Riley Bockmier stood before his teammates prior to a playoff game a few weeks back to deliver a message from the heart.
“I was told I’d never play again — twice — and I’m here,” Bockmier said.
He is here, with his Skyview teammates, preparing to play in the Class 4A state championship football game. The Storm take on Skyline of Sammamish at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
A defensive lineman, Bockmier did not need to remind his teammates of all he had endured to play his senior year. They know of his two knee surgeries and the initial diagnosis that his playing days were finished.
So instead, he expressed to his teammates that the only way for him to honor his work and commitment to returning to football was to play each play like it could be his last.
“I’m going to have as much fun as possible because you really never know,” Bockmier said.
Skyview coach Steve Kizer said he was pumped and ready to play after hearing Bockmier’s passionate rally cry.
“He rehabbed himself so hard knowing there was a (possibility) he wouldn’t get to play,” Kizer recalled. “But he still worked hard because he just had to give himself a chance.”
Cleared to play, with the support of a specially designed knee brace, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Bockmier has exceeded all of his own expectations.
“The state championship is going to be awesome if we win, but for me, my state championship was getting past spring ball. I didn’t think I’d get past two-a-days this year.”
Spring drills and then the opening of practice in August seem like a long time ago for the Storm and Bockmier. To be playing in December is special; to be playing anytime is special for Bockmier.
Connor Bockmier was an All-Region offensive lineman for the Storm in 2008, Riley’s freshman year.
“That’s all I wanted to do, ever,” Riley said of following in his brother’s footsteps.
But Riley dislocated his left knee as a sophomore. The knee then kept going out on him, leading to surgery. It was then that Riley was first told he was done with football.
“I busted my butt, came back my junior year, and started as a guard,” he proudly proclaimed.
Four weeks into the season, though, he dislocated the knee again — this time ripping the screw, which was inserted during the first surgery, off the bone.
No more football, he was told again.
Once again, he was having none of it.
“I didn’t want to hear it,” Bockmier said.
The sports world is full of athletes who have overcome injuries, even injuries that are initially determined to be too severe to come back from to play. Yet Bockmier’s story is more than an injury rehabilitation. He had to have a major makeover in other aspects of his life.
He was a bit overweight, and the extra pounds on that knee would destroy any comeback hopes. So he ate better, dropped the weight.
He also struggled at times with his grades. He was eligible for sports, but in order to spend more time in the weight room, he had to improve his grades.
At Skyview, students in good standing are rewarded with the equivalent of two lunch periods. Students who are underperforming must attend a study session after the first lunch period. Bockmier wanted to spend his lunch and the tutorial time in the weight room. Only way to make that happen was to make it happen in the classroom.
“He changed himself completely,” Kizer said. “He changed his body. He lost a lot of weight. And he changed his grades, from bad to good.”
Then Bockmier killed it in the weight room.
“There were times when Kizer would say, ‘Get out of here’ because I was in there so much,” Bockmier said.
Bockmier said he does not want to come across as arrogant, but he thinks he has an inner drive that is just a little bit more than the next guy.
“I’m not the fastest or the strongest,” he said. “I just want it more than others.”
Bockmier leads the Skyview defensive linemen in tackles. He also is tied for the team lead in sacks. Amazing statistics, considering he was just hoping to get through practice in the summer.
“It’s like a sports movie, but it’s true life,” Bockmier said. “It’s crazy.”