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Bair's Decathlete Speed Gives Kimberly Offense Extra Gear
Gatlin Bair spends the offseason training for the decathalon. That unique speed has helped the Bulldogs reach the semifinals
Published: 11/12/2020 2:02:31 PM
 


Down 26-22, the Kimberly Bulldogs were staring down a possible playoff loss to the Snake River Panthers. 

The Thursday night matchup was one of the state’s first for last week’s quarterfinal slate, as the two conference rivals met in east Idaho, each vying for a spot in the semifinals. 

Facing a second-and-long situation, the Bulldogs split a pair of receivers out wide: Brett Bronson and Gatlin Bair. Bronson, a senior with nearly 1,000 yards on the year and 15 touchdowns, looked to be the favorite to haul in a potential pass from quarterback Heath Owens, and the Snake River defense took note. 

What the Panthers didn’t bank on was the break-neck speed of the freshman Bair. The safeties favored Bronson on the snap, draping the veteran receiver as they had done all night.

As for Bair, he streaked down the field, blowing past the soft coverage, getting himself wide open. Owens made the read and fired. 

The next 54 yards went by in a blink. It wasn’t until Bair ran back to the sideline after crossing into the end zone that he realized he had just scored the game-winning touchdown. 

“I scored, looked back and thought, ‘Where’s the flag?’” Bair said. “I didn’t sink in until I got the sideline and realized that was a pretty big play.”

But while the Panther defense may have been surprised by the play-making ability of Bair, his unique skill sets are no secret to the Bulldog faithful. Bair, an aspiring decathlete, brings a host of techniques to the gridiron. 

Bair has been training for the grueling 10-event competition from a young age. Over the course of two days, decathletes compete in the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500-meter run. And while Bair has yet to partake in an official decathlon, he’s placed in multiple pentathlons, giving him an edge when hitting the football field in the fall.

“I feel like I’ve been trained to withstand a lot,” Bair said. “These last couple years, my dad has really pushed us in the weight room, which has helped me compete with seniors out on the football field, both speed-wise and strength-wise.”

Bair comes from a long line of decathletes. His father, Brad, competed collegiately as Utah State. His older brother, Peyton, earned Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020 for his contributions on the Bulldog track team. Peyton, currently serving a mission in Arizona, will join the Mississippi State track team in two years. Bair was even named after five-time Olympic medalist Justin Gatlin. 

“My dad pushed me to try that kind of stuff, and I realized that’s what I could be good at,” Bair said. “I’m not sure I’m fast enough to compete at an open event, but all around, I’m a pretty decent athlete. All that combined makes you a good decathlete.”

Bair followed his brother’s footsteps in junior high, joining the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics for three straight years. Idaho doesn’t host the kinds of competitions Bair and his brothers were looking for, so they set their sights on national meets. 

In his first outing, Bair finished second nationally at USATF in Kansas. His second year, he finished 15th in North Carolina, competing in the 13-14-year-old age division. The next year, he finished fifth in the same age bracket in Sacramento, California. 

When not donning pads and a helmet, Bair spends his winters on the hardwood, playing for Kimberly’s basketball team. In the spring, he and his father enter decathlon training. Bair’s father serves as a coach for the Bulldog track team, mentoring his son through the season. 

Those warmer months are invaluable to decathletes, as speed and technique are key when blitzing through events like the discus, pole vault and high jump. Because of the decathlon’s complexity, Bair said it can take years to perfect the craft. 

“Most decathletes peak a lot later,” he said. “Sprinters or jumpers, there’s so much technique packed into one event.”


 

While Bair said he thrives on the individualism of track, the intensity and team dynamic aspect of football is what’s kept him in the huddle since the fourth grade. 

When time came for Bair to enter the high school ranks, he assumed he’d spend his freshman season on the junior varsity squad. His first game on JV proved brutal. Bair lined up in the backfield as a running back, and said taking hit after hit at the line of scrimmage didn’t seem like a good fit. 

“My parents got worried, asking ‘What if you got hurt? You wouldn’t be able to play basketball, and it might throw off your track season,’” he said. 

But after one game as a JV running back, the Kimberly coaching staff approached him about a potential spot out wide on varsity. Instead of running right through the action, he’d be running away from coverage as a slot and wide receiver. 

“I didn’t realize until I got to playing that I could compete pretty well on the varsity level,” Bair said. "I didn’t feel like I was being pushed around a lot and felt like I was playing well. It just took off from there.”

And take off he did. Bair, heading into Friday’s semifinal matchup against Sugar-Salem, stands as Kimberly’s second-leading receiver with 537 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Bulldogs are 9-1 on the year, with their lone loss coming in a tight 36-35 conference championship against Gooding. 

“When we played Gooding, we realized we weren’t that ultimate team,” Bair said. “We could lose. That opened my eyes for the next game.”

Friday, the Bulldogs will likely face their toughest challenge of the season against an 8-1 Digger squad allowing an average of 13 points per game. The Bulldogs last faced Sugar-Salem in the 2018 3A state semifinals, losing that matchup 56-27.

Bair, along with the rest of the Bulldogs, is working to prevent a repeat of history. 

“I’ve seen Kimberly play in a lot of games against Sugar, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen us win,” he said. “They’re a really solid team every year that always seems to step up, no matter what athletes they have.”

IdahoSports.com will live audio broadcast Friday’s game, starting at 4 p.m. Click here to listen.

 

 


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