Once upon a time, Eric Drage was practically an unstoppable target for BYU quarterbacks that included a Heisman Trophy winner. Drage was competitive, his fuse ran short, his inner drive wheel was always spinning, and he simply had to win.
He's 47 now and just celebrated his 28th wedding anniversary with wife Rachelle. He’s been a grandpa for seven months, just like Ty Detmer will become in November.
“My, how time flies,” Drage says.
Drage remains one of BYU's most productive receivers ever. He still ranks No 4 all-time in WAC career receiving. He was the first Cougar receiver to surpass 3,000 career yards. He had an average of nearly 19-yards per catch — a figure current BYU receivers would die for.
These days he still keeps his finger in football, helping out at Herriman High School. He’s also coached a semi-pro football team, The Wasatch Revolution, for 15 years. His quarterback is former Cougar Charlie Peterson.
Drage worked as a school teacher until he figured he’d never make enough money to pursue his goals. He's now in sales, working in the IT staffing field for San Diego-based Cydio Group which asked him to open an office in Salt Lake City. He’s been doing a little headhunting, working in the business for 20 years.
He's also the father of three and lives in Herriman.
Drage tells every football player he encounters that the thing he treasures most from the game is the relationships and memories of teammates and coaches, the vibe in the locker room. “It is something you can’t get from any other place in this life.”
He still keeps in touch with some former teammates like Andy Boyce, Chris Smith and Steve Clements. He talks often to Ty Detmer and even interviewed with him for the receivers coaching job at BYU. “In hindsight, I guess it didn’t turn out so bad that I didn’t get it. That was rough.”
“The thing I tell players is what you’ll miss the most is friendships. It’s the laughing, the relationships. I’ve got so many stories. The fraternity, or whatever you want to call it you cannot duplicate anywhere in life. The thing I miss the most is the interaction I had with teammates and coaches — and it wasn’t all positive.”
There was the time he took a swipe at LaVell Edwards and didn’t know it. It was the Utah game and emotions were high. Drage was getting into it with an official on the sidelines when he felt somebody tug at his back. Without looking, he took a swipe at the contact and connected with no other than the head coach. His heart sank and thought: What have I done?
Edwards told him, “You are done for the day.”
Drage felt horrible. He pouted. The first half wound down and everyone headed for the locker room. “And this is why LaVell was so great,” said Drage. “I didn’t want to sit out the rest of the game. At halftime, he came over and said, ‘Listen, we couldn’t afford a penalty right there. Cooler heads prevail and you can play the second half.’ He didn’t let his ego get in the way, it didn’t get in the way of saying you can’t play and you’re done. He knew what was best for the team and what that moment was about. He was so even-headed about it. That is what I’ll miss the most… those moments you just don’t get in life.”
Drage remembers skirmishes in practice. There was the time he got in a fight with linebacker Todd Herget.
There was the time he shoved the head trainer, George Curtis, after an interception. He loves Curtis and they are lifelong friends. But in the heat of battle the year BYU went through four quarterbacks including Clements, Ryan Hancock and ending up with Tom Young, he ran a hitch route and at the last minute the corner came up to press.
“You are supposed to convert it to a fade. I did after nine yards and you can’t do that with a three-step drop. Hancock had thrown the fade and the guy intercepted it. I came off the field, threw my helmet. George came over yelling for me to show some composure and I yelled back at him to do his own job. I was fired up and thought he was coming after me and I ended up pushing his head to the side.”
Curtis ended up having neck surgery after the season and said it was due to that moment. Drage says that’s bull, that he Curtis already had a bad neck.
“At the end of the day we hugged it out and we were fine. Best friends.”
Drage has another Curtis story.
“One day in the training room Curtis was treating his back with an electrical stimulator. He’d hooked up the wires and pads and told me he was just going to turn it up a bit. Well, he cranked it up. I couldn’t move, it was like I was getting tased.” He was laying there like Frankenstein on the table when Curtis came over and asked, "Oh, was that too high?”
“And he’s laughing as my body is convulsing.”
Drage got to BYU in 1989, right after Detmer led the Cougars past defending national champion Colorado in the Freedom Bowl and established himself as the future star.
A native of Arizona, Drage didn’t know much about Detmer and didn’t grow up a BYU fan. “I didn’t know much about him. I didn’t know him at all or his background. So he comes over to me at our first practice and is holding his face and says, ‘Hey Drage, I think I have a cavity. Do you have any cavities?’ I said I did and he asked that I open my mouth wide and show me and like an idiot freshman I opened my mouth as wide as I could. He had a wad of dry grass and he shoved it in my mouth. I sat there gagging and that is the first time I ever met him.”
Over the years Detmer and Drage became one of the most dangerous combos in the country, giving a new meaning to “being on the same page.” For BYU to get Detmer to leave Texas and return to Provo, then fire him and see him move to Arizona this summer is simply sad, says Drage.
Memories and friendships of his football experience are molded into who Drage is and it will be that way forever.
His final Detmer story is one on a golf course in Provo.
“I hadn’t played golf much. It was probably his senior year and I’m a sophomore. We were out at East Bay and were just playing or in a tournament or something. He drives his cart up and parks it within four inches of my ball. I’m a lefty, so I can still swing at it but here’s the cart and Detmer in it right next to my ball. Detmer says, ‘Hey, does that bother you?’”
At that moment, Drage doesn't know what to do or say. He doesn’t want to show he can’t do something and he doesn’t want to let on that it actually does bother him.
So, he swings.
Drage never said if it was a good shot or not. He didn’t say if he made par, birdie or bogey. He just remembers Detmer sitting there watching and asking if it bugged him.
Now, by the end of this year, both Drage and Detmer will be grandpas, men who’ve tasted life, been up and down, felt the thrill of ultimate victories and the pain of disappointments. They grew up together with memories firmly in storage.
“I love it. This grandpa thing is just fabulous,” Drage said.
And to that next generation, he’s got stories to tell.