All the attention in a sparsely populated, rubber-matted weight room turned to the junior at the deadlift bar. Only a few days after Christmas and the Burley (Idaho) Bobcats finished their season two months earlier. A 6-foot-3, 197-pound shoeless wide receiver glanced down at 545 pounds.
Gatlin Bair widened his stance and grasped the bar. His toes pointed slightly outward and his initial jerk bent the bar. A roar bounced off the room’s walls. His hips and shoulders raised, taking the bar, affixed with massive discs on both sides, with them. Another harsh grunt followed and 545 pounds dropped onto the black mats. Bair, the top-ranked recruit from Idaho among the 2024 recruiting class with an offer from Nebraska, just upped his deadlift by 70 pounds in seven weeks.
“He just works,” Burley head coach Cameron Andersen said recently. “Like, nonstop.”
Andersen’s coached with and against Bair in Idaho. He started at Gooding High School when Bair was at Kimberly. Then the head coach got offered the job at Burley around this time last year. Bair transferred from Kimberly, just outside Twin Falls, to Burley, 35 minutes away.
The two faced each other in Bair’s freshman season. He’d only played in five games up to that point but was just two weeks removed from a night where he had 153 yards and two touchdowns on three catches. They were rival schools, both undefeated, clashing for the district championship.
“When he was a freshman he scared the bejesus out of me,” Andersen said. “I went in and said ‘Don’t let that guy touch the ball, because if he does he’s going to score.’
“If Gatlin goes off, he has this gear where you just can’t bottle him.”
In his first 18 games, Bair tallied 84 catches, 1,572 yards and 23 touchdowns. He averaged 123.4 receiving yards per game in his freshman season alone and a shoulder injury limited his sophomore production. Then Bair transferred to Burley. He finished with 1,073 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on 73 catches last year. He also threw a 70-yard touchdown pass and ran for 33 yards on seven carries. Two of his nine kickoff returns went for touchdowns and he made an interception on defense.
That’s a testament to his abilities. There’s also the athlete, the teenager. Bair fractured his wrist in the summer and Andersen decided to sit him out the season opener as a precaution. On a new team and at a new school, he was the first in the locker room, hyped the crowd, held signs, helped teammates and was the last out of the locker room after Burley’s 62-39 road win.
“Athletically, fundamentally, physically and just the type of kid he is,” Andersen said, “this guy is truly going to be gem for whoever gets him.”
He crossed Nebraska’s radar by force of will. Boise State, Utah, BYU, Oregon and Stanford and a handful of smaller schools offered him first. Andersen asked Bair at the start of the past season who hadn’t reached out yet that he wanted to hear from. Bair mentioned Nebraska. Andersen reached out to the Husker coaches until Scott Frost got fired. There was silence. Then came the new coach.
“Obviously, when Coach Rhule gets offered the job and takes it, that changes things because he’s an NFL guy with NFL pedigree and Gatlin immediately was all about that,” Andersen said. “When Coach Rhule immediately texted me back and said let’s get on FaceTime, let’s talk, he is really becoming active in Gatlin’s recruitment because you just see this kid isn’t like other kids. In a world full of really good players, he’s just kind of a freak that Idaho doesn’t have.”
Rhule’s staff offered the young wideout in early December. He was one of the first 2024 offers his staff extended among the frantic blitz to secure a strong 2023 class. The Idaho prospect fits Rhule’s vision for speed. Bair already holds the Idaho state track record in the 100 (10.46 as a sophomore) and 200 (20.99 also a sophomore). Both are laser-timed. Andersen wanted to get the junior a baseline for basic athletic measurements during the season. Bair’s running vertical measured at 46 inches.
It’s no surprise the composite 4-star recruit comes from an athletic family. Both his parents ran track at Utah State. His brother Peyton runs track at Mississippi State. Brother Jaxon will return from his mission to a track scholarship at Arkansas. His sister Karlie is the No. 1 ranked heptathlete in America—as an eighth grader. Rhule mentioned the possibility of competing in two sports at Nebraska. Bair appreciated it but he’s focused on football. Rhule’s relationship-based communication and pitch for NFL development appealed to the Burley Bobcats junior. Andersen ventured to guess Bair would take an official visit to Nebraska when able.
Bair admittedly didn’t see himself at USC or Washington (Seattle) or Colorado (Boulder) because he’s not a big-city kid. While he hasn’t been to Lincoln or Nebraska yet, it appeals to him. Then again, so does Ann Arbor. Bair also told his head coach he was interested in College Football Playoff semifinalist Michigan. Andersen already had connections with coach Jim Harbaugh. Andersen coached Colston Loveland, Michigan’s Offensive and Co-Special Teams Rookie of the Year, at Kimberly, Idaho.
“He doesn’t want big, crazy lifestyle,” Andersen said. “He’s a hard working country kid who would like to live in that sort of situation.”
Whoever Bair chooses also has to wait. The young standout anticipates graduating high school in December 2023 to go on his two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s a scheduling avenue most Mormon recruits are starting to take. That puts him on a college campus for spring ball in 2026. Rhule told them that’s not an issue. He plans on being in Lincoln for a while.