SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Practices Begin on April 2 for New-Look Eagles

SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Practices Begin on April 2 for New-Look Eagles

Eagles begin on-field preparations in pursuit of fourth-straight league title, but they'll do it in search of a new starting quarterback

.pdf version of 2015 EWU Spring Football Prospectus

The hard work began in January, but the schematics of it all begin next week.

The Eastern Washington University football team, seeking its fourth-straight Big Sky Conference title and berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, opens spring practices Thursday, April 2, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles will spread 14 practices over the course of 29 days, and hit the field eager to make yet another run at the NCAA Division I title EWU won in 2010.

For the most part, Eastern will practice Tuesdays and Thursdays, and have scrimmages on Saturdays. The annual Red-White Game takes place on Saturday, April 25 at 2 p.m. at Roos Field, but the Eagles will follow that with two more practices the following week.

Head coach Beau Baldwin, who enters his eighth season at the helm, expects to have upwards of 90 players participating this spring, including 48 returning letterwinners. A year ago, the Eagles had 46 letterwinners back, and they helped Eastern win its second-straight outright Big Sky Conference title and third-straight overall.

But two-time Walter Payton Award runner-up Vernon Adams Jr. has moved on to other pastures, and the progression of Jordan West and the competition he will face at that position will be one of the key storylines for the spring. West was 3-1 as a starter in place of Adams last season, but no other quarterback in the program has taken significant snaps behind center.

Eastern's offense also will need to replace two offensive linemen – one of them consensus FCS All-American Jake Rodgers – as well its starter at running back. Defensively, Jeff Schmedding takes over as defensive coordinator, and will need to replace two highly-productive linebackers, including three-time All-American and the Big Sky's all-time leading tackler, Ronnie Hamlin. Eastern also lost a pair of starting defensive linemen and All-America safety Tevin McDonald.

Eastern advanced to the quarterfinal round of the FCS Playoffs behind an offense that led the nation in scoring (44.1 points per game) and set school and Big Sky records for points (618), touchdowns (84) and total offensive plays (1,079). Eastern averaged 513.4 yards of offense per game to rank third in FCS, however, Eastern also allowed 31.4 points and 441.8 yards per game.

Four years after capturing the NCAA Division I Football Championship, the Eagles finished the 2014 season 11-3 overall and garnered its 17th winning season in the last 19 years, including playoff berths in eight of the last 11 seasons. The 34 victories in the last three seasons represent the best three-year stretch of success in the school's football history, and fourth-best in the Big Sky.

The Eagles closed the 2014 season ranked fourth in FCS, marking the fourth time in five seasons the Eagles have ended the year with a top four ranking. Eastern has also spent time at No. 1 in four of the last five seasons (2014, 2012, 2011, 2010), and was high as second in 2013.

Eastern has advanced to the FCS Playoffs four of the last five years under Baldwin, a two-time Big Sky Coach of the Year. He enters the 2015 season with a 67-26 record in seven seasons to currently rank seventh in the 50-year history of the Big Sky with a .726 winning percentage. His 80.4 percent winning percentage in league games (45-11) is fifth all-time in the league.

 

Spring Practice Schedule

Eastern recently completed its winter conditioning program, and spring break takes place the week of March 23. Spring quarter classes start on March 30, and spring ball begins four days later.

Practices take place various days through April 30. Most practices are scheduled to start at 4 p.m. (media interviews at approximately 3:35 p.m. or after practice at about 6 p.m.). All practices are scheduled to take place at Roos Field. Scrimmages also take place on the red Sprinturf surface at the "Inferno" in Cheney, Wash.

April 2 - Practice (no pads), 4 p.m.
April 3 - Practice (no pads), 4 p.m.
April 7 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 9 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 11 – Practice/Half-Scrimmage, 9 a.m., Roos Field
April 14 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 16 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 18 - Scrimmage, approx. 2 p.m., Roos Field
April 21 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 22 - Practice (no pads), 4:30 p.m.
April 23 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 25 – Red-White Spring Game, 2 p.m., Roos Field
April 28 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 30 – Practice, 4 p.m.

Spring Scrimmages

Eastern is scheduled to scrimmage on Saturday, April 11 (a practice and half-scrimmage starting at 9 a.m.) and Saturday, April 18 (approximately 2 p.m.) at Roos Field. The annual Red-White Game will take place on Saturday, April 25 at 2 p.m. at Roos Field in conjunction with Eagle Week at EWU and the Orland Killin Lobster Dinner, Dance and Auction.

 

34th Annual Killin Dinner/Dance/Auction is April 25 at EWU as Part of "Eagle Week"

Tickets are now on sale for the 34th Annual Killin Dinner, Dance and Auction, which is the featured event of "Eagle Week" at Eastern Washington University. The event follows the annual Red-White Spring Football Game on April 25 at 2 p.m. at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.

Tickets are $100 per individual and $700 for a table of eight. Online ordering is now available via the events link at http://alumni.ewu.edu. All tickets will be mailed out by April 15.  Any tickets purchased after April 15 will be held at will call at the main entrance.

Killin takes place at the EWU Sports and Recreation Center. The event starts with a social hour and auction at 4:30 p.m., followed by the dinner (6:15 p.m.), program/presentations/live auction (7:15 p.m.) and dancing (8 p.m.).

Besides online at www.goeags.com, tickets may also be obtained by calling 509-359-2463 or 1-800-648-7697.

