Nooksack Valley football coach Rob Myhre has known B.J. Salmonson for a long time.
Since his former offensive lineman was a child, in fact.
Salmonson, a former Pioneer, grew up in Everson and played youth baseball with Myhre’s son.
Now, Salmonson looks to end his redshirt junior season with the Washington State Cougars by helping them to a victory in Tuesday’s Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
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The Cougars (8-4) play the Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4). It’s WSU’s first appearance in the Holiday Bowl since 2003, when it beat Texas 28-20.
Myhre recalls Salmonson as being big, strong and solid, even as a younger man.
“We were offering him a shoe deal in fourth grade, I think,” Myhre said with a laugh. “It was pretty obvious that he had a football career ahead of him.”
Myhre said Salmonson initially had designs on pursuing basketball but eventually decided to follow in the footsteps of his brother and play football, a game Salmonson said he’s played since second grade.
Salmonson was the youngest player on Nooksack’s 2009 team, a sophomore starting lineman who helped the team advance to the Class 1A state semifinals.
Making it to the Tacoma Dome, Salmonson said, was the standout moment from his time at Nooksack, where he played left guard and left tackle.
“Working with those guys and becoming a good, solid lineman teammate, I thought, really helped him along,” Myhre said. “He just kept blossoming every day.”
Salmonson committed to WSU, but Myhre said he also received late interest from the University of Washington after already deciding to head to Pullman.
Playing Pacific-12 Conference football was a big change for the 6-foot-4, 296-pound lineman.
“When I got here, everything was just much faster-paced,” Salmonson said. “Bigger guys, stronger, everyone was quicker. So I had to adapt real quick to that.”
Salmonson entered this season as a backup lineman, playing mostly left and right guard but also seeing action as a right tackle. Although he didn’t earn a full-time starting position, he saw plenty of playing time, including one start in place of Cody O’ Connell.
The highlight of his season came Oct. 8 at Stanford, when Salmonson played the entire second half, helping the Cougars to a 42-16 win.
“(It) really showed what I could do against a good team, and being able to compete at one of the highest levels here was great for me,” he said.
The lead-up to this year’s bowl appearance for WSU was marred by controversy related to its opponent. Ten players from Minnesota were suspended pending a sexual assault investigation. The team decided to boycott all football activities Dec. 15 in the hope of reinstating those players, but the team ended its boycott Dec. 17.
Salmonson said the Cougars haven’t let the other team’s issues distract them.
“We know the situation, but it’s all about us right now,” he said. “We just need to get better every day in practice and focus on what we need to do to win this game.”
The team has been in San Diego since Thursday, meaning Salmonson postponed holiday celebrations with his family until after the game.
Looking ahead, Salmonson is majoring in criminal justice and mulling a future in law enforcement or U.S. customs. The discipline and levelheadedness he’s learned from football, he said, will likely serve him well in such a career path.
For now, though, Salmonson will continue to enjoy the physicality of college football and, he hopes, will return to Whatcom County with the belated Christmas gift of a Holiday Bowl victory.
Washington State vs. Minnesota
Time: 4 p.m. Tuesday