PULLMAN – Blair Bomber stands out in the crowd he hangs with because his size, 5-8 and 170 pounds, is rare in a game dominated by giants. Increasingly, though, the diminutive sophomore receiver from Whatcom County is standing out at Washington State because of his speed, hands and competitiveness. Mike Leach calls him “gritty” and says he’s faster than a famous pint-sized wideout he once coached.
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Bomber has a long ways to go to become the next Wes Welker, but Leach is intrigued by his new little big man.
Like Bomber, the 5-foot-9 Welker was lightly recruited out of high school and initially turned heads at Texas Tech only because he was so dang small. Welker of course went onto to star for the Red Raiders and is now a perennial All-Pro with the New England Patriots.
“He’s faster than Wes,” Leach said of Bomber after Tuesday’s practice in Pullman. “Wes kind of had an innate sense of space, (was) really good at setting up his routes and had a really good sense and feel for the game and had really good vision. It’s kind of early yet but we are excited to see where Blair heads with all this.”
After missing the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL and torn meniscus, Bomber has embraced Leach’s Air Raid offense this spring. He’s seen considerable reps with the first string at H-receiver – the slot position on the left side – and appears to have regained every step in the 10.99 he clocked in the 100 before his injury.
And his wheels have been truly tested this spring in the Air Raid. As the New York Times once noted in a feature story on Leach, “A typical N.F.L. receiver in training might run 1,500 yards of sprints a day; Texas Tech receivers run 2,500 yards.”
The new offense is easy to grasp, says Bomber, “but a lot harder on your body at the same time because you are constantly moving, constantly running and constantly making plays. It’s a lot different but a lot more fun.”
“I THINK HE HAS DONE SOME good things and he is a gritty person so I like that,” said Leach, who freely admitted that at first-glance he didn’t realize what Bomber was capable of. “When you just look at him you don’t realize how fast he is. He is competitive.”
Cougar quarterback Connor Halliday, who arrived at WSU in the same recruiting class as Bomber, echoes his coach’s comments about initially underestimating the speedster from Lynden because of his size.
“When he came here our freshman year I’m thinking ‘who is this five-six kid who is going to be playing football?’”
It didn’t take long for Bomber to erase Halliday’s concerns.
“For how small he is he is very physical, and he runs great routes and has great hands,” Halliday said. “Once Blair gets a chance to get in there he’ll make things happen. He just needs that one chance to get thrown out there.”
As true freshmen in 2010, the pair connected so often in practice that Bomber was named WSU’s scout team offensive player of the year. And he gave the No. 1 defense fits at times. As the D became frustrated, Bomber found himself more and more on the receiving end of some extra hard hits. He simply bounced back up, which helped gain him respect.
NO MATTER HOW BIG A mark Bomber makes on the field, though, it will pale compared to the mark he makes off the field, Halliday insists.
“You’ll never meet someone like Blair Bomber,” he said.
“Between the facial hair, losing his hair on top and everything he is just a hilarious guy, a great friend and just a great guy to have on the team for chemistry,” Halliday said.
It’s no secret around Pullman that Bomber could probably moonlight as a stand-up comedian if his football career doesn’t pan out.
Despite being known for his humor, Bomber didn’t joke when asked about realistic expectations for the 2012 season. His response will delight WSU fans hungry for the school’s first bowl appearance since 2003.
“Our goal is to be at the top,” he said. “Our goal is to be at the top of the Pac-12 and top of the nation. If you’re going to come into a season and be anything less than the best then maybe you shouldn’t be playing.”
THE BOMBER FILE
Bomber was a consensus all-classifications All-State pick at his second-best position -- defensive back -- as a senior at Lynden High in 2009, and a Class 3A Associated Press All-State pick at receiver. Over his junior and senior seasons he caught 149 passes for 1,882 yards and 25 TDs.
He won five state championships at Lynden High – three in football and one each in basketball and track & field.
His mom Bonnie was a All-American gymnast at Seattle Pacific University, and older brother Brady played basketball at St. Martin's University.
Notable Cougar Notes:
The Cougs will hold their annual Crimson & Gray Game in Spokane this Saturday at Albi Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m., with beer gardens opening at 10 a.m. and Cougar players and coaches signing autographs at 11 a.m. WSU expects a crowd of 10,000-plus for the game, which will be televised live in the Greater Spokane region on SWX.
The game will not be the capstone to Leach’s first spring season at WSU. He wants to take what he and his staff learn from the game and employ it in practice while it’s fresh in players’ minds, so the Cougs will hold one more practice next week.