Net proceeds benefit areas of greatest need within Eastern Athletics. The event is named in honor of Orland Killin, who, along with his wife Bernice, helped create the event. Killin was a man immensely dedicated to academics and the integrity of Eastern Washington University, serving as professor, faculty athletic representative and faculty president. He was an Eastern football letter winner in 1941-42.

Other events taking place as part of "Eagle Week" will be announced in the coming weeks. There is no admission charged for the Red-White Game. Volleyball and soccer scrimmages are also expected to take place on April 25.

Taking place the day before on Friday, April 24, is the 28th Annual Coaches Golf Tournament. The golf tournament takes place at the Fairways Golf Course near Cheney, Wash., at noon. Registration and information for that event is available via the "Eagle Week" page at: http://goeags.com/trads/ewas-eagleweek.html

 

 

Off-Season Headlines

Starting with FBS runner-up Oregon, schedule includes eight teams with winning records and a collective 68 victories

Eastern will challenge itself early and often later this year, playing eight opponents who finished the 2014 season with winning campaigns and a collective 68-36 record (65 percent). The Eagles will play five of their first seven games on the road before playing three of their last four at "The Inferno" at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Game times will be announced this summer.

The schedule begins on Sept. 5 when the Eagles visit the Oregon Ducks, who were 13-2 and the runner-up in the first playoff for the NCAA Football Bowl Division Subdivision title. Eastern has won the last five times it has played schools from the state of Oregon, including a 49-46 victory over 25th-ranked Oregon State in 2013 in only the fourth victory by a FCS team over a ranked FBS foe.

Eastern's other two non-conference games are against a pair of perennial league contenders and playoff participants at the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision level. The Eagles follow the Oregon game by playing Sept. 12 at Northern Iowa, which finished 9-5 and has the distinction of knocking off four-time FCS champion North Dakota State and FCS runner-up Illinois State in 2014. The Panthers had a six-game losing streak late in the year before losing to Illinois State 41-21 in the second round of the playoffs. Eastern's season ended with a 59-46 home loss to the Redbirds in the quarterfinals.

Montana State, 7-5 a year ago, plays at EWU on Sept. 19 in the return game of a non-conference game in Bozeman, Mont., last season. That game was won by the Eagles 52-51, thanks to a 2-point conversion run by Vernon Adams Jr. with 27 seconds to play.

Eastern opens league play at Sacramento State (7-5 in 2014) on Sept. 26, then opens its home league schedule versus Cal Poly (7-5) on Oct. 10 on Hall of Fame Day at EWU. After road games at Idaho State (8-4) and Northern Colorado (3-8), the Eagles play back-to-back home games against Weber State (2-10) on Oct. 31 and Northern Arizona (7-5) on Nov. 7.

The Eagles play at rival Montana (9-5) on Nov. 14, then host Portland State (3-9) on Senior Day on Nov. 21. The FCS Playoffs begin on Nov. 28.

Eastern ended the 2014 season ranked fourth in FCS. This fall, Eastern will play four teams ranked in the final top 25, including non-conference games against Northern Iowa (#10) and Montana State (#20). The Eagles will play Big Sky Conference foes Montana (#13) and Idaho State (#25).

In 2016, the Eagles are scheduled to play non-conference road games at Washington State (9/3/16) and North Dakota State (9/10/16), and a non-conference home game versus Northern Iowa (9/17/16). In 2017, Eastern is scheduled to visit Texas Tech (9/2/17) and hosts NDSU (9/16/17). Eastern also previously announced agreements to play in 2018 at Washington State (9/15/18) and in 2019 at Washington (8/31/19).

 

Eagles Change Assignments Amongst Coaching Staff

A veteran of 11 previous years on the Eastern Washington University football coaching staff, safeties coach Jeff Schmedding will take over as defensive coordinator as part of the changes announced by head coach Beau Baldwin.

Schmedding, who has served as special teams coordinator since 2008, will also coach safeties for the fifth season in 2015. He is a 1996 graduate of University High School in Spokane, Wash., and received his bachelor's degree from EWU in 2002.

John Graham will continue as associate head coach, but will move from defensive coordinator to tight ends coach. Former tight ends coach Brian Strandley will move to his native defensive line where he will coach alongside Ryan Sawyer. Sawyer will also assume the new title of defensive front coordinator.

Baldwin said different staff members will assume roles coaching special teams, with those assignments to be determined.

 

Spring Notes

* Quarterback will be the most-watched position in the spring, a trio of quarterbacks competing with Jordan West for the starting position. West, a former walk-on from Maple Valley, Wash. (Liberty High School '12), was 3-1 as a starter as an injury replacement in 2014 for Vernon Adams Jr. West directed EWU to a total of 1,444 yards of offense (361.0 per game). In four games as a starter and three as a sub, he completed 61 percent of his passes (86-of-142) for 1,072 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. In his first collegiate start at Southern Utah in a 42-30 win on Oct. 11, West completed five of his first six passes, and finished 20-of-27 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He had a passer efficiency rating in the game of 192.9. West redshirted in 2012 and did not see action in 2013. Conner Richardson has spent two years in the program and in 2014 saw action as the team's holder on placekicks, and also completed all three of his passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. The other two quarterbacks in the program – Reilly Hennessey and Gage Gubrud redshirted in 2014. Hennessey completed 62.2 percent of his passes (364-of-585) for 6,188 yards and 64 touchdowns in two years as a starter at Camas (Wash.) High School. As a senior in 2013, Hennessey was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington and was selected by Associated Press as the 4A Player of the Year in the state of Washington. Gubrud completed 59.7 percent of his passes (139-of-223) with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a senior at McMinnville (Ore.) High School.

