Jacob Breeland has heard the comparison his whole life.
“I look like my dad,” the Oregon senior tight end said. “Genetics right here, all from him.”
The physical resemblance carried over to the football field where Breeland committed to play in the Pac-12 just like his father, Garrett. On Feb. 8, 2015 — less than one week after Breeland signed with the Ducks — his dad died of a heart attack at age 51.
Breeland left for college a couple of months later and sat out a redshirt season during his first year with the Ducks.
“It was tough because I didn’t get to process it like I wanted because I had to do football and school, so I didn’t have time,” Breeland recalled. “It was a rough first year for sure, I’m not going to say I was fine. I went through some things but I’m happy where I’m at now and thank God for helping me through everything.”
Garrett Breeland was a linebacker who lettered at USC in 1984 and 1985, earning a starting spot as a senior before being selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 10th round of the 1986 NFL draft.
“Sometimes I would obviously want to call him and tell him I had a bad day at practice and ask what I should do, ask him for advice because he has been through it,” Breeland said. “It is hard when you can’t do that, but I have good friends and my mom and they help me out tremendously. I’ve got a lot of people on my side.”
Jacob Breeland did not play tackle football until eighth grade and the following year he earned a starting spot as a freshman at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo, Calif. He finished with 1,940 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns in his prep career and was ranked as the No. 25 tight end in his recruiting class.
“My dad taught me what I needed to know and put me in the weight room, probably in sixth grade,” Breeland said. “He was smart not to let me play tackle football until eighth grade and I’ll do the same with my kids because it is dangerous. You don’t want to put them in at a young age and get hits and injuries. He always encouraged me and told me how proud he was and that meant a lot to me.”
Breeland’s breakthrough at Oregon came as a redshirt freshman on Oct. 1, 2016, the same day Justin Herbert emerged as the quarterback of the Ducks.
Late in a 51-33 loss at Washington State, Herbert replaced Dakota Prukop and his second completion was a 63-yarder to Breeland, who later added a 7-yard reception to lead the Ducks with 70 yards on the day.
After catching six passes as a freshman, Breeland had 18 for 320 yards and a team-high five scores in 2017. He was fourth on the team with 24 catches for 377 yards and two scores last season.
Breeland leads all Oregon receivers with 48 catches for 820 yards and seven touchdowns in his career while playing for three head coaches.
“It has been a wild ride, but I’m happy where we are at now,” Breeland said. “Everything happens for a reason and that’s where it led me today.”
Breeland, who has started 21 games during the past two seasons, is on schedule to be the starter when No. 11 Oregon opens the season at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against 16th-ranked Auburn in Arlington, Texas. Breeland and Cam McCormick are listed as co-starters and both battled injuries during fall camp, but Breeland has returned to practice while McCormick remains limited.
“I’m excited to have Breeland rolling because his experience lends itself to situations like this where it is going to be a great stage,” UO offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said.
The 250-pound Breeland weighs about the same as last year, but looks different after adding muscle mass in the offseason.
“I always had back and knee injuries and couldn’t push myself, but now I felt healthy and got after it,” Breeland said. “I got a lot stronger.”
Breeland was injured again in practice earlier this month, but UO coach Mario Cristobal said this week that he is “good to go” against Auburn.
“He’s a leader of our team,” Herbert said. “He does all the right things in the film room and the weight room. It is great to have him back because he can cause so many problems. He’s a great route runner and great blocker as well.”
Breeland is likely to continue following the path of his father when the 2020 NFL draft arrives in Las Vegas. He is ranked as the No. 77 prospect in the draft by CBS Sports, which lists him as the fourth-best tight end prospect.
“I am hoping I can prove to everyone that I can play in the NFL and will play in the NFL,” he said. “That has been the dream since I was little.”