Disappointment marked the words of University of Oregon tight end Jeff Thomason, especially when the subject turned to the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim.
"I watched the Rams and the Angels play there," Thomason said about the Dec. 29 game. The Ducks are expected to be officially invited Saturday. "It's going to be tough. I've always wanted to play there. But I'll be on the sidelines."
For Thomason, the former football and swimming standout at Corona del Mar High School, that possibility ended abruptly Nov. 3 on the turf of Autzen Stadium in Eugene during the first half of Oregon's 28-24 victory over UCLA. On a screen play, Thomason, a junior, suffered a broken left fibula.
"I knew something was wrong right away. I felt something was out of place," said Thomason, 20. "It was something I had never experienced before and it really worried me."
His concerns became a reality when X-rays showed a fracture. There were also strained ligaments in the ankle. He went home that evening and called his parents at Balboa Island before returning to the hospital the next morning to have pins inserted in the bone. The pins, he said, will be removed in about nine weeks.
His parents were listening to the game on the radio, Thomason said. "They couldn't find out anything for a while because the guy on the radio just said it was No. 83 (who was injured)."
Before the injury, Thomason had 30 receptions for 396 yards and six touchdowns this season for Oregon. His best games were the Ducks' opener against San Diego State, in which he caught seven passes for 110 yards and one touchdown, and six-reception games against Arizona and Utah State. He had a pair of touchdowns in each of those games.
"Boy do we miss him," said Rich Brooks, Oregon's coach. "He made so many big plays for us. I don't think there is a better tight end in the conference. He has the ability to make the big catch and block well."
Things were going so well for Thomason that he was one of the 1990 recipients of the Clarke Award, given yearly to the most improved players on the team.
Today he's dividing his time between the gym and his studies. Thomason is majoring in science and hopes to become a veterinarian.
"I'm going to the library a lot," he said. "I dropped a little bit behind when I was in the hospital. I'm also doing a lot of lifting. I don't want to lose too much weight."
To improve his upper body strength, Thomason propels his 6-foot-5, 229-pound frame with the aid of crutches and has a removable boot cast that allows him to take whirlpool treatments in preparation for a full-scale rehabilitation program starting next week.
That was a prevalent theme in Thomason's high school days, when he had to bulk up for football during the fall and trim down for swimming in the spring. They were strenuous workouts Thomason doesn't miss.
"I had a lot of trouble doing both (sports) in high school," he said. "I had to get lean for swimming so I had to lose 10 or 15 pounds from the fall to the spring. I also had to stretch my muscles for swimming."
The transformation worked. He had 23 receptions and four touchdowns, and was an All-Sea View League selection his senior year. In swimming, he won consecutive Division 4-A titles in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events during his junior and senior years at Corona del Mar. His 21.12 seconds in the 50 free remains a school record.
Even today, there are those who believe that Thomason could still be competitive in the pool.
"He could have been an Olympic swimmer," said Corona del Mar swimming Coach Mike Starkweather. "He was just awesome. To have anybody win two events in one year is incredible. To do it two years in a row is phenomenal . . . at this point I bet he could jump in the water and help out any college team."
Those were Thomason's aspirations while in high school. He wanted to attend UCLA or USC, but when neither offered him a swimming scholarship, Thomason opted for a football offer from Oregon, which ironically doesn't field a swimming team.
"A lot of (swimming) coaches in the area were surprised," Starkweather said.
As was Thomason. "I never really thought about playing football in college, but then I started getting scholarship offers," he said.
It's a decision he doesn't regret.
"I like it up here," he said. "There was a little getting used to it at first because of the weather and the small-town atmosphere, but it's nice. The people get to know you a lot more. When I was in the hospital, people came by to see me that I never expected, like my barber."
Still, Thomason said he is looking forward to the trip home for the Freedom Bowl.
"I kind of miss the beach," he said.
Spoken like a true Duck.