There is this game called football and Erik Meyer loves playing it again.
He hasn’t been able to say that for a long time, maybe since he was setting records eight years ago at Eastern Washington University and winning the Walter Payton Award, the I-AA equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
After EWU, Meyer toiled in NFL camps, NFL Europe and the CFL before joining Utah in the Arena Football League in 2010. He backed up Tommy Grady, then finally got his chance to start after a midseason trade to the Spokane Shock in 2011.
Meyer was productive in five games – completing 75 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions – but a series of injuries kept him on the sideline. He tossed six touchdowns in the 2012 season opener but was knocked out by a late hit. He didn’t play another down the rest of the season.
With his playing career at a crossroads, Meyer served as a volunteer coach at EWU. While some in the Shock organization wondered if Meyer had played his last snap, the 6-foot-2 quarterback rediscovered his passion for the game in EWU meeting rooms and on the practice field.
“Working with coach (Beau) Baldwin and those guys, they’re such a positive group it kind of opened my eyes up,” he said. “It made me remember how it is playing this game, that spark, having fun and letting things go. The last few years I tightened up a little bit and lost focus of what it is to play this game.”
Meyer and Shock coach Andy Olson sat down over coffee last fall to discuss the future.
“The way he talked to me, looked at me, his mannerisms, there was just a different vibe about him,” Olson said. “The way he explained it to me, the year before he was training not to get hurt. This season he said, ‘I’m just going to be the best I can be.’
“He wanted to prove to people he could do it. He never really had his shot in the AFL. He really wanted everyone to know he’s not a wimp, not a washout and he wants to be considered among the greatest.”
Doctors were lukewarm about Meyer’s return.
“They didn’t encourage it,” Olson said, “but really it’s nobody’s right to tell him he can’t play football. It was his decision and my decision.”
Meyer has an AFL-best 40 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the top-ranked Shock’s 5-0 start. Only Arizona’s Nick Davila, with 34, has more than 25 TDs, though several teams have only played four games. Meyer leads the league in pass efficiency by a comfortable margin.
His decision-making has been outstanding. When a play breaks down, particularly on first or second down, he gets rid of the ball and moves on to the next play. He’s doing everything he told Olson he was going to do in that meeting.
“Mentally I just wasn’t prepared before, maybe I was a little weak mentally the last three years,” Meyer said. “I told Coach Olson, ‘This is going to be my year. I’m going to ball out and I’m not going to get hurt.’ ”
After playing three games without an interception, second-year defensive back Paul Stephens set an AFL single-game record with five picks against San Jose.
“I felt like we just played as a unit,” said Stephens, who had a sixth interception erased when San Jose successfully challenged a call. “(Terrance) Sanders set the tone with big hits, the defensive line got pressure and we were back there covering. It all just fell into place.”
The AFL is quarterback-driven and rules promote shootouts. Only three players have ever recorded four interceptions in a game, the most recent in 1999. Sanders and Travis Williams shared the Shock record with two interceptions in a game.
“I’ve been telling Paul all along how good of an athlete he is, he just has to realize it,” Olson said.