HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Night has fallen on Bowers Stadium, where friends and family mingle leisurely with Sam Houston State football players and coaches with no particular place to go. No barriers separate the few fans from the hometown Bearkats. No campus cops rush folks away. No traffic jam awaits beyond the stadium's chain-link fences. It's not like it used to be for Rhett Bomar, who played his way to college football's big time at Oklahoma but now toils here in obscurity, the result of his much-publicized trouble with the NCAA. Bomar's botched Sooner career is a tired tale — at least the tale we assume to know. "There's a lot of stuff that happened that nobody even knows about,” Bomar says, offering only that tease after leading Division I-AA Sam Houston State to a 48-10 win over Arkansas-Monticello two weekends ago. "But I'm not going to talk about that stuff. "Everybody thinks they know the whole story, but they don't. I just put that away. I don't want to talk about that anymore. I moved on.” Oh, but everybody else will be talking this week, with Bomar due back in state. Sam Houston visits Oklahoma State on Saturday.
"I didn't know we were playing them when I came here,” he says with a laugh. "But whatever.”
He's expecting a not-so-warm welcome.
"I'm sure people might say some stuff, but I think it's all funny,” Bomar says. "It'll be a good atmosphere to play in.
"I beat 'em my freshman year, maybe I can go beat 'em again.”
With Oklahoma on the road at Colorado, there have been reports of Sooner fans buying up tickets in Stillwater, just to show their "love” for Bomar.
"I'm sure that week, people might want to bring it up, I'm going back to the state of Oklahoma,” Bomar said. "But I won't think about that at all.”
He says he doesn't think much about the surging Sooners, either.
"They've got a great team, there's no doubt about that,” Bomar says. "All those guys I played with were freshmen, and they're juniors now. You know they've got talent.
"But I don't watch their games or anything like that.”
It's all part of the plan to avoid looking back.
What happened in Norman, the mess with the NCAA, that's all in his past.
Well, for now.
"I'm not going to talk about it,” Bomar says. "Well, maybe someday.”
No looking backConversations with Bomar always get spun ahead, him steering away from questions aimed at his fateful final days in Norman. He sounds a bit like Mark McGwire before Congress. "Once I moved on, I moved on,” Bomar says. "I've put that behind me. I'm thinking about the future now.” One day he was the bright young quarterback on a team Athlon magazine pegged for its No. 1 team. Then in an instant, he was gone, along with lineman J.D. Quinn, after investigation revealed both received improper payments for work not performed at Big Red Sports and Imports. "It was tough,” Bomar says, "going to a different place, picking up and leaving real fast.” Bomar has always accepted responsibility for the actions leading to his dismissal. Still does. Where he used to be overtly cocky, Bomar seems to have been humbled. "I didn't come down here with an ego or anything like that,” Bomar says. "I came looking for a second chance, ready to play football. "And it's been great so far.” By all indications, Bomar's transition has gone smoothly. "We gave him some crap, gave him a bunch crap when he first got here,” said Bearkats offensive lineman R.C. Fairchild. "But he's a good guy. He's one of us.” Says Sam Houston coach Todd Whitten: "He's fit in great. I think he's really a happy camper here. Last year was very tough. I can tell you that unequivocally, our football team is really happy that Rhett's a part of this program. "He's making good grades. He's really a bright kid.”
Next stopHuntsville, population 35,078, is known mostly for its ties to the legendary Sam Houston, one-time general and twice president of the Republic of Texas in the 1800s. The university obviously adopted his name and a 77-foot-tall statue of the former governor stands perched proudly along I-45. There's Huntsville Prison, the oldest penitentiary in Texas, housing the death chamber, home to the state's death row from 1928 to 1965. Dan Rather is the famous Sam Houston State alum. Beyond that, there's not much, although most consider the setting quite soothing here in the Piney Woods region of the state. As for the Bearkats, interest in the team is akin to the following for Central Oklahoma's Bronchos. There's a couple thousand in the stands for Sam Houston's game against Arkansas-Monticello, less than half of whom seem interested in anything going on down on the turf. Rhett Bomar? "Never heard of him,” says Echo Messer, a Sam Houston senior from Porter, Texas, on hand for the game with Arkansas-Monticello. There are Sam Houston football fans. And some know all about Bomar. "We've all followed his progress with anticipation, that he would get on the field at Sam,” says Bill Hall of Houston, who grew up in Huntsville. "We were disappointed he didn't get to play last year. We finished one game out of the championship. He might have made the difference.” Bomar seems sincere in appreciating this second chance. His tone and body language give evidence of lament for what went down in Norman, although Bomar doesn't actually offer up words like "regret” or "remorse.” Still, there's no escaping that "down here,” things are different. Down here, you play the Boll Weevils of Arkansas-Monticello, not the Longhorns of Texas. "No doubt, it's smaller,” Bomar says. "You're not going to have 80,000 people in the stands. But like I said when I came here, you can't have a big ego and say, ‘I'm better than this.' "When you're out there on the field, it doesn't matter how many people are in the stands. If you're playing football, you're playing football.” You're just playing with little fanfare, even less media attention and with no television exposure — all factors that played a critical role in Bomar signing with the Sooners. "That was all nice and it was what I worked towards,” Bomar says. "But less attention, whatever, I can still accomplish my goals here.”
Same old No. 7Coming out of Grand Prairie, Texas, Bomar was the top-rated high school quarterback in the country and the No. 4 prospect overall in the country according to Rivals.com As a redshirt freshman, he led to Sooners to the Holiday Bowl, where he was named Most Valuable Player. Greatness, including NFL paydays, was predicted. Bomar's talent — and grit — is still evident. Scrambling in his familiar No. 7 against the Boll Weevils, Bomar seems to be searching out linebackers to hit, reminding of similar stunts back when wore crimson. On several occasions, he takes wicked shots, rising slowly once. "That's the first time in a while that I've been hit like that,” Bomar says. "It felt good. I'm not one to shy away from contact. I can dish it out, too.” Bomar finishes with 257 yards and three touchdowns passing against the Boll Weevils and adds a rushing score. The Bearkats are 2-1 overall with the setback no fault of Bomar's. In a 41-38 loss at No. 4-ranked North Dakota State, he throws for 358 yards and four scores on 36-of-61 passing and runs for 103 and a TD.
Headed for StillwaterBomar and the Bearkats play at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday. That little scheduling item caught Bomar by surprise.