MOSCOW, Idaho – Ten years later, Kris Cinkovich remembers his hard-working senior safety colliding with an opposing player in a state playoff game. He remembers him getting up and looking fine. He remembers him trotting off the field.
Then he remembers seeing Edward Gomez slumped over, unconscious, on the sideline.
“Fundamentally, he died that night,” said Cinkovich, Idaho’s first-year assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.
That was Nov. 21, 2003. Cinkovich’s Las Vegas High School football team – a powerhouse in Nevada – was two wins from another state championship game. But any worries about football blurred into the background with Gomez on the ground and surrounded by medical personnel that night.
He was taken to a Las Vegas hospital where he died two days later after being put on a ventilator. An autopsy revealed Gomez died of blunt-force trauma to the head.
“It’s brutal,” said Las Vegas High coach James Thurman, who was on Cinkovich’s staff at the time. “You work with these kids day in, day out, year in, year out and you consider them your own. I know it tore Coach Cink up. It was heartbreaking for him. He cared about all the kids. … It took a lot out of him.”
Two days after his team lost in the state finals, an emotionally drained Cinkovich got a call from UNLV. John Robinson asked him to become his wide receivers coach, and he accepted the job after taking a few weeks to be with his team.
In 2010, he landed at Arkansas to work with Bobby Petrino, a former teammate at Carroll College. And when Paul Petrino took over at Idaho in December, Cinkovich returned to the Northwest. He had grown up in Federal Way, Wash., and played two years at Spokane Falls CC.
With each move, the 52-year-old has stayed connected to Thurman and his former school. Every time he goes back to Las Vegas, he stops by Gomez’s gravesite – something he started doing while at UNLV.
One visit, on the anniversary of Gomez’s last game, still stands out.
“When I was coaching at UNLV, I know the day – Nov. 21,” Cinkovich said from his office at the Kibbie Dome. “I saw his dad at the gravesite one day. As a coach that’s an eye-opener, because how do you treat kids? What do they tell their parents about you?”
Gomez’s father spoke little English, but he and Cinkovich talked briefly. The coach has since lost track of the Gomez family after they moved out of the area.
The episode still looms large for Cinkovich in his coaching career, both his nine decorated years at Las Vegas High and the decade since at the college level.
Although the Wildcats program was dominant in the 1940s and ’50s, it hadn’t won a playoff game in 35 years when Cinkovich achieved that feat in 1995, his first year. His teams went on to become nationally ranked in 1999 and 2000, and in 2001 Las Vegas claimed the Nevada 4A title.
“Coach Cink established an attitude of excellence, an attitude of discipline,” Thurman said in a phone interview.
Cinkovich saw how structure and discipline could pay off while playing offensive guard for Bob Petrino Sr. at Carroll. Before joining Bobby at Arkansas, he remained close to the Petrino family, traveling to watch film and learn from both brothers.
At Idaho, Paul Petrino has stressed to his coaches the importance of being good teachers. For that reason, Cinkovich feels fortunate that he spent years in high school classrooms.
He’s also grateful, in a way, for what he learned from Gomez’s injury and death.
“That whole deal was very interesting and like most of life, very educational,” he said. “But (it was) a very hard lesson.”