-7 leagues and hiring private quarterback coaches, the Herberts took pride in being multi-sport athletes and contributing to Sheldon’s success.
That meant doing whatever the team needed them to do. Patrick was the biggest kid on his junior high football team, so instead of playing quarterback or wide receiver, he learned to play center.
“The greatest thing that happened to Patrick was they said, ‘OK, Pat, you’ve got to be the center. Learn how to block,’” Mark Herbert said. “And he did.”
Patrick eventually found his role at Sheldon playing tight end and defensive end. It’s not quite as glamorous as being the starting quarterback, and with Justin’s success at Oregon, it would have been easy to feel overshadowed.
That’s never been the case. Patrick credits his older brothers for charting a path — “I owe everything to them,” he said — and doesn’t worry about comparing championship trophies, statistics or scholarship offers.
“I think he’s done a good job of being himself and setting his own expectations, and not really being hampered by feeling inadequate about his brother’s accomplishments,” Sheldon coach Josh Line said. “I think he’s got a ton of potential, and he’s going to go out there and make his own way.”
Justin has played for three head coaches at Oregon, but he’s not the only Herbert brother to experience a coaching transition. The retirement of Lane Johnson, Sheldon’s longtime head coach and a close friend of the Herberts, sent aftershocks through the Sheldon community two years ago.
Sheldon went outside the Johnson coaching tree to hire Line, a former Oregon fullback who’d been the coach at Marshfield. The transition was challenging; when Sheldon lost in the second round last season, it snapped a string of 11 straight trips to the state quarterfinals.
As the No. 3 seed in Class 6A, Sheldon’s run to the state championship game isn’t exactly a Cinderella story. But it was hardly a foregone conclusion, which makes it even sweeter.
“Not very many people saw this one coming, I don’t think,” Mark Herbert said. “(The players) believed it. We all thought it could happen.
“It’s just a wonderful finish for a great season that those guys put together.”
You can bet the Herberts will be there, living and dying with every play. While the rest of the world fixates on Justin’s decision on whether to return for his senior season at Oregon, the Herbert family will be focused on Hillsboro Stadium and the chance to celebrate another Sheldon state championship.
In the Herbert house, there’s still no greater thrill.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.