The grass has been ripped up and replaced by red turf: the field changed from Woodward to Roos. But no matter the changes, Eastern Washington University will always be home to Erik Meyer.
And home is where the 2005 Walter Payton Award winner returned when he hit a crossroads in his playing career, or rather when the crossroads hit him.
After throwing for 10,261 yards and 84 touchdowns in his four-year EWU career, Meyer led a nomadic lifestyle as he struggled to find a home in professional football. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals following the 2006 NFL draft, but was released shortly thereafter.
He bounced around the NFL spending brief stints with the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders and even some time in Europe as the starting quarterback for the Cologne Centurions before the league folded in 2007.
Meyer even gave our neighbors to the north a shot, spending about three months on the roster of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League before he was again released.
In 2009 Meyer decided to take his talents to the up-tempo, pass happy Arena Football League, signing with the hometown Spokane Shock. But as he had done since graduating from Eastern, Meyer was forced to wait, sitting behind record setting quarterback Kyle Rowley, appearing in only two games throwing for 274 yards and five touchdowns in relief duty.
In the offseason he signed with the Utah Blaze where he was once again relegated to the backup role before being traded back to the injury riddled Shock midway through the 2011 season.
And after finishing the season as the starting quarterback and providing a much-needed spark for a struggling Spokane team, 2012 was supposed to be Meyer’s time.
He was named Spokane’s starting quarterback for the season opener against the Iowa Barnstormers and finally felt like the quarterback who had tortured Big Sky defenses only six years ago.
Meyer immediately displayed what he could do when given a chance. He picked apart the Barnstormers secondary with touchdown after touchdown, completion after completion, leaving Iowa defenders befuddled on his way to six touchdown passes through three quarters of play.
But as had been customary for Meyer during his professional career, the good feeling didn’t last long.
Perhaps frustrated, Barnstormers linebacker John Mohring leveled Meyer with a vicious and illegal helmet-to-helmet hit midway through the fourth quarter, leaving the quarterback woozy on the turf and subsequently ending his 2012 season with a concussion.
And while thinking may be the last thing to occur during a head-injury of this sort, Meyer was doing just that, thinking about the possibility of never returning to the game he loved.
“It was just hard because I was out of football as far as starting spots six years and it was just more I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Meyer said. “The injury wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it was just more of a mindset of just running through some bad luck and not knowing if I wanted to play anymore at all.”
After years of betrayal from the game he loved so much, Meyer returned to the place where everything seemed right, the gridiron of EWU.
While recovering from the injury, Meyer attended a few spring EWU football practices and later agreed with his former quarterback coach and current EWU head coach Beau Baldwin, to help out with the wide receiver and special teams units as a student assistant during fall practices.
“I got to go get some school done and obviously coach with Baldwin and those guys and have the opportunity to learn a lot of football as far as a behind the doors type deal,” Meyer said.
And it was during this time that Meyer rediscovered the spark that had catapulted him into one of the greatest football players to ever put on an Eagle uniform and gave him the inspiration to lower the white flag on his playing career.
“After helping out at Eastern this last year with Baldwin and those guys I kind of got the love of the game back and went into this season with a different mindset, Meyer said.
“It was more offseason workouts and training to be the best and to win a championship,” Meyer said.”I came into this season with the mindset that I was going to start every game and that we were going to make the playoffs and compete for a championship, and that’s the way it worked out.”
2013 has been good to Meyer.
He has enjoyed an MVP worthy season throwing for 4,667 yards and league-leading 112 touchdowns while leading the Shock to a 14-4 record and a first-round home playoff matchup with the Chicago Rush. His 112 touchdown passes shattered the franchise single season record, which was coincidentally set by Rowley (100) in 2010 while Meyer was watching from the bench.
And while he wouldn’t mind becoming the AFL’s next Kurt Warner, Meyer is finally at a place where football is fun again and is perfectly fine calling Spokane home for a long time.
“Obviously the NFL would be the ideal situation,” Meyer said. “But as far as right now I’m enjoying the spot I’m in and wouldn’t change anything. I’ve met a lot of great people along the way on the path I’ve been on and I have no regrets about it. I’m having fun right now.”