* A year after entering the 2014 season with lack of experience at cornerback, the Eagles enter with plenty of options in 2015. Because of injuries to key players in 2014, the Eagles are as deep as they been in the secondary. Quality players such as Rashad Wadood, Victor Gamboa and Jake Hoffman emerged to fill roles as starters during the year. Plus, three injured cornerbacks will return -- D'londo Tucker, Frank Cange and Nzuzi Webster. Tucker, the only returning cornerback from EWU's 2013 season, was projected as a 2014 starter but missed the season with a knee injury suffered in the spring. Cange (ruptured patellar tendon) won a starting position, but ruptured his patellar tendon on Aug. 30 and was lost for the season and underwent surgery. After earning a place in the rotation at cornerback, true Webster (knee) was injured against Washington on Sept. 6 and was a medical redshirt. Webster's twin brother, Simba, is expected to be a break-out performer for the Eagles at wide receiver. Hoffman, as well as 2014 backup cornerback Moe Roberts, will move to safety this year. Safety Jordan Tonani, who started 14 of the 24 games he played with 105 tackles and four interceptions in his first two seasons as an Eagle, will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility due to injury concerns.

* Although two quality running backs return from EWU's 2014 team, there will be plenty of carries available in the lineup after EWU lost seniors Quincy Forte and Mario Brown to graduation. That duo combined for 249 carries, 1,495 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago, and combined for 4,529 yards rushing, 43 total touchdowns and 116 receptions for another 1,074 yards. Eastern had four different running backs combine for eight 100-yard rushing performances in 2014. One of them came from Jabari Wilson, who had a career-high 132 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns in EWU's 56-34 win over Portland State on Nov. 21. He was helping fill the void of Forte, who missed that game with a nagging ankle sprain and prior to that missed four games because of a shoulder injury. Wilson's previous high was 83 yards on Nov. 2, 2013, versus Idaho State, but he had only 48 yards in the 17 Eagle games after that. Wilson, who actually started as a redshirt freshman in EWU's 2013 opener at Oregon State, missed six full games and parts of several others in that span because of hamstring and ankle injuries. Jalen Moore had 230 yards and three touchdowns in two of the games that Forte missed, including a career-high 133 yards and two scores at Southern Utah. Wilson finished the season with 237 yards and five touchdowns, and Moore had 378 with five scores of his own. In addition, Jordan Talley is expected to play his senior season as a running back after spending the last two seasons as a linebacker. He had 631 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, and another 241 yards receiving, in two seasons as a running back in 2011 and 2012.

* The number 757 is significant in that it is the total number of career tackles linebackers Ronnie Hamlin and Cody McCarthy take with them.  Plus, Albert Havili (26 tackles in '14) will move to defensive line, leaving 11-game starter Miquiyah Zamora (102 tackles in 2014) as the main returning linebacker. Defensive scout team player of the year Alex Kacmarcik should make a big impact at linebacker and special teams, in addition to 2014 letterwinners Jake Gall and John Kreifels and several other young players.

* Eastern is still awaiting word from the NCAA regarding the status of 2013 All-Big Sky defensive end Evan Day. In the first week of spring practices last season (April 10, 2014), he suffered a knee injury that cost him all of the 2014 season. He has applied to receive the year of eligibility back as a sixth-year senior. With 14 career sacks, he is only 1 1/2 from earning the No. 14 position on Eastern's all-time leaders list. A year ago, he was one of 38 defensive linemen in FCS on the 2014 College Football Performance Awards Watch List. The College Developmental Football League gave him All-America honorable mention accolades.  Beyond Sports Network selected him to its preseason All-Big Sky Conference team and College Sports Madness named him as first team preseason All-Big Sky pick. He had six sacks as a junior in 2013, five in 2012 and three in 2011, and has a total of 92 tackles in 38 games played (17 as a starter) with 24 total tackles for losses totaling 119 yards. He has also forced three fumbles and recovered one.

* Still with two seasons to play, Cooper Kupp already ranks sixth in school history with 197 career catches, and is 16 from moving into fifth (Tony Davis, 213, 2006-09). Kupp has 3,122 yards to already rank fourth in school history,  208 yards from third (Aaron Boyce, 3,330, 2006-09). His 37 touchdowns – a TD for every 5.3 catches – ranks second all-time in school history behind the record of 46 held by Eric Kimble (2002-05), who also holds EWU career records for receptions (253) and yards (4,140).

* The Eagles are 27-3 in their last 30 Big Sky games since a 0-2 start in 2011.  Until an Oct. 25 loss at Northern Arizona, EWU had won 14 Big Sky Conference games in a row.

* The Eagles finished the 2014 season ranked first in FCS in scoring offense (44.1 per game) and first downs (361 total), second in passing efficiency (162.52), third in total offense (513.4) and second in passing offense (328.2). Eastern converted 48.0 percent of the time on third down (97-of-202) to rank seventh, down from a high of second earlier in the year. Eastern's red zone offense was second in FCS, scoring 94.9 percent of the time.

