For three decades Ed “Buzz” Bonaminio was a vocal supporter in bringing the football team back to the College of Idaho.
Five years after seeing his hard work pay off, the 86-year-old Bonaminio is watching as the program reaches heights not seen since he was wearing the Purple and Gold uniform.
The former College of Idaho halfback, and later coach, plans to travel to La Grande, Oregon, on this weekend in hopes of seeing the Yotes match a program record he was a part of. If the No. 6 College of Idaho (7-0, 7-0 Frontier Conference) comes away with a win Saturday against Eastern Oregon (2-6, 2-5), it would be the team’s 14th straight victory, matching the record set in 1953, Bonaminio’s sophomore season.
“For me, I think it’s the greatest thing,” Bonaminio said about the possibility of having the record tied or broken. “You can’t live in the past all the time. These kids are proving they are better athletes. It was a different era. Today the guys have to come in prepared, so it’s all working out. I think progress is important and you don’t get better by living in the past.”
Much like the current Yotes’ streak, the one set 66 years ago happened over the course of two seasons. After playing Pacific to a 7-7 tie in 1952, the Yotes won six straight games to end the season, winning their first of four straight Northwest Conference championships. They followed that up with a 8-0 regular season the following year, earning their 14th straight win with a 45-20 victory against Whitman.
The Yotes earned an invitation to the 1953 Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Indiana, where they lost to Sam Houston State 14-12.
The 1953 team, which was inducted into the College of Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008, featured players like R.C. Owens — who went on to play eight seasons in the NFL — as well as Norm Hayes, Joe Kahahawai and Pete Douroux, who all got invites to NFL camps.
“We had a lot of veterans on that team and they were important in their leadership,” remembers Boyd Crawford, a senior quarterback on the 1953 team. ”We had a great time, we loved football and did the best we could to score as many points as we could.”
Crawford, who lives in Aurora, Oregon, admits he hasn’t been able to follow the Yotes success and hasn’t been to a game since the College of Idaho reinstated the football program in 2014, following a 37-year hiatus. But he said he’s pulling for the Yotes to continue the streak.
“I hope they break our record,” Crawford said.
Like Crawford, George Shull says he hasn’t been able to follow the team as closely as he’d like to. Living in Lake Oswego, Oregon, he said he relies on updates from Bonaminio, who still lives in the Caldwell area, to keep him informed on what’s going on.
But despite his distance from the program, the guard turned linebacker who was a sophomore during the 1953 season is thrilled about hearing the successes this year’s Yotes team is having.
“I think it’s great,” said Shull. “Things have changed so much. There was one high school in Boise when I was there. Now they have a lot of high school kids to draw from. They can get kids who can’t go to Boise State, and the coach has the California connections.”
Unlike Crawford and Shull, Bonaminio has been able to stay connected with the College of Idaho football program. The man who coached the Yotes from 1965-71 is a regular visitor in the office of College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski, as well as at practices.
“It means everything. I’m retired and I have the opportunity to be around the college,” Bonaminio said. “Coach Moroski has been kind to me and allows me to sit in the meetings. When you’re off in the pasture and someone allows you to stick around with them, it’s nice.”
For the Yotes, it’s nice to have a piece of their past around with them, as well.
“He’s been so supportive, he’s really become a great friend of mine,” said Moroski. “He’s introduced me to people and given me some of the history. He’s probably at more practices than most people and he’s in the office, so guys know him. I think it’s really special to see him be able to communicate not just with the coaches, but the players on the team.”
The winning streak isn’t the only history set by Bonaminio’s teams that the Yotes can match over the next couple of weeks. A win Saturday would clinch a share of the Frontier Conference title, the first conference title for the Yotes since 1955, Bonaminio’s senior year.
A win next week at home against Montana Western would clinch a spot in the NAIA Playoffs, the Yotes’ first postseason appearance since the Refrigerator Bowl.
After that, Bonaminio said he’s excited to see just what this year’s batch of Yotes can do.
“They got enough talent to make it quite a ways,” he said. “The teams that have gone all the way from our conference, we’ve matched up with them this season. Barring injuries and everything being equal, I think they have an opportunity to do very well.”