For Erik Meyer, the idea of getting into coaching “hit me all at once.”
The notion came with a rush on March 12 at the Spokane Arena, where Meyer was quarterbacking the Shock in the 2012 Arena Football League season opener against the Iowa Barnstormers.
Meyer had already thrown for six touchdowns when he was leveled in the fourth quarter by an illegal, helmet-to-helmet hit from Iowa’s John Mohring.
While Mohring got a three-week suspension, Meyer’s concussion and related injuries cost him the rest of the season.
That gave Meyer plenty of time to ponder his future, both near-term and fall term.
The latter was the idea of his mother, Nancy, who was pleased that her son had won the Walter Payton Award in 2005, but not so proud that Erik still hadn’t finished his degree at Eastern Washington.
But when did he have the time? In six years since being named the top player in the Football Championship Subdivision, Meyer had worn the uniforms of seven teams from four pro leagues until landing with the Shock.
All the while, he had stayed in touch with his old EWU quarterbacks coach, Beau Baldwin, now in charge of an Eastern program that’s been built in part on the legacy of Meyer, Matt Nichols, Bo Levi Mitchell and others.
While on injured reserve with the Shock, Meyer took in a few spring practices in Cheney, then realized how much he missed the college game.
“We started talking about coaching,” said Meyer of off-season conversations with Baldwin, who later offered Meyer a spot on the staff as a student assistant, helping with wide receivers and special teams.
By fall camp, the same quarterback who threw for more than 10,000 yards and 84 touchdowns was back on the grass practice field at Eastern, one legend trying to help mold another.
He also heeded mom’s advice and took on 15 class credits while working 80 to 90 unpaid hours a week with the football staff.
The sight begs for comparisons. Imagine Matt Leinart, who won the Heisman the same year Meyer won the Payton, helping out Lane Kiffin at USC. For nothing.
“The hours are crazy, all the coaches put in a lot of time, but I really enjoy it,” said Meyer. He credits Baldwin, special teams coach Jeff Schmedding and receivers coach Junior Adams “for taking me under their wings, showing me how to be a coach, and being there for me.”
Baldwin said Meyer has “meant most to our special teams and the scout team – a real jack-of-all-trades. And he’s got the work ethic.”
For his part, Meyer says he’s trying to offer the Eastern receivers “a different aspect, so they’re not always thinking like receivers, but what the quarterback would be thinking.”
Whether it comes Saturday against Sam Houston State or in the national title game, the end of the season will bring Meyer almost full circle.
He plans to graduate next term with a degree in interdisciplinary studies – “My mom will be very happy,” Meyer said – then return to the Shock in the spring.
He’s already signed a contract for 2013, because at 29, he still has the skills. During team walkthroughs on road trips, Adams tries and fails to match Meyer in a game of toss-the-ball- at-the- garbage can. Even from 30 yards, a good percentage of Meyer’s throws end up in the garbage can as bystanders watch, eyebrows raised in amazement.
“He’s still doing some great things, but he knows the game ends at some time,” said Baldwin, who may have already set the hook for Meyer’s future.
“I’ll definitely be coaching,” said Meyer, seeing the injury in a different light.
“If I didn’t get hurt, I don’t know if I would have stayed here.”