* Eastern's 34 victories from 2012-14 bettered the 2008-2010 and 2009-11 teams which combined to win 27 games each. It's also the fourth-best in Big Sky Conference history, ranking only behind the 39 games Montana won between 2000-02 and 2007-09, and 38 the Grizzlies won between 1994-96.

* Eastern has now won eight Big Sky Conference titles – 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 – but this is the school's first three-peat as a league member. However, the Eagles won three-straight Evergreen Conference titles from 1965-67 and again from 1947-50. The 1947 title actually came in the final season of the Washington Intercollegiate Conference (Winco), and prior to that EWU won four-straight titles in the Tri-Normal League from 1934-37.

* The Eagles are now 31-5 all-time at "The Inferno," with three of the losses coming the past three seasons in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.  Those included a 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State in 2012 when EWU rallied from a 35-0 halftime deficit to nearly pull off an improbable comeback, a 35-31 semifinal loss to Towson in 2013 and a 59-46 loss to Illinois State in the quarterfinals in 2014. Eastern is 23-2 in the regular season at "The Inferno" and 8-3 in the FCS Playoffs. The Eagles have won 16 regular season games in a row at Roos Field dating back to their last loss in the final home game of the 2011 season against Portland State (43-26). The first loss EWU suffered on the red turf was a 36-21 loss to Montana State on Sept. 24, 2011.

* For the first time, Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin was selected by the American Football Coaches Association as its District 5 Coach of the Year for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Baldwin made his 11th national playoff appearance as an assistant or head coach at three different classifications. He has now coached in 26 postseason playoff games (record of 16-9-1), including seven appearances in the FCS Playoffs (record of 10-6), two appearances in the NCAA Division II Playoffs (record of 2-2) and two appearances in the NAIA Playoffs (record of 4-1-1). In all, he has coached on teams that have won two national titles (NCAA Division I in 2010; NAIA in 1995) and nine conference championships (Big Sky Conference in 2004, 2005, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014; Great Northwest Athletic Conference in 2002; Columbia Football Association in 2000 and 1998). The two-time Big Sky Coach of the Year coached in his 100th game as a collegiate head coach in EWU's game at NAU on Oct. 25. Including a 67-25 record at Eastern and 10-3 mark in one season at his alma mater, Central, Washington, Baldwin is currently 77-28 (.740 winning percentage). The Tacoma, Wash., native is among the leaders in Big Sky Conference history for winning percentage. He is 67-25 in seven seasons for a .728 winning percentage (currently better than the school record of .719) to currently rank seventh in the 51-year history of the Big Sky Conference for both percentage and wins overall. His .804 winning percentage in league games (45-11) is the best-ever by an Eastern head coach and currently ranks fifth all-time in the league. His 45 Big Sky victories are a school record, besting the 34 of the EWU head coach he previously served under, Paul Wulff (2000-2007). Baldwin won his 50th game overall and equaled Wulff's record for league victories in a 42-37 victory over Montana in 2013. Eastern has advanced at least to the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs in four of the last five years under Baldwin. He helped lead EWU to its fourth Big Sky title in five seasons with the school's second-straight outright title, which came after the school's first-ever unbeaten conference mark (8-0) in 2013.

* The Eagles won the 2010 NCAA Division I title after Bo Levi Mitchell passed for three touchdowns in the final 16:48 to lead EWU past Delaware 20-19 in the championship game on Jan. 7, 2011, in Frisco, Texas. He was the game's Most Outstanding Player, an honor he duplicated on Nov. 30, 2014, when he led the Calgary Stampeders to the Grey Cup title by completing 25 of 34 passes for 334 yards to earn game MVP honors. He is now 16-2 as a starter for the Stampeders after going 19-7 as an Eagle. He also led Katy, Texas, High School to an undefeated season and a state championship in 2007.

 
 
 

Returning Player Notes

* A total of seven NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America teams were announced, and seven Eagles combined for 20 total accolades. Two of them return for the 2015 season – wide receiver Cooper Kupp and offensive guard Aaron Neary. Earning first and second team honors were offensive tackle Jake Rodgers, as well as quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Adams and Kupp, who earned six first team selections, were repeat first team selections from 2013. Linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, an All-American also in both 2012 and 2013, earned second and fourth team accolades, and safety Tevin McDonald picked up All-America honors as a third and fourth team pick. The other two players to earn All-America recognition were Neary (second team) and punter Jake Miller (fourth team). All but Miller were selected as first team All-Big Sky Conference selections, with Adams picked as the league's Offensive Player of the Year. Miller was a second team all-league pick.

More About Cooper Kupp . . .

Kupp, the 2013 Jerry Rice Award winner as the top freshman in FCS and a Walter Payton Award candidate in 2014, had seven receiving performances of at least 100 yards as a sophomore. He closed the year with 10 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns versus Illinois State in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs on Dec. 13. His yardage total was his second-most in his 28-game career, and the 19th-most in school history. One game earlier in the second round of the playoffs, he had a career-best 12 catches versus Montana on Dec. 6 to rank as the eighth-most in school history.

He finished the season with 104 catches to become the 19th player in FCS history to hit the century mark in a single season. Kupp broke the school record of 95 set in 2011 by his current wide receivers coach, Nick Edwards. He ranks second in league history behind the 112 of Idaho State's Rodrick Rumble, also in 2011. He finished the year with 1,431 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.

