Unique childhood helps Mesa QB focus on life, football
Eystin Salum gets his love of people from his grandmother.
His toughness comes from his older brother. His father taught him the importance of listening and heeding advice.
His mother gives him his drive to succeed.
The Colorado Mesa junior quarterback had a village help him grow up. He took a couple of years off from school to help support his family, and now his family is backing him as he chases his goals on and off the football field.
“I talk about this in some of my classes, I think it’s led to a lot of my success,” Salum said of how his life changed in 2013, when he left junior college to support his mother, who was battling drug addiction.
“I just wrote a free-write (paper) on it for a class last week. If kids aren’t committed to coming to school right out of high school, I don’t think they should. Take that one or two years and see if that’s truly what you want to do. I feel like kids come in as freshmen and sophomores and they don’t know what field they want to go into, they’re not passionate about it, they just don’t know.
“If you don’t have a destination, you don’t know where you’re going, you’re kind of just out there.”
Salum has a direction and a destination not only for football, but his life.
“My goals, when I came here, I sat down and wrote them down,” Salum said. “Be a starting quarterback at a four-year university and graduate with a degree. I’m able to start and I’m close to graduating.”
When CMU coach Russ Martin was the offensive coordinator at Nebraska-Kearney, he was recruiting Salum to play quarterback for the Lopers. That was 2012, Salum’s senior year at Regis Jesuit High School.
“I thought he could be a really, really good quarterback in this system,” Martin said. “I knew he was a great athlete.”
When he was hired at Colorado Mesa, Martin lost contact with Salum, who ended up going to Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. A couple of years later, Martin bumped into his former recruit on CMU’s campus with a former player, Daniel Rankin.
Salum asked for a chance to walk on to the football team and Martin quickly said yes. His freshman year, 2015, Salum was the Mavs’ special teams player of the year, playing the “gunner” on kickoff and punt teams, and earned a scholarship.
“I still think he’s the best gunner in the nation,” Martin said. “But we’re not going to put him there now.”
Now 24, Salum said his childhood makes him appreciate his chance to get an education and play football.
“My mom was in and out of drug rehabilitation and my brother and I lived with my grandma,” Salum said. “My brother also raised me. We lived in the country, between Bennett and Strasburg. We lived out there, could run around and be boys. And we had some fun in the country, believe me.”
Once, he and his older brother, Zach, found an old sled and a street sign and fashioned a contraption they hooked onto the back of Zach’s motorcycle. Eystin hopped on the sled as Zach sped around open fields, his younger brother hanging on for dear life.
“I give all my toughness to my brother,” he said. “He used to beat me up; we’d go on adventures out in the country.”
His grandmother, Connie Crawford, attends his games, waiting for her grandson at the gate just off track at Stocker Stadium. Salum hustles over for a bear hug from his grandmother, his mother, Tracy Thompson, and his father, Chris Harris, a Denver musician, after games.
“She’s the sweetest little lady you’d ever know. I say that’s where I got my love of people. She’s just the sweetest,” Salum said of his grandmother.
“My dad’s been there, a great guide in my life. My dad doesn’t tell me what to do, he suggests things and points things out and sometimes he points them out and I run right into that wall. When I hit it, I say, ‘Oh, my dad pointed that out,’ and I see he was testing me to see if I was listening all the way. Now I know I wasn’t listening all the way.
“My mom’s been a great support all my life. It’s great to be able to have them come to games.”
When he was about to start high school, his mother was released from rehab and custody of the boys was returned to her. They moved to Denver and Salum was accepted to Regis Jesuit on a scholarship.
He ran track and was the Raiders’ starting quarterback in a pro-style offense. He was taking snaps under center and was a drop-back passer, but also ran some option to take advantage of his speed.
Salum chose to go to Scottsdale and “grayshirt,” taking nine credit hours, so his NCAA eligibility clock didn’t start. The plan was to learn a new offensive system and fill out his slender, 6-foot-1 frame.
That plan changed when his mother relapsed. Salum returned to Denver and went to work to help support her and save money for when he did return to college. His mother now works at The Haven, the facility that helped her recover, and is doing well, he said.
“We’ve had our own little adventures,” Salum said. “Our relationship has grown, that’s for sure.”
Knowing he’d have to pay for school himself, he decided to stay in-state, emailing several coaches in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Then came the fortuitous on-campus meeting with Martin in the spring of the 2014-15 school year.
“The rest is history,” he said with a grin.
In the first two games this season, Salum has completed 32 of 52 passes (three interceptions) for 485 yards and five touchdowns. He’s rushed for 82 yards and three TDs.
The Chadron game wasn’t his best, but, he said, the Mavericks won and came back to Grand Junction eager to improve. They rose from No. 17 to No. 11 in the nation and face Colorado School of Mines on Saturday at Stocker Stadium. The Orediggers crushed New Mexico Highlands 70-0 last week after dropping their opener 38-7 to CSU-Pueblo.
“We talked about it on the bus on the way back, it’s kind of good to have some things thrown at us that we haven’t seen before and still be able to come out with a win and be able to learn from it and get better,” Salum said.
“It’s always a constant state of wanting to improve, realizing what you did well and what you could have done better and areas people might look to attack us. We have to be ready to defend that.”
Martin noted his quarterback’s maturity from taking time off from school.
“He’s got a couple of years of life experience and knows and understands stuff,” Martin said.
Salum is trying to parlay those experiences into building his future — and playing some football along the way.
“Life is an adventure,” he said. “I’m loving it.”