Talk about seizing the moment.
Eastern Washington wide receiver Blair Bomber hadn’t played football in almost four years when the Eagles took the field last year at Oregon State.
He was still on the sideline when a couple of Eagles were felled by cramps, but Bomber promptly found the seam.
“I saw what was happening, so I just ran on to the field,” laughed Bomber, who moments later caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from Vernon Adams in the Eagles’ epic 49-46 win.
Was it worth the wait, the pain, the uncertainty?
“Absolutely,” Bomber said.
A high threshold
Football players call it “the grind:” the hard, painful work, in and out of season that’s redeemed only by the thrill of game day.
For Bomber, the grind lasted almost four years, and he felt it more than most – especially in a right knee that buckled in the spring of 2011 when he played at Washington State.
Except that he never got to play. The former two-way all-state performer from Lynden, Washington redshirted in 2010, lost another year after the ACL tear, then saw the handwriting on the wall when new coach Mike Leach arrived in 2012.
“The staff didn’t really like what I brought to the table,” said the 5-foot-9 Bomber. “They weren’t going to play me, and the next thing I knew, I was bumped down to fifth or sixth on the depth chart – at the slot, not just at receiver.”
When the Cougars hosted Eastern in their home opener, Bomber watched on television. Six weeks later, he made the painful decision to leave Pullman. Or perhaps the pain made the decision for him,
“It was my third year, my knee is slowly deteriorating,” Bomber said. “The tendinitis turned to bone spurs, and I couldn’t even walk.”
During rehab, Bomber’s mind flashed to happier days. Then-WSU coach Paul Wulff convinced him to join the Cougars, but Eastern Washington was a close second. Bomber recalled coach Beau Baldwin’s request to call if things didn’t work out at WSU and took the Eagles up on the offer.
Not as a scholarship player, but as a walk-on.
“Then my knee blew up and I didn’t know what happened,” said Bomber, who missed spring ball while he recovered. He was healthy just in time for the Oregon State game.
A fresh start
Bomber saw the field sparingly after that, which speaks less to his talent than to the depth and talent of Eastern’s receiving corps. “Of course I would have liked to play more,” said Bomber, who finished the season with five catches for 79 yards.
“Blair has gone through a lot. It hasn’t been the perfect college career for him with the injuries,” Baldwin said. “He’s done an amazing job from the time last season finished to the spring – incredible improvement, physically and in his understanding of our offense.”
Baldwin said the jump continued from spring to fall, and rewarded the hard work with a scholarship in this, Bomber’s final season of college football.
“It makes you feel good when people have faith in you,” said Bomber, who repaid the kindness last weekend.
Bomber scored the first touchdown of the college football season against Sam Houston State, a 3-yard catch from Vernon Adams. He did it again in the third quarter, another 3-yard catch from Adams that gave the Eagles the lead for good, 28-21.
No matter what the rest of the season holds, Bomber will have no regrets.
Some of his friends at WSU have joined the working world. One starts his career this week as a police officer.
“I wouldn’t trade places with him, not in a million years,” said Bomber, who will get there soon enough: he carries a 3.94 GPA and has been accepted into Eastern’s film school.
“How much do I want to play football? How much do I love football? I love being around the guys, and the grind is tough sometimes, but it’s always worth it,” Bomber said.