Demitrius Bronson’s football journey has been a long, winding road which led him to Cheney.
It probably could not have worked out better yet when he made the decision to transfer it could not have been harder.
In the fall of 2008, Bronson gray shirted at Washington, so he was not on the roster during the final season for coach Tyrone Willingham. While the tailback went to class he watched the Huskies football program implode into a winless season.
“I had a lot of friends going there … I knew the class that was going there,” Bronson said. “I was just trying to think positive about the situation. I know they’ve got playmakers and it was just a matter of time.”
In the fall of 2009 Bronson was ready to step on the field for new coach Steve Sarkisian and make his mark in the new era of Washington football.
“I just thought it was a great opportunity to kind of step in,” Bronson said. “I kind of saw it as a chance, an opportunity to get my career going.”
Before the season began Bronson wasn’t sure if Sarkisian planned to keep him on the roster. He got a call, though, inviting him to stay.
That doesn’t mean it was easy.
“Playing that year I felt a bit of pressure because I felt like I wasn’t their guy,” Bronson said. “I felt like I had to do everything right. I felt like I had to go in and do everything right.”
He got some playing time that year, listed as a true freshman, but the game at the end of the season against rival Washington State may have been the beginning of the end of Bronson’s career at Washington.
Bronson recalled fumbling twice in one drive against the Cougars in the Apple Cup.
“The opportunity was out the door,” he said. “2010 came around and I just felt like for them to trust me as a tailback, that wasn’t there. Then for me, the confidence started going down.”
Bronson saw limited playing time in 2010 on special teams.
After that, he made the difficult decision to transfer.
Bronson said he didn’t leave on a sour note, that there was not bitterness, it just seemed like he might fit in better in another program.
Football wasn’t fun anymore. He told the coaching staff at UW he felt like his time there was up.
“It was one of the biggest obstacles I had to go through in my entire life,” Bronson said. “I didn’t really want to leave, but I did want to leave.”
Eastern Washington recruited him when he was a senior at Kentwood — he rushed for 1,405 yards his final year playing for the Conquerors — and Bronson said he’d had a good recruiting
visit at that time. He knew some players on the Eagles team, including Aaron Boyce, who encouraged Bronson to consider
heading to Cheney.
Bronson gave the coaching staff at Eastern a call.
“They didn’t hesitate at all,” Bronson said. “They said, ‘Yeah, we’ll take you.”
Still, leaving UW was hard. Bronson had to think about more than just what was best for him.
“I have family to think about, I have to think about my son,” Bronson said. “A lot of people just throw it out there, ‘I’m going to transfer.’ It’s something that you don’t want to go through. There are a lot of factors that go into it.”
Bronson’s son is 18 months old now. His girlfriend is also attending Eastern. He said he’s grown up in a hurry since his son was born. And his teammates recognize he has different priorities.
Still, Bronson knew coming in this was a good chance to establish his football career again.
He knew when he stepped foot on campus he would come in lower on the depth chart. And the Eagles style of play is different from the Huskies.
At Washington, it’s all about powering through when running out of the backfield. At Eastern the focus is on speed and quickness.
His first season with the Eagles, he was playing fullback, a position he was not comfortable in.
That season was about getting back on the field, getting some playing time and some snaps.
But, he wanted to get the opportunity to get back to tailback, the position he thrived at while playing at Kentwood.
“I talked to Coach (Beau) Baldwin afterward and said, ‘What can I do to solidify a spot at tailback,’” Bronson said. “He gave me some pointers, told me what to do. Basically that offseason, I lost 20 pounds. I went away that summer, I went to Arizona to work on my speed. I still needed to get my mind right, to get my body right.”
Bronson dropped from 225 to 205 pounds. He started working hard to move up on the depth chart heading into camp.
“And things started falling into place,” Bronson said.
Then early in the season he injured his hamstring. The coaches saw it as a minor setback and told him to keep working hard.
So, that’s what Bronson did.
His second game back things started working out for him. He got into the rotation in the backfield then ran all over the defense, rushing for more than 100 yards on 13 carries.
Proving himself still isn’t always an easy task, though. Eastern has two excellent quarterbacks and a receiver corps that the offense hinges on. Its running game is secondary. All the backs, Bronson said, have a friendly rivalry with the wideouts as they try to prove they can put up numbers, too, and demonstrate the Eagles have a well-rounded offensive attack.
“We’re competitive in the backfield,” Bronson said. “I give a lot of credit to my coach. We wanted to show something this year … that they can trust us enough to run the football.”
Whatever the Eagles are doing is working. Eastern was ranked sixth in the country in the FCS after a win Nov. 10 over UC Davis. Bronson had two touchdowns and 82 yards on the ground in that game.
As the post-season approaches, Bronson is confident the team can make another run at a national title.
“I really feel like we’ve got it this year,” he said. “Just overall when we’re clicking on all cylinders I really feel like it’s hard to stop us. We’re really going for it and we really believe we can accomplish that (a championship) again. I feel like we have more in us than people have seen on the field. I think it’s going to be a good playoff run this year.”
Bronson is listed as a junior, so, he has one more year of eligibility left. That means that no matter how the season ends for Eastern he still has more time to prove himself.
He’s trying to build on the trust he has established with his coaches. He wants to continue to improve his game. He wants to get faster and focus on those little details heading into his final season of college football.
“I do want to have a big year next year,” Bronson said. “Now that I do have that confidence, I can do this, I can be a collegiate tailback, I can run the rock, it can really boost me in the playoffs and however far we go in the playoffs.”
Eastern, which got the automatic berth into the Football Championship Series playoffs, will play its first post-season game Saturday, Dec. 1, against the winner of this Saturday’s first-round matchup between Colgate and Warner.
Someday, if he doesn’t land in the NFL or CFL, Bronson would like to go into law enforcement. His big dream is to either become a SWAT officer or a member of the Secret Service.
Wherever he goes after his time at Eastern is over, he is thankful for what he learned at Kentwood and what’s he found in Cheney.
“Coming into high school, I only had played football a couple years, so I didn’t really know my place,” Bronson said. “My grades were really bad coming out of junior high. They kind of took me under their wings, the whole (coaching) staff, and helped me with my grades and made me a hard worker. I felt like I had that in me. I look back at high school and I get kind of mad. I didn’t know I was that guy. I guess they saw that in me and they tried to push the envelope.”
Norris was a coach on the field, a teacher in the classroom, a father figure and supporter. If Bronson needed new shoes, for example, Norris helped him get a job to pay for them. What Norris and the Kentwood football coaching staff did, Bronson said, was “shaping me into the kind of man I am today.”
Norris had high praise for Bronson via email, “He was the perfect model of having your best athlete being your hardest worker. Because of that our whole team was better.”
And then there’s this football team at Eastern. Sure, being ranked is nice but for Bronson, the experience has transcended football.
“It’s more just being around the guys that makes this journey that much better … this football experience that much better,” he said. “I love these guys to death. Even if we were 0-19 I still feel like the brotherhood that we have in the locker room … we’re one tight eagle nest. That’s what makes the journey for me real fun. I feel like I’d do anything for these guys here.”