Kupp has had 37 touchdown receptions in 28 career games, and has had a TD catch in 24 of his 28 career games as an Eagle. The sophomore's season total of 16 receiving touchdowns ranked second in FCS (the leader has 17), and he also ranked fifth in receptions per game (8.0, total of 104) and was fifth in receiving yards per game (110.1 per game, total of 1,431).

He has also added punt returns to his arsenal of big plays, including a 67-yard return for a touchdown against Montana on Nov. 8. It was the first punt return for a touchdown for the Eagles since Tony Davis had a 60-yard return versus Oregon State on Aug. 31, 2006. A 41-yard punt return by Kupp in the first quarter helped set-up Eastern's first score of the day against Northern Arizona on Oct. 25. He averaged 16.2 on 10 punt returns and would have ranked fourth in FCS if he had enough attempts to qualify (he had 10 and would need 15 to meet the minimum of 1.2 per game). Kupp had at least one score in the first 14 games of his career to set a FCS record, but had the streak stopped in a 2013 loss in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.

The runaway 2013 Jerry Rice Award winner has 197 career catches – a TD for every 5.3 catches so far – to already rank sixth in school history. His 3,122 receiving yards are fourth, and his 37 touchdown receptions ranks second all-time in school history behind the record of 46 held by Eric Kimble (2002-05).  Kimble also holds the Big Sky record and ranks sixth in FCS history; Kupp already ranks second in the Big Sky and 19th in FCS.

 

* Eastern returns 12 players who earned All-Big Sky Conference a year ago, including first team selections Cooper Kupp (wide receiver) and Aaron Neary (offensive guard). Defensive end Samson Ebukam is back after earning second team honors, and wide receiver Shaq Hill was a third team selection, along with Kupp as a return specialist. Another eight players return after earning honorable mention, with a total of 25 All-Big Sky honors won by the Eagles a year ago.

Kupp repeated on the All-Big Sky first team, and Hill was honored for the third time. He was honored as a wide receiver in 2013 and as a return specialist in 2012. Offensive tackle Clay DeBord earned second team honors  in 2013 and honorable mention in 2014.

More About Aaron Neary & EWU Offense . . .

In his first season as a starter, Neary started 13 of EWU's 14 games in the 2014 season, missing the FCS Playoff game against Montana with a knee injury. He helped lead Eastern's offense to new heights in 2014, especially on the scoreboard. For the first time in school history, Eastern scored at least 50 points in six games, including outings of 56, 54, 52, 52, 56 and 56. Only once previously in school history – 105 previous years – has EWU scored 50 or more three times. The Eagles were first in FCS in scoring offense (44.1 per game) and first downs (361 total), second in passing efficiency (163.52), third in total offense (513.4) and second in passing offense (328.2). Eastern converted 48.0 percent of the time on third down (97-of-202) to rank eighth, down from a high of second earlier in the year. Eastern's red zone offense was second in FCS, scoring 94.9 percent of the time.

 

About Other All-Big Sky Selections . . .

Ebukam had 45 tackles in the 2014 season, including a team-leading 7 1/2 sacks and 15 total tackles for loss, with two blocked kicks. Hill was Eastern's third-leading receiver with 52 catches for 706 yards and five touchdowns, and also returned 21 kickoffs for a 27.1 average and a touchdown. Bourne also had 52 catches, good for 814 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Wimberly added another 20 grabs for 267 yards and three scores. Zamora was No. 2 on the team in tackles with 102, and also had 1 1/2 sacks, an interception, three passes broken up, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Gamboa finished with 57 tackles, three interceptions and six passes broken up, and Bruce had 42 tackles, two interceptions and three pass break-ups. McNanny was a perfect 11-of-11 kicking field goals with a long of 43, and also made 48-of-55 extra points for 86 total points. He punted three times for a 43.0 average and had 32 kickoffs for a 55.1 average and two touchbacks.

First Team All-Big Sky
10 - %Cooper Kupp – Wide Receiver - 6-2 - 195 Yakima, Wash. (Davis HS '12)
72 - Aaron Neary – Offensive Guard - 6-4 - 300 Richland, Wash. (Hanford HS '11)

Second Team All-Big Sky
91 - Samson Ebukam – Defensive End - 6-3 - 240 - Portland, Ore. (David Douglas HS '13)

Third Team All-Big Sky
1 - +Shaq Hill – Wide Receiver - 5-10 - 180 - Stockton, Calif. (Brookside Christian HS '11)
10 - %Cooper Kupp – Return Specialist - 6-2 - 195 - Yakima, Wash. (Davis HS '12)

Honorable Mention All-Big Sky
11 - Kendrick Bourne – Wide Receiver - 6-3 - 190 - Portland, Ore. (Milwaukie Arts Academy '13)
9 - Zach Wimberly – Tight End - 6-2 - 240 - Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS '12)
78 - ^Clay DeBord – Offensive Tackle - 6-6 - 305 - Asotin, Wash. (Asotin HS '11)
94 - Matthew Sommer – Defensive Tackle - 6-5 - 310 - Salem, Ore. (West Salem HS '13)
49 - Miquiyah Zamora – Outside Linebacker - 6-1 - 220 - Pasco, Wash. (Chiawana HS '12)
27 - Victor Gamboa – Cornerback - 6-0 - 180 - Tacoma, Wash. (Washington HS '13)
32 - Zach Bruce - Safety - 5-10 - 190 - Spokane, Wash. (University HS '12)
76 - Tyler McNannay - Kicker - 6-1 - 175 - Colfax, Wash. (Colfax HS '11 / Washington State & Weber State)

%First Team All-Big Sky in 2013. +Honorable mention All-Big Sky as a wide receiver in 2013 and as a return specialist in 2012. ^Second Team All-Big Sky in 2013.

