Disgraced Oklahoma QB, Content At Sam Houston, Returns To State

Friday, September 28th 2007, 2:23 pm
By: News On 6

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Rhett Bomar's outlook mirrors the slogan on a billboard advertising Sam Houston State along Interstate 45 _ ``No Better Time. No Better Future.''

The disgraced former Oklahoma quarterback has found a comfortable niche on this quiet, wooded campus about 70 miles north of Houston, the ideal place to restart a career derailed by his own bad judgment.

The crowds are smaller where Sam Houston plays, in the Championship Subdivision, formerly I-AA. The uniforms and facilities aren't as fancy, the media attention is scant and Bomar's new team makes most of its road trips on buses, not chartered planes.

But Bomar's aspirations haven't changed. He still believes he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country, still capable of leading a team to a national championship and good enough to play in the NFL.

This week, all the old, ugly questions about the end of his Sooners career have resurfaced because the Bearkats (2-1) visit Oklahoma State (2-2) on Saturday. It'll be Bomar's first trip back to the state since he and offensive lineman J.D. Quinn were dismissed from Oklahoma for getting paid for work they didn't do at a car dealership in 2005.

The NCAA stripped Oklahoma of its eight victories in 2005, when Bomar played as a redshirt freshman, and took away two scholarships from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. The school is appealing the scholarship reductions.

Bomar, meanwhile, landed at Sam Houston, a program with a history of resurrecting quarterbacks who came from the higher division. Chris Chaloupka (Oklahoma State), Josh McCown (SMU) and Dustin Long (Texas A&M) are among the reclamation projects. McCown now plays for the Oakland Raiders.

The 22-year-old Bomar plunged into the program, followed his new coaches' instructions and ingratiated himself with his new teammates. But inside his head, the transition wasn't so easy.

He was one of the highest-rated prep quarterbacks in the country coming out of Grand Prairie (Texas) High School and was the next anointed star at one of the nation's most glamorous programs. Then he was in Huntsville, and had to swallow some ego before accepting the new path.

``Everybody knows it's a tough deal, whatever, but I really don't think about it anymore,'' he said. ``Everybody helped me get through it. I knew I was going to come out on top, I was going to be all right. Once I got back to playing football, I figured everything would be fine.''

His teammates say he's never shown a hint of an ``I'm-better-than-this-place'' attitude.

``He came in and nobody really knew what to expect,'' senior center Brennan Williams said. ``Some people thought he would come in from such a big school and act different. But he came in and he wanted to be one of us. He wanted to put everything at OU aside and just become a Bearkat.''

After anxiously sitting out in 2006, Bomar has put up spectacular numbers this season, averaging 323 yards of total offense, which ranks sixth in the nation. He's completed 69 of 111 passes for 819 yards and eight touchdowns and the Bearkats are ranked 15th in the country.

By all accounts, he's fit in perfectly.

``Rhett is very thankful to be at Sam Houston,'' third-year coach Todd Whitten said. ``Rhett's working very hard and I think he is certainly making the most of his second chance. And we're thankful to have him.''

The big difference now, of course, is that Bomar is playing in obscurity, in places like Fargo, N.D., and Thibodaux, La., instead of Austin and San Diego, where Bomar and the Sooners won the Holiday Bowl after the 2005 season.

The national spotlight never aims here, but that doesn't seem to faze Bomar.

``Even though it's a smaller place, it doesn't matter,'' he said. ``When you're out there playing, you don't notice that there's 15,000 or 80,000 in the stands. You don't pay attention to that stuff. The good players don't. It's been a blast playing so far. I'm just looking forward to the rest of the season.''

Bomar has one more season of eligibility left after this season and Gil Brandt, an NFL draft analyst and former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personal, said Bomar is still a mystery to many pro scouts. But Brandt said it shouldn't hurt Bomar's stock in the long run that he's dwelling in the second tier of college football.

``If he's still got the talent, they'll see it,'' Brandt said. ``And the difference is Bomar is really a I-A player. He's not playing at I-AA because he couldn't play at the highest level. He's playing at I-AA because of circumstances. I don't think he's lost a step.''

Brandt doesn't think Bomar's dismissal for Oklahoma will hurt him, either.

``I don't think what he did will be considered a character flaw,'' Brandt said. ``There's no pattern of serious offenses.''

Still, Bomar brushes away questions from the media about the Oklahoma ordeal and his teammates say he hasn't opened up to them about it, either.

Bomar says he hasn't kept in touch with his former teammates in Norman, nor paid much attention to the Sooners' impressive 4-0 start this season. He's a different person now, he says, one who would never look back at his time there if he could help it.

``I guess I've become a lot more mature,'' he said. ``I've experienced a lot of things not a lot of people experience in their life, going through a lot of stuff. It's been tough, but I think I've grown up and I'm ready to move on.''

As for Saturday's game against Oklahoma State, Bomar says, ``It's just another game to me.''

The fans in Stillwater probably see it differently, and Bomar says he'll laugh off the derisive taunts that will surely come his way. Bomar has never played at Boone Pickens Stadium _ the Sooners beat Oklahoma State 42-14 in Norman when Bomar was the quarterback.

``People are always going to say stuff. That's how fans are at an opponents' field,'' he said. ``I hope they do. It doesn't bother me at all. I think it's funny and it gets me more motivated.''

Bomar shrugs off the notion this game is his big chance to prove he can still perform at the highest level. He answers by saying it's a huge opportunity for his team and the entire program, not just him.

``Everybody wants to make it a big deal, just because I'm going back to the state,'' he said. ``I'll let everybody else worry about that. I'm just worried about Sam Houston and winning football games. That's my main focus right now.''