PENDLETON — Dating back to their years in elementary school, Shaw Jerome and Nick Bower have been best friends and have shared a passion for sports — specifically football.
Jerome even recalls that he and Bower always played some kind of sport together at recess while at McKay Creek Elementary School, and that the duo had to be split up onto different teams after awhile to make things more fair.
They also began playing football together in the Pendleton Youth Football Association all the way through high school, where the two developed into one of the best quarterback-wide receiver tandems in Class 5A.
That friendship is also what made Wednesday night memorable for both boys. In front of a large contingent of family, friends and past and present coaches, the two friends sat side-by-side at a small table in the party room at Big John’s Pizza in Pendleton and signed their National Letters of Intent to play college football beginning in the fall. It’s something each kid has dreamed about since their youth football days.
“We’ve been best friends since we were seven years old, before football even started for us,” Bower said. “Hopefully it continues for the rest of our life and the fact we’ll be only 45 minutes away is a good thing.“
Added Jerome, “It’s been nice to have him (Bower) by my side all the way through the years, and he’s been a big, big part of my life for sure.”
Both will head to the west side of the state for college, with Jerome attending Western Oregon University — an NCAA Division-II school in Monmouth — and Bower going to Pacific University — an NCAA Division-III school in Cottage Grove. Both campuses are only a 45-minute drive away from each other.
Bower chose Pacific over five other offers from the likes of Eastern Oregon, Linfield and Whitworth. He didn’t receive his first offer until EOU’s on Dec. 7, with Pacific following on Dec. 18. Bower, who plans to study either pre-physical therapy or education, says he has been in contact with Pacific since midway through his junior season, and the relationship he developed with the coaching staff helped seal the deal for the Boxers.
“It was a tough decision, a lot of sleepless nights,” said Bower, who verbally committed to the school on Jan. 23. “But it really came down to what schools could offer me academically and also the best fit for me to become an impact player on the field. I just built the best relationship with (Pacific) and I really liked the coaches and it was a no-brainer for me.”
Pacific put together a 4-4 overall record in 2017 and finished fourth in the eight-team Northwest Conference with a 4-3 record. The Boxers are led by seventh-year coach Keith Buckley, who revived the school’s football program in 2010 after a 19-year hiatus.
Bower was a two-year starter at quarterback for the Buckaroos, though he flashed his potential as a sophomore when he threw a couple touchdown passes in some trick-play scenarios. After struggling with interceptions and accuracy as a junior, Bower flourished as a senior, throwing for 2,051 yards with 23 touchdowns to earn second team all-district honors.
“Nick is a grinder,” Pendleton head coach Erik Davis said. “He always wanted to be a student of the game. I remember a sit down we had where he asked me what it takes to be a quarterback at the next level and wanted to know it all.”
Davis added, “He was always special ... he had a good arm and could always spin it, as we coaches like to say. But he came in kind of small ... Nick will tell you, he owes a lot to getting into the weight room and really bought in there.”
Jerome, who plans to study criminal justice, has had his future planned out a little longer than Bower has, as the talented wideout committed to Western Oregon on Nov. 5. He chose WOU over an offer from Eastern Oregon as well as a collegiate baseball offer from Blue Mountain Community College.
“I’ve been going down there for four years, because that’s where our team camp is,” Jerome said. “I just grew over the years with the coaching staff down there, the campus, I’ve just always loved it down there.”
Western Oregon had a disappointing 3-8 overall record last season, which broke a string of nine consecutive seasons of a .500 record or better. The Wolves are led by 11th-year coach Arne Ferguson and have Hermiston native Tim Rude on staff as the Defensive Line Coach and Video Coordinator, who was a primary recruiter for Jerome along with receivers coach Matt Overlin.
Jerome was a three-year starter at receiver for the Buckaroos, though he struggled to stay on the field as he battled through injuries as a sophomore and junior. However, as a senior, Jerome finally showed his full talent as he grabbed a team-high 51 catches for 636 yards with six touchdowns, leading to first team all-district and second team all-state selections.
“Shaw is just a natural athlete,” Davis said. “He really developed as a receiver, and is one of the best I’ve seen as far as route running and being prepared.”
Jerome’s commitment to Western Oregon was extra special for Davis, who is a WOU alumnus and was an assistant coach for the Wolves before coming to Pendleton. And Davis was also in the room with Jerome when WOU offered him his scholarship.
“It holds a special place in my heart,” Davis said of WOU. “It’s pretty cool and it gives me another reason to head down there for homecoming and to wear the Wolves’ gear.”
Bower and Jerome will be the sixth and seventh former Buckaroo players to be on a college roster next fall, and the first not to be playing just down the road in La Grande for EOU. Both held offers from the Mountaineers and were recruited heavily by their former Pendleton teammates there before deciding to go elsewhere.
“Kai Quinn was a big recruiter for me to Eastern, talking to me at least once a week about it,” Bower joked. “He was pretty good at it, too. Just Eastern wasn’t the place for me.”
Now the two best friends will finish out their final months as Buckaroos before packing up their things and becoming western Oregonians. Though, it still may take some time for it to sink in that they will both be fulfilling a dream of playing college football.
“It’s exciting for sure,” Jerome said with a smile, “but I’m still wrapping my head around the whole thing.”
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.