 

* Eastern wide receiver/kickoff returner Shaq Hill received Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors after having a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in EWU's 56-34 title-clinching win at Portland State on Nov. 21. The return helped turn an eight-point lead into a 49-34 advantage with 6:22 left in the game. His return for a TD was the first for EWU since he had a 99-yard return as a freshman versus North Dakota on Oct. 5, 2012. He finished the season  averaging 27.1 yards on 21 kickoff returns for the Eagles to rank 13th in FCS. He has a 24.9 average in his career to rank seventh in school history and his 2,115 total return yards are second. With the 2015 season left in his career, he should break the school record of 2,176 yards held by Craig Richardson (1983-86). In addition, Hill has caught 97 passes in 40 career games (12 starts) for 1,612 yards, 14 touchdowns and average of 16.6 yards per reception. He has 16 plays of at least 40 yards in his young career, including kickoff returns of 99, 93, 90, 80, 53 and 41 yards. He has also been involved in long pass plays of 86, 76, 68, 58, 56, 55, 54, 47, 44 and 40 yards.

* Cornerback Jake Hoffman finished with the third-most passes defended (passes broken up and interceptions) in FCS history when he had a school-record six passes broken up versus Montana on Nov. 8. He entered the game with three on the season and finished the year with nine.

FCS Record for Passes Defended (Passes Broken Up and Intercepted)
9 – Anthony Goodwin (Montana) – Portland State 10/5/13
7 – Kameron Scott (Morehead St.) – Butler 10/20/12
6 – Jake Hoffman (Eastern Washington) – Montana 11/8/14 – School Record
6 – 11 other occasions

* Tyler McNannay, a former punter at Weber State, finished a perfect 11-of-11 kicking field goals for the Eagles with a long of 43 yards. He made his first-ever collegiate field goal with a 27-yarder that gave EWU the lead for good at 9-7 against UC Davis on Sept. 27. He also made 4-of-5 extra points, and handled kickoff duties for EWU. He was taking the place of Roldan Alcobendas, who suffered a potential season-ending knee injury at Montana State a week earlier. Originally from nearby Colfax, Wash., McNannay was at Washington State before punting for Jody Sears at Weber State in 2012. He was an injury replacement that year as well when Tony Epperson also suffered a knee injury. McNannay finished fifth in the league in punting with a 43.0 average, and also handled kickoffs for the Wildcats.

* Five true freshmen saw action in Eastern's opener versus Sam Houston State on Aug. 23, then two more made their debuts a week later and one more versus Montana State. They included wide receiver Terence Grady and tight end Conner Baumann on offense, and end Marcus Saugen, nose tackle Patiole Pesefea and cornerback Nzuzi Webster on defense. Defensive linemen Nick Foerstel and Dylan Donohue came off redshirt on Aug. 30 against Montana Western, and defensive lineman Jay-Tee Tiuli made his debut on Sept. 20 at Montana State. Tiuli moved from offensive line and Bauman from tight end to play on an injury-depleted defensive line.

* Wide receiver Cooper Kupp was selected to the Capital One Academic All-America® Division I football team as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Selected to the second team, he was one of only two sophomores among the 50 players honored, with freshmen not eligible. Eastern football players have now earned 11 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors since 1989, including five first-team selections. Nine different players have garnered those honors, including repeat selections Steve Mattson (1996 and 1997), and Kyler Randall (2002 and 2003). Kupp is an economics major with a 3.47 grade point average, and earlier this fall he joined three other Eagles on the CoSIDA Academic All-District VIII team. He was a 4.0 student in high school.

 
 

Career Starts by Returning Players

Defense (116 starts by 12 players): Miquiyah Zamora 22, Evan Day 17, Todd Raynes 14, Samson Ebukam 13, Matthew Sommer 13, Victor Gamboa 12, Rashad  Wadood 11, Jake Hoffman 4, Frank Cange 3, Miles Weatheroy 2, Albert Havili 2, Zach Bruce 3.

Offense (164 starts by 18 players): Clay DeBord 41, Cooper Kupp 28, Thomas Gomez 14, Aaron Neary 13, Shaq Hill 12, Jake Withnell 12, Zach Wimberly 11, Jordan Talley 10 (1 on defense and 9 on offense), Cassidy Curtis 10, Kendrick Bourne 9, Jordan West 4, Nic Sblendorio 3, T.J. Boatright 3, Jabari Wilson 2, Jay Deines 1, Cody Hecker 1, Conner Baumann 1, Terry Jackson II 1.

