From walk-on to stand-out, wide receiver Max Komar has exploded to the forefront of the Idaho Vandals’ receiving corps in 2009-10.
In the first five games of his senior season, Komar, who hails from Auburn, Wash., leads the Vandals with 25 receptions for 408 yards and two touchdowns — nearly matching his career best of 445 before the year is even half-finished. Add in a couple kick returns and Komar has racked up 510 all-purpose yards, the most of any Vandal.
In the Vandals’ victory over Colorado State last Saturday, a game where Idaho’s rushing attack was mostly blunted, Komar came up huge — “Mad Max in the Thunderdome” wouldn’t be much of an overstatement. He led all players with 12 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown, setting a career-high in yardage.
We sat down with Max to talk about his breakout performances this season, the changes he’s seen through a 5-year tenure with the Idaho program and what’s behind the team’s unexpected surge to the front of the Western Athletic Conference pack.
You put in a career performance against the Rams when the team needed it most.
Yeah, my coaches told me before the game that I needed to step up with Daniel Hardy being out from an injury — he’s one of our better players on the offensive side. Coming in to the game I had this feeling that it would be a career night. I had all my friends and family from back home and I wanted to put on a good show.
I just got into a groove with Nate (Enderle). He kept finding me because I kept getting open and he kept throwing me the ball. In the second half we went to that two-minute, no-huddle offense and that helped a lot because we threw the ball on almost every play. That gave me a lot of opportunities to make catches. It was an amazing feeling out there, I looked up at the end of the game and thought ‘Wow, I had 12 catches?’ It didn’t really feel like that many, I thought it was 7 or 8.
What did it mean to you to be able to step up in that situation?
Being a senior, for me it’s about continuing to be better throughout my whole career. During the season I’ve seen myself keep improving. Against Washington, I set a career record with 111 yards. Now I beat that with 152. It’s nice to see that hard work and the time I spent perfecting my routes and working with Nate, it’s all paying off.
What was it like walking into the Dome and seeing it totally packed to the gills?
Wow, that was an amazing feeling. I want to thank our fans for that, I haven’t seen it like that in here for the four years I’ve been here, except for maybe Boise State. Seeing that for a regular season game is so great. It definitely helps us, you know. Colorado State had two or three offsides on offense and we’d like to thank our fans for making that happen. It’s a great feeling to represent your university in front of all those fans and make them proud. They’ve been waiting for a team to start winning games.
How did you come to play for Idaho?
I played at Auburn-Riverside High, near Tacoma. We weren’t that good, we had some talent but we could never put it together and we played in one of the tougher leagues in Washington. My senior year we finished 6-4 but never made it deep in the playoffs. I was seeing a lot of people get Division I offers and I got attention from D-II, I-AA and NAIA schools, but I never got the D-I offer I wanted. Coach Joel Thomas, who’s now at Washington, he offered me a walk-on shot in 2005. I felt like I could play Division I football so I took it.
Obviously you impressed someone, because you’re on scholarship now.
I got scholarshipped after my redshirt freshman year. The coaches wanted to see me in live situations. In my redshirt year as a walk-on I started, and my first game was played against Michigan State. After that, I earned my scholarship.
What was it like to get thrust right into action against the best in Division I football?
That first game was exciting. It was Big 10 football, driving into the stadium there were thousands and thousands of people. Tailgate parties all over the place, this huge stadium with fans in the stands two hours before the game. You know, as a player, I’ve always been someone who didn’t get too nervous. So to me it was about challenging myself and I really grew right there in that one game. On the very first drive I had my first catch. It was a big step for me, being a walk-on, and it was my opportunity to prove myself.
So you’ve seen a lot of change in the program?
Oh yeah. When I first got here it was Coach (Nick) Holt, then went through Coach (Dennis) Erickson and now Coach Akey, I’ve been through it all. There’s maybe 12 seniors left, not very many of us from the Holt years are left.
What’s it been like these last couple years with the program in the wilderness?
It was difficult but at the same time, I realized what Coach Akey was doing. He said to have patience, and it took time, it took awhile for us to get in the system he wanted. When he first came here he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He weeded out some of the players that were cancers to our team, he brought in his recruits, and we all got accustomed to his system. I feel like this is the first year he’s actually got the players he wants. It was hard at first but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even last year I knew this year would be a whole different story.
How does it feel to be shocking the world with a 4-1 Idaho team?
It’s so gratifying, there aren’t words. In years past, I’d stay here over the summertime and work out and not see the results. When the season starts and you’re not winning games, you start to doubt everything. Now, you look back at all that hard work you put in and realize that even though you didn’t want to push yourself to the point you did, it pays off in the end.
My coaches always said keep pushing through, keep pushing and keep working hard. To finally see the results from all our hard work, it means a lot. I’m proud of all my teammates and my coaches for getting to the point where we’re at right now.
Do you have a favorite game memory?
That would probably be my sophomore year when we played Washington State. Growing up I followed WSU and now I got a chance to play against them. I had a career night at the time, five catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. My whole family was there and 20 or 30 friends who go to WSU. Even though we lost the game it was my coming-out party in a sense. I really showed what I could do as a player and it made me realize what kind of player I could be with more experience.
Now it’s your senior year and you have that experience.
When you get to be a senior, you realize that time flies. It’s an exciting and challenging time because you really move into a leadership role. Of course, we’re winning right now too and that helps out a lot. As a senior I want my final season to be a season to remember, a winning season and hopefully a bowl season. It’s really exciting, but at the same time it’s going to be sad to leave this university.
Talk about your relationship with Nathan Enderle.
Me and Nate have a good relationship. I’ve been here with him for four years so he knows exactly what type of player I am. It took some time for us to get used to each other, maybe about a year. Now he knows exactly what I’m going to do out there. I know the way he throws the ball. I know the way he wants me to run a route. To have a quarterback that knows the receiver that well on the field — and off, too — that’s unusual and special.
What are your plans after graduating?
I’m majoring in communications with a minor in coaching. My dream has always been to continue to play football but I know how important my degree is. I’d like to stay in the sport for sure, either by becoming a coach or working for a professional team in the front office.