A Higher Standard: Bair An All-Around Champion
By Brian Price
It takes an extraordinary work ethic to maintain the life that Oregon defensive tackle Brandon Bair is leading. He and his wife, Jordan, have a baby girl, Brooklyn. He teaches Sunday school, volunteers with the local Boy Scout troop and owns a used car business. The family lives in a house outside of Junction City, off campus, where he finds time for cooking and gardening.
He'll also be playing for a national championship on January 10.
How does he do all this?
"I grew up on a farm and that's where a lot of my work ethic came from," Bair says. "I didn't have time to come home and goof around. I woke up before school to do chores and after I got home I had chores. So my mentality was that there was always work to be done. I loved working with my dad, learning from him and making him proud."
Given his ability to succeed in so many areas, it's hard to imagine Bair struggling but, despite his overpowering size, football wasn't the path he envisioned for himself.
He transferred to South Freemont HS in his hometown of St. Anthony, Idaho, where he was initially hesitant to join the football team given his responsibilities at home. But after being hounded by the coaching staff (according to Bair he was 6'7" by his sophomore year), he suited up midseason without much of a clue what to do.
"They just put me in the backfield, handed me the ball and told me to run over as many people as I could," Bair laughs when recalling his earliest memories of football. "Man, I had no idea what I was doing."
Bair seemed to get the hang of things pretty quickly; he was offered a full-ride to Oregon during his senior year. He deferred in order to fulfill his commitment to God and serve on a two-year religious mission.
Bair was rusty when he finally arrived in Eugene. "Getting into shape wasn't the hard thing. The biggest challenge was learning the game of football [to be competitive at the D-1 level]. I came from a tiny high school and never really learned the fundamentals."
Bair's initial struggles had him riding the bench as a defensive back-up during his first two seasons with the Ducks. However, things changed when 27-year coaching veteran Jerry Azzinaro came in to coach Oregon's defensive line.
"When Coach Azzinaro came in I told him I'd do whatever he wanted me to do," Bair says. "I wanted to play and help the team. And he put me down as a defensive tackle and it seems to have worked out for us."
Azzinaro has instituted a multi-set defense, which has cleared the way for linemen like Bair to play a variety of roles, which include getting in the backfield to disrupt the opposing offense. This season, Oregon is tied for eighth in the nation with 7.5 tackles for loss per game, which is also tops in the Pac-10. Bair is second in the Pac-10 with 1.29 TFL/G which also puts him at 21st in nation overall.
"I have a lot of respect for a coach who comes in and assesses a situation for himself. Coach Azzinaro didn't care that I had been riding the bench," Bair says. "He wanted to find the guys who were going to play," adds Bair.
In addition to excelling on the field in 2010, Bair also became a member of the Oregon Iron Club, putting up a combined 1,145 pounds in clean, squat and bench during winter testing. His most recent max on the bench was 395 pounds.
The Ducks defense will need a lot of that strength when it comes to stopping Cam Newton On January 10. Heisman Trophy winner Newton may be one of the most dynamic players in the country, but Bair reiterates that hasn't altered his team's preparation for the national championship.
"The way we have prepared every week has worked and we're not going to make any huge changes over one individual," Bair says. "The biggest thing will be putting trust in our coaches, as we have all season, to put us in the best possible position to win. Up until the game we'll still be working to get better every day."
Off the field, Oregon is holding steady.
"This Oregon team has done an excellent job of not being distracted by outside influences, including people who say it's going to be a high-scoring game," Bair says. "Everybody can predict what they want, but as a defense, we've done a great job this year and we're going to continue to do what we do."
The team will have to work toward limiting opposing offenses late in the game. Auburn will be facing their most formidable opponent since Alabama. A tremendous late-game rally led by Newton sealed a 28-27 victory (and a trip to the national championship) for Auburn against the Tide on November 26.
Late game heroics will be tough against a Ducks team that has given up a combined 86, 58, 53, and 24 points in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarter respectively during the regular season.
Bair notes that, beyond the Tigers, the biggest opponents for the Ducks are themselves. "The only thing that has slowed us down or gotten in our way [this season] are our own mistakes," he says. "After the Arizona State game everybody came in the locker room like we had lost. It was the coaches that reminded us: 'Hey, guys, we won.' As players we hold ourselves to a higher standard."
That high standard stems from a creed that has defined Oregon football. "'Winning the Day' has been around for a while, but Coach [Chip] Kelly was the one who really brought it home," says Bair.
For Bair and his teammates it goes far beyond football.
"It includes talking to my father everyday. It's going home at night and feeling like you've accomplished something," Bair says. "It's football, school, work, life and family. Giving the most to everything that's important to you."
From working hard on the farm with his father to winning every day for Chip Kelly, Bair prides himself on being a leader who younger teammates can seek out for advice.
"It's a neat situation. A lot of guys will come up to me when they're having a family situation or trouble with their girlfriends because they know I've been through it," he says. "They want to look cool in front of their buddies and not fazed by anything, but they know I don't care and that I'll be straightforward with them. From religion to general concerns in life, they can come to me and I'll give them advice based on what I've seen."
Mentor, father, son, husband, businessman: the list of titles goes on and on for Brandon Bair. And perhaps, soon enough, the list will include national champion.