One of the few silver linings of UC's Fresno State loss was the early play of the defense. Despite a change in scheme and some different personnel, the Bearcats came out in attack mode and dominated the Bulldogs early.
Sadly, for a variety of reasons, we all know that domination didn't last.
But, it did give us a peak of the future and a big part of that future is sophomore linebacker Maalik Bomar out of Winton Woods High School. Bomar has gone from a special teams "gunner" to the starting line-up in a year's time.
Heck, in August of '09, I remember watching Bomar at Camp Higher Ground participate in a kickoff drill called, "Last Man On The Bus". That drill was to decide which players might be put on the travel team.
In the end, Bomar appeared in nine games last season and had nothing handed to him. Now, after a long off-season of lifting and conditioning, Bomar's in line to be UC's next noteworthy linebacker.
"I helped the team in special teams," said Bomar of his initial season. "Whatever they asked me I executed. It did make me feel battle-tested on the field, getting the experience of the game. I think this year, I was given an opportunity and I played fast and I learned well, JK (Schaffer) took me in and I went from there."
Schaffer and Bomar are now the mainstays of UC's linebacking crew which has become thinner early on thanks to injuries to junior Alex Delisi and freshman Solomon Tentman. Schaffer himself has recommended Bomar as a "player to watch".
"I appreciate that from JK," said Bomar. "I look up to him every day. We get in, we watch film together. As a corps on the field, we're talking, we're communicating, we get along, everything's going well."
Everything except the losing.
Not only did a lot of fans not expect the opening loss, the Bearcat defense didn't either. Shutting a run game down that shredded them last year was not enough, Fresno State still found a way to make adjustments and win through the air.
"Obviously, that's what it appeared to look like," said Bomar. "In the long run, we're a team. I don't know what was going on, but Fresno State showed that they wanted it more and were tough for the rest of that night."
Needless to say, a four-hour flight full of optimism turned into a disappointing departure for the trip back home. No matter how it's prepared, the food on the charter flight home always tastes better after a win and bitter after a defeat. Talk of UC not being physical enough was addressed early in the week in practice.
"We paid the price," said Bomar. "We're out here practicing and getting ready for the next game. We're out here executing, getting some balls, going to the ball. Relentless."
For Indiana State, the timing couldn't be worse. The Sycamores were probably hoping to catch an overconfident team with its guard down. Now, they're going to see a determined Bearcat squad looking to prove they still belong in the national conversation.
"I believe we have time to look at ourselves," said Bomar. "This is a bounceback game. That (Fresno State) was a reality check for us. As far as going out there and thinking wins are going to be handed to us--that's not acceptable. We have to fight, we have to expect everybody's best punch."
Bomar appears ready to do that and speaks of leadership even though this is only his second year on the team. Considering his youth and that JK Schaffer and Derek Wolfe are juniors and Walter Stewart's just a sophomore, UC's defense is only going to get better. The determination is there.
"We've got to be tough," said Bomar. "We call ourselves 'The Black 'Cats'. We're tough to the end, to the whistle."
While that may sound a little corny, in football, sometimes corny works. Whatever gets a collection of young men to fight for one another is the best idea in the world, regardless of what an outsider thinks. As a UC defender, you've got to develop "thick skin" as the public accolades for their side of the ball have been few and far between.
"All we have is each other," said Bomar of the defense's critics. "When we're out there on the field, that's all we have is one another. We don't are about what anyone else out there has to say. It's all about us. As far as the articles, the magazines, that doesn't mean anything. What matters is how we feel and how we believe in ourselves."
Like his personal journey, Bomar hopes the 2010 Bearcats grow stronger from the early adversity.
Early returns from practice this week show renewed determination to do so.
"Like everyone says, hard work pays off in the long run," said Bomar. "I wasn't looking for anything. All I did was go out everyday and have fun and work. I was rewarded for it, but now I need to step up and take this role ahead of me. I want to help this team win."
You could even follow him home after the Indiana State game, but that would be kind of creepy wouldn't it? As always, just one autograph or picture per fan....
(We can't confirm nor deny the celebrity likeness above other than to say--we don't know who the dude in the pink polo is)