 

Other 2014 Season Recap Notes

* The Eagles finished fourth in The Sports Network Top 25 Poll of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries. In the Coaches Poll, Eastern was also fourth. The only teams ahead of EWU were four-time FCS champion North Dakota State, runner-up Illinois State and semifinalist New Hampshire. Eastern finished 5-1 in 2014 versus teams ranked in final top 25 poll by The Sports Network. Eastern had regular season and playoff victories over No. 13 Montana, and wins in the regular season over No. 20 Montana State, No. 25 Idaho State and No. 6 Sam Houston State. The lone loss was a 59-46 setback to eventual FCS runner-up Illinois State in the playoffs after a 37-20 second-round win versus the Grizzlies. The Eagles were the preseason No. 1 team, then were second for eight consecutive weeks before falling to Northern Arizona and dropping to fifth for three weeks. The Eagles have now been ranked in The Sports Network Poll 44-consecutive times, having entered 2014 with a streak of 29-straight. Eastern has now spent time at No. 1 in four of the last five seasons (2014, 2012, 2011, 2010), and was high as second in 2013.

* The offensive production by the Eagles in six of their games in 2014 rank in the top 32 in school history. The most recent addition to that list came on Oct. 11 when the Eagles had 568 against Southern Utah to rank 32nd. Eastern also had 617 versus Idaho State to rank 11th, 573 versus Washington (29th), 582 versus Montana State (25th), 583 versus Montana Western (23rd), and 624 yards against Sam Houston State (ninth). The Eagle team with the next-most performances on the list was 2013 with five ranked in the top 32.

* The Eagles have passed for nearly 15,000 yards and 150 touchdowns in the past three seasons. To be exact, EWU has 14,311 yards and 140 TDs to be exact while compiling a 34-9 record. In 2014, EWU had 4,595 yards and 45 touchdowns.

* Eastern has now won its final regular season game in 15 of the past 16 seasons, with the lone loss coming to Montana by a 41-10 score in 2003. Eastern has also had 17 winning seasons in the last 19 years (1996-2014). That includes a current eight-year streak, and one other of seven seasons (1999-2005). Those are the longest stretches since the Red Reese era when Eastern had a string of 11-straight winning seasons from 1931-1941.

* Eastern set the school record in 2014 for average home attendance (9,432 average in 10 home games), breaking the previous record of 8,898 in the 2011 season. The third-largest crowd in school history of 11,339 was on hand for the Montana game on Nov. 8, ranking only behind crowds versus Montana of 11,702 in 2010 and 11,583 in 2006. That was EWU's 22nd sellout (crowd of 8,600+) in school history, sixth in 2014 and 10th-straight in the regular season since 2013. The crowd of 11,256 for EWU's home game versus Idaho State on Oct. 4 now ranks as the fourth-largest in school history. Eastern's crowds of 10,310 for the Sam Houston State game (ninth most in school history), 10,064 for Northern Colorado (12th), 9,212 for North Dakota (15th) and 9,116 for Montana Western (16th) were also sellouts.

* Eastern said goodbye to some of the most successful players in school history on "Senior Day" on Nov. 8 versus Montana at Roos Field. The 20 Eagle seniors made their final regular season appearance at "The Inferno" and finished their careers as part of three Big Sky Conference championships and a trio of playoff berths. Many were redshirts in 2010 when EWU won the NCAA Division I Championship, but running back Mario Brown did play as a true freshman that season and started in the title game. Eastern won 27 of 32 Big Sky Conference games and 40 games overall in the last four years.

* Overall, the 2014 season was the 12th time Eastern has finished the season nationally ranked, including eight times since 2004. The other seasons were in 1985, 1992, 1993, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013. The Eagles were third in 2013, fourth in 2012 and first in 2010 after winning the NCAA Division I title.

* The Eagles broke school and Big Sky records for scoring, finishing the season with 618 points to break the previous record of 592 points scored set in 2013 in 15 games by the Eagles. Eastern also set school and Big Sky records for touchdowns (84) and total plays (1,079). The Eagles led FCS in scoring (44.1 points per game).

* Eastern ended the season with a streak of scoring in 48-straight quarters dating back to August 30. Aside from a scoreless fourth quarter in a 41-9 blowout win against Montana Western on Aug. 30, Eastern scored in every quarter of every game (55 of 56 quarters total). The Eagles were 9-1 when leading/tied after the first quarter, 9-1 when leading/tied at halftime and 10-2 when leading/tied entering the fourth quarter. Eastern hasn't played an overtime game since 2011 (a 53-51 win in triple overtime at Cal Poly).

* The Eagles were 7-0 when they had less turnovers than their opponents, 3-1 when tied and 1-2 when they lost the turnover battle. During a four-game winning streak from Nov. 1 to Dec. 6, the Eagles were a plus 11 in turnover margin, with 14 takeaways (10 interceptions, four fumbles) and just three giveaways (two interceptions, one fumble). That winning streak helped EWU capture the outright Big Sky Conference title and win a game in the FCS Playoffs. In the first nine games of the season, Eastern was an even 14-14 in the turnover department. Eastern's offense had nine turnovers in its first four games (five fumbles and three interceptions), but had just 11 in the next nine games after that (four fumbles and four interceptions). After losing the turnover battle 3-0 against Illinois State in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, Eastern finished ranked 24th in FCS in turnover margin (+0.57 per game, 28 takeaways, 20 giveaways) and was 11th in turnovers forced (league-leading 28).

