Bair of a man makes presence felt
Oregon defensive lineman Brandon Bair says the Mormon mission is sacred: A rite of passage, an exercise of faith and a calling to serve.
Before his collegiate sports career began, Bair abandoned his hometown of St. Anthony, Idaho, for the Deep South to complete his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to help others come unto Christ.
The experience, marked by two years of fried foods and learning Spanish, might have something with what Oregon head coach Chip Kelly calls the 24-year-old’s “maturity.”
But Bair’s life experience as a husband and father might also have something to do with it. Bair and his wife of nearly two years, Jordan, recently had their first child in August — a baby girl named Brooklyn Hope.
With these experiences under his belt, Bair brings “true leadership,” to a relatively young defense, Kelly said.
“He’s a great leader by example,” Kelly said. “He’s got a great work ethic.”
Bair is among the ranks of several other Mormon athletes who postponed collegiate sports careers for missionary work. Mormon athletes who have also completed missions include defensive end Will Tukuafu, offensive guard Mark Asper and tight end Sam Doman. Redshirt freshman center Hamani Stevens has left school to complete his mission.
For Bair’s mission, in addition to moving to Jacksonville, Fla., and Brunswick, Ga., church leaders told Bair he would have to learn Spanish.
Bair had never held much interest in the language before, he said, but he took it upon himself to learn it with a sense of duty.
“They sent us to what they call the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah,” Bair said. “I spent 10 weeks there learning the basics of the language, and then they sent me out there and basically said, ‘Figure it out.'”
As with Spanish, Bair had to be prepared for a life of college football following his mission — a task that proved difficult while spreading the word in the South.
“In the mornings, we’d get a half-hour time to work out,” Bair said. “I’d just wake up a half-hour before that (at 5:30 a.m.) and go to the gym and work out (and) run back to the house.”
Keeping up consistent physical ardor was exceptionally challenging given that, as Bair recounted with a smile, “I went to the South. I ate a lot of fried chicken. Everything was fried.”
When Bair left for his mission, the first-team, all-state defensive lineman was already committed to the Ducks. Bair’s scholarship was honored by then-head coach Mike Bellotti upon his return, and in the fall of 2006, he began working with the offense as a freshman.
However, a spate of injuries caused Bair and Ed Dickson to move to defensive end to shore up depth. Dickson later returned to tight end the following year and became one of the top tight ends in the country for the 2009 season.
Bair, meanwhile, was steadily seeing repetitions and being integrated into the Oregon defense. He played in all 13 games in both the 2007 and 2008 seasons, recording four and eight tackles in the respective seasons and fumble recoveries in victories against Michigan in 2007 and Oregon State in 2008.
At the end of the 2008 season, Nick Reed, Ra’Shon Harris and Cole Linehan all graduated, leaving a void of experience along the defensive line — specifically at tackle, where recruiting misses had resulted in questionable depth. Bair was moved to tackle during the spring, where his 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame is atypical among the squat pluggers that traditionally inhabit the position but where Oregon could plug in one of its better overall defensive line players.
“You’ve gotta know both positions to be on the field,” Bair said. “Technically, you’re basically doing the same thing. It’s all the same fundamentals.”
Adjustment to the interior of the line notwithstanding, Bair has proven himself an important piece of what might have been the offseason’s biggest puzzle.
“He’s still a work in progress,” said defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, in his first year on the Oregon coaching staff, “but you’ve gotta grade what you see on film and he’s been productive and technically sound.”
Statistics for defensive linemen, Kelly said, can greatly deceive. To date, Bair has recorded four tackles a game, along with a partially blocked punt against Utah.
“The D-line isn’t going to have a lot of tackles because they’re tying up blockers and keeping guys off of your linebackers,” Kelly said. “Casey Matthews is the leading tackler in the Pac-10. If you don’t have the D-line keeping guys off of him, you don’t have him running around making those tackles. A lot of it is the by-product of what the defensive line is doing up front.”
But what of Bair’s encounters with Spanish? Like in his football career, Bair — a double major in Spanish and business administration — intends to put his language skills to greater use when future opportunities arise.
“That was one of the things I was nervous about when I came home off my mission,” Bair said. “If I didn’t take it here, I wasn’t going to use it. You can’t give up something like that.”
On the gridiron, as in life, Bair continues to learn, one partido at a time.
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