Now in his third year as a starting safety, former quarterback talks about EWU’s game versus Montana, throwing a pass at Weber State, his high academic standards and, of course, his hair
Once a quarterback, always a quarterback.
Eastern Washington University senior safety Jeff Minnerly has been a starter in the secondary for the Eagles for the past three years, but he’s still a quarterback at heart. He was an EWU quarterback for two seasons before being converted to defense in spring of 2010.
This Saturday, he will start his 21st game on defense when Eastern Washington hosts rival Montana at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff is 4:15 p.m. Pacific time in a game that is all but sold out, with just a few general admission seats remaining. The latest home opener for EWU since 1981, the game is televised on Root Sports and via radio on 700-AM ESPN in the Spokane area.
Minnerly is also EWU’s holder on placekicks, so that’s why last week’s 17-yard pass completion to Ryan Seto against Weber State was a gratifying play amidst the many, many made in the career of the 2008 graduate of nearby Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash. That completion led to a field goal, and later in the game he had the fifth interception of his career to lead to an EWU TD.
Minnerly had an honor-filled career as a 4.0 student and standout quarterback and basketball player at Ferris, and he has followed that with a variety of athletic and academic awards at Eastern. He has a 3.78 grade point average as a finance major, but is also pursuing a second degree in engineering.
In 2011, he repeated as a honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection and was selected to the Capital One Academic All-District VIII squad for the second-straight year as well. In the 2010 season, Minnerly was awarded the “Elite 88” Award by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He received the award for having the highest cumulative grade point average among the participants in the 2010 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Eastern won that game 20-19, as Minnerly finished with two passes broken up and two tackles.
In his 34-game Eastern career, he has 139 total tackles with five interceptions, nine passes broken up, two forced fumbles and 10 tackles for loss. Minnerly started eight of 11 EWU games in 2011, and ranked second on the team with 77 tackles.
After redshirting in 2008, he played in four games in 2009 as EWU’s backup quarterback. He finished the year 4-of-8 for six yards, including a 3-of-4 performance against California.
And, of course, there’s the long hair, started two years ago as a friendly wager between teammates. During the 2010 season, Minnerly and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin challenged each other to see who could go the longest without cutting their hair. Linebacker Zach Johnson was also in on the wager, but dropped out after EWU won the NCAA Division I title.
Both of Minnerly’s parents, Jeff and Kathleen, attended EWU. The elder Jeff was a next-door neighbor of Pat Ogden, who lettered for Eastern from 1986-89. Pat’s younger brother, Jeff (1995-97), also came to Eastern and was an All-America wide receiver for the Eagles in 1997 before playing five years in the NFL with Dallas, Miami and Baltimore. During their time at EWU, the Ogden brothers were close friends with the Minnerly family and spent considerable time helping raise Jeff. Both brothers will be back on Oct. 6 when the 1997 team is inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame.
Minnerly was a guest on the Eagle Coaches Show this past Monday. Here are the answers to the questions posed to him by the show’s hosts, Larry Weir and Paul Sorensen.
This is your home opener, you have to be excited to finally play on the Red Turf at the Inferno again.
“It’s going to be nice to be home. We just had three road games, so it’s nice to get home cooking and sleep in our own beds, and not have to worry about travel, waking up early and changing the schedule around. We’re very excited.”
How did it feel to throw a pass for the first time after a couple of years?
“It felt good. I’m always a little worried because I don’t throw the ball a lot before the game. Their guy got in my face and Seto was wide open, so I just threw him the ball. He was almost able to stay in bounds and score. It would have been cool to throw a touchdown pass, but at least we got a first down and made a field goal. I think two years ago I threw an incomplete pass against Central, so in that situation we obviously turned the ball over. So I was just glad we got the first down and kept the drive alive.”
As a senior, maybe you can lobby coach about running another fake field goal later this year
“Yes, hopefully. One of the things it does is kind of slow down the pressure on our field goal kicking team. If it’s there I’m sure they will call it, but if it’s not I just have to hold the ball and operate.”
This is your third year of being a safety. Are you feeling more comfortable back there than you did the first two years, or did you catch on pretty quick and it’s old hat now?
“It definitely took some time and I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable. The more football games you play the more experience matters. People talk about it all the time, but experience makes a big difference – you’re more comfortable and you’ve seen a lot of football. Each game I feel more comfortable in that position.”
When you watch video, do you watch it as a quarterback?
“When I first moved to safety, I was watching myself a lot more. But now I have a pretty good idea of concepts, what teams are trying to do, and what the quarterback wants and likes to do. That perspective certainly helps. When I’m watching video I’m trying to identify what offenses are trying to do to defenses so I can have a better idea of what they are going to try to do to us. Having the perspective of a quarterback definitely helps and I do look at video that way a little bit.”
After playing quarterback for all the years you did, and now playing safety, which position do you like better?
“The honest answer is quarterback. It’s tough not to like because the ball is in your hands every single play. You feel like you have more control of the outcome of the game. The quarterback position is demanding. If you win it’s ‘great job, you played a great game,’ but if you lose, it’s on you. That’s something you don’t quite get at safety. I like both positions, but quarterback more.”
When one of your teammates makes a big play, do you want to make the next big play?
“Yes, when you see them making plays you want to make plays too. It is kind of a competition. T.J. got a forced fumble and fumble recovery, and I want to get a pick. I’d like to be the defensive back to have the most interceptions at the end of the year – we’re all competing against ourselves and I think that’s a healthy thing really. It should just make our defensive secondary better.”
Each game it looks like your defense is getting better and better. How good can Eastern’s defense be as the season goes on?
“I think we can be really good. The reason I say that is that we’ve played some good football early, but I also think we can get a lot better. We still have a lot of room for improvement, which is exciting. We’re winning games and we’re playing well early, and we can even get better.”
Until classes started this week, all you’ve had to worry about it football. Is it easier to get into a routine now that classes have begun?
“I think so. Our schedule was kind of varied week to week depending on what time the game is and how many days we had to practice. But now we play each Saturday and go to school every day, so we’ll have a set practice time. We’ll get into a routine now.”
It must make your days longer obviously.
“They will be a little bit longer. The school workload will take some time, and now we have to cook our own food. In the preseason we had it all prepared for us. That will add a little bit more time, but not too much.”
How difficult is it to balance your difficult class schedules with football?
“It’s pretty tough. Football is obviously very demanding, and so are some of those senior level classes. You just have to be good about doing your school work and knock it out, because you only have so many hours in the day. It is difficult to manage your time.”
Do you try to take some of your really hard classes out of the football season?
“I haven’t done that in the past – I just take whatever classes are available. You want to schedule through the year when you can take them. I just take the best classes to help me progress toward my degree as fast as I can. I feel like I can handle the workload of balancing school and football. Maybe in the winter I take my biggest load, but I’m pretty consistent with taking 15 credits per quarter.”
When are you finished with your degree?
“I will be finished at the end of this quarter. I’m taking my last finance class this quarter, then I will take engineering classes the rest of the year to get as close as I can to finishing that degree. I would need only to take a couple of classes – maybe one class a quarter – the year after. But the way classes are scheduled, I wouldn’t be able to finish until a full year after this year.”
You have the coolest hair ever. Is it V05, hot-oil treatment or Head and Shoulders?
“It’s really simple – it’s Mane ‘N Tail. My brother was using it in high school and I just started using it, and I have healthy hair.”
When is it gone?
“It’s probably going to be gone after this year. I know my mom will be very excited and she will want to do it. I’ll just reassess where it at the end of the football season, but I’m probably going to cut it. I’ll donate it to Locks of Love.”