* Five different Eagles combined to block six kicks in 2014 – four punts, a field goal and an extra point. Against Montana on Dec. 6, a blocked punt by senior Ronnie Hamlin gave EWU the ball at the Grizzly 2-yard line and resulted in an Eagle touchdown. Earlier in the 2014 season, the Eagles had a blocked extra point (sophomore Samson Ebukam) and a blocked field goal (sophomore Matthew Sommer) against Northern Arizona on Oct. 25. Previously, EWU blocked punts in three-straight games – a "trifecta" as head coach Beau Baldwin called it -- with all providing significant boosts for EWU. Senior Zackary Johnson had his in the third quarter versus Northern Colorado on Oct. 18. It was recovered by Ebukam and led to an Eagle touchdown and 20-3 lead. As a result, Johnson was selected on Oct. 20 as the Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week. A blocked punt in the second quarter by Tevin McDonald against Southern Utah on Oct. 11 helped give EWU its first lead of the day at 21-14, and the Eagles went on to win 42-30. One game earlier, Ebukam blocked an Idaho State punt on Oct. 4 that was recovered by senior Dylan Zylstra for his first career touchdown. That gave EWU a 35-17 lead, the first of two 18-point bulges EWU enjoyed (the other was at 49-31 in the third quarter).

* The Eagles have outscored their last 22 opponents 295-115 in the third quarter, and have had an advantage in 18 of them (tied twice). The only times in the last 22 games EWU has been outscored in the third quarter came in the 2014 FCS Playoffs when Illinois State had a 21-3 advantage in that quarter in a 59-46 win. Earlier in 2014 on Sept. 20 versus Montana State, the Bobcats had a 14-10 advantage in the third quarter before EWU rallied for a 52-51 win. Until the MSU game, Eastern had outscored its opponent in the third quarter in 14-straight games, including the first three games of the 2014 season and the last 11 games in 2013. Eastern went 10-straight games from Oct. 19, 2013, to Aug. 30, 2014, without allowing a third-quarter touchdown.

* In November and beyond since 2004, the Eagles are 38-10, including an 11-7 record in the FCS Playoffs. Since 2010, Eastern is now 23-3 overall in November and beyond, with the lone setbacks coming in the FCS Playoffs to Illinois State in 2014 (quarterfinals), Towson in 2013 (semifinals) and Sam Houston State in 2012 (semifinals).

* Eastern has won its last 19 regular season games in November, dating back to a 15-13 loss to Sacramento State on Nov. 1, 2008. Since 2004, EWU has lost just three regular season games in November (Sac State, Weber State in 2006 and Cal Poly in 2005), with an overall record of 27-3.

* A fourth-quarter interception at the Montana 13-yard line on Dec. 6 was the only time EWU failed to score – when trying --- in the opponent red zone in 2014. EWU was officially 55-of-58 for 94.9 percent (second in FCS), but actually was 55-of-56 as far as the Eagles were concerned. EWU was the FCS co-leader in red zone offense (100 percent, 19-of-19) entering the UC Davis game, but because they were at the UCD 18 when the 37-14 Eagle victory ended, the computerized statistics system used by NCAA schools credited the Eagles with only a 4-of-5 performance in the red zone versus the Aggies. The same thing happened versus Idaho State when EWU was 3-of-4 and the last play of the game was an Eastern kneel-down at the ISU 20 in the 56-53 Eagle win. The national leader in red zone offense in 2014 was Northern Iowa (98.0 percent), who the Eagles play on Sept. 12, 2015, in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

* Doubling the previous most in school history, Eastern scored at least 50 points in six games in 2014, including outings of 56, 54, 52, 52, 56 and 56. Only once previously in school history – 105 previous years – has EWU scored 50 or more three times. In 2001, EWU scored 66, 63 and 50 points. Defensively, the Eagles allowed 50 or more four times (59, 51, 53, 59), with the previous most coming in 1995 when the Eagles surrendered 63, 63 and 52 in their last three games of the season.

* In an announcement made Aug. 8, 2014, Eastern Washington and North Dakota State – the only NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams to win a national title since 2009 – will play a home-and-home series with each other starting in 2016. The Bison and Eagles will play each other in Fargo on Sept. 10, 2016, then play at "The Inferno" in Cheney, Wash., on Sept. 16, 2017. Eastern won the 2010 title, including an overtime victory over the Bison in the quarterfinals, but NDSU has won every playoff game since, en route to titles in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Although the Eagles have advanced to the semifinals of the playoffs twice and to the quarterfinals once in the last three seasons, they've fallen short of facing the Bison in the title tilt.

* In yet another schedule announcement, the Eagles announced on July 29, 2014, that they will make a second trip to play at Texas Tech on Sept. 2, 2017. Eastern played Texas Tech on Aug. 30, 2008, in the EWU head coaching debut of Beau Baldwin. Eastern lost that game 49-24 to the Red Raiders, who were coached by current Washington State University head coach Mike Leach. The Eagles would go on and finish 6-5 that season, while Texas Tech finished 11-2 and shared the Big 12 title with Oklahoma and Texas. Although the Red Raiders slipped to 4-8 in 2014, in 2013 Texas Tech finished 8-5 overall and 4-5 in the Big 12 in Kliff Kingsbury's first season as head coach. The Red Raiders closed the season by upsetting No. 14 Arizona State 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl. Texas Tech had the second-best passing offense in FBS in 2013, averaging 392.8 yards per game (Fresno State led with an average of 394.8 per game). Eastern ranked fourth in FCS with an average of 349.8 passing yards per game. In 2014, Texas Tech ranked fifth in FBS in passing (351.1 per game) while Eastern ranked second in FCS in passing (328.6).

 
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