Eagles Put Their No. 4 Ranking on the Line Against Southern Utah in 87th Homecoming
With a similar scenario facing them this year, the Eagles play the same Thunderbirds team that handed Eastern one of its three losses a year ago with 30-27 victory in Cedar City
#4 Eastern Washington Univ. “Eagles”
Southern Utah University "Thunderbirds"
Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 • 5:05 p.m.
Roos Field (8,600) • Cheney, Wash.
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington ‘96)
School Record: 48-21/32-10 Big Sky Conference (6th Season)
Career Record: 58-24 (7th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 in 2009, 13-2 in 2010, 6-5 in 2011, 11-3 in 2012)
2013: 4-2/2-0 Big Sky
2012: 11-3/7-1 Big Sky Conference (co-champ; FCS Playoffs semifinals)
Last Game: #6 EWU 35, North Dakota 14 (Oct. 12 in Grand Forks, N.D.)
TV: Televised in Eastern Washington by SWX - SWX Digital 6.2 in Spokane, 25.3 in the Tri-Cities & 23.3 in the Yakima area; Comcast 306; Davis Cable 514/81.2/12; Time Warner 306; Charter 287, Cable One 466; Northland Cable 115
Radio: 700-AM ESPN in Spokane. Larry Weir returns for his 23rd season calling the play-by-play, with analysis handled by Paul Sorensen and sideline commentary by Keith Osso. Osso will also serve as host of the Washington Trust Bank Tailgate Show, starting 1 1/2 hours prior to kickoff.
Internet Radio: www.700espn.com or www.tunein.com\
Radio iPhone App: Search for “700 ESPN” and download app. An app is also available for tunein radio.
Live Stats: ewulive.statb.us (web) or ewustats.com (mobile phones)
Weekly Coaches Show: Mondays 6 p.m. at “Epic” at Northern Quest Resort & Casino (formerly the “Q”) . . . 700-AM ESPN, www.700espn.com & via iphone app. (search for “Spokane Radio” and download app).
The scenario is much the same, but the Eastern Washington University football team is hoping the results are much different when it plays in front of what is anticipated to be a sold-out Homecoming crowd.
Facing the team that knocked them out of the top spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision rankings a year ago, the fourth-ranked Eagles host Southern Utah Saturday (Oct. 19) in a Big Sky Conference game. Kickoff at Roos Field in Eastern’s 87th Homecoming game is 5:05 p.m. Pacific time in a game televised live regionally by SWX.
As of Monday morning (Oct. 14), no tickets remain for sale for the game, which will feature a crowd of upwards of 10,000 at the Inferno. However, the release of tickets from group holds is possible later in the week and availability will be announced via EWU’s social media outlets.
Eastern is currently tied atop the Big Sky standings at 2-0 with Montana State and Cal Poly, and EWU is 4-2 overall. The Thunderbirds are 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference and are fully capable of upsetting EWU like they did a year ago in Cedar City, Utah.
“It’s going to be a slugfest – it is,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “We are going to get their best punch. We were a pretty good team last year finishing in the top four in the country, but along the way Southern Utah beat us. We know how good they are and what a great job coach Ed Lamb and his staff do there.”
In last year’s game, senior quarterback Brad Sorenson passed for 392 yards and SUU kicked a field goal with three seconds left to pull off the upset over No. 1 ranked EWU. Eastern had entered the game 6-1 and 5-0 in the Big Sky, and SUU entered just 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the league.
In fact, Eastern sophomore quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Vernon Adams has had an incredible start to his career and is now 12-3 as a starter. But one of those three losses came against Southern Utah, as well as games earlier this year versus Toledo and Sam Houston State.
Southern Utah is coming off a 17-7 thumping of Portland State in which SUU won the turnover battle 5-1. The Thunderbirds lost at Washington State (48-10) and UC Davis (21-3), but beat NCAA Football Bowl Division member South Alabama (22-21) to open the year.
“I think solid is the best word I can use to describe them,” said Baldwin of the Thunderbirds. “They are very workmanlike and they play together as a team so well. They do what they do really well, and they all know their assignments. And they are very strong – that is something they hang their hat on. We saw their strength and their physicality last week against Portland State when they held the top offense in the Big Sky to seven points. Their mindset is that they are going to be tougher than their opponent, and it shows up because they continually win the turnover battle and ultimately games.”
Eastern is coming off a 35-14 road victory at North Dakota that was closer than the final score indicated. Eastern finished with only two more yards than UND, but used a 4-0 advantage in turnovers to register the 21-point victory. At one point in the third quarter, North Dakota was driving for a game-tying score when Eastern Buck Buchanan Award candidate Ronnie Hamlin intercepted a pass and returned it 77 yards for a momentum-shifting score.
Baldwin hopes that close encounter, plus a difficult preseason schedule, will continue to help the Eagles as EWU moves forward in its conference schedule.
“You never know what kind of ballgame you are going to get in,” said Baldwin, whose team is no stranger to upsets after opening the season with a 49-46 victory over 25th-ranked Pac-12 Conference member Oregon State. “You can get into shootout like Oregon State or you can get into a first-half grind like North Dakota. You just have to find a way to stay together, make enough plays and make sure guys pick each other up.”
With losses last week by No. 3 Towson and No. 4 Northern Iowa, the Eagles moved up two spots in The Sports Network FCS top-25 poll. The Eagles are seeking a seventh league title, with previous titles in 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2012.
After this week’s game, the Eagles face 5-1 and 10th-ranked Montana before taking on Idaho State, fourth-ranked MSU and Cal Poly in November. Eastern’s resume this season has included a 49-46 victory at Pac-12 Conference member Oregon State, and narrow road losses to Toledo (33-21) and Sam Houston State (49-34).
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* Nearing a school record, Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin is now 48-21 in five-plus seasons as a head coach (2008-13) and 32-10 in Big Sky Conference games. His .762 winning percentage in league games is the best-ever by an Eastern head coach and currently ranks seventh in the 50-year history of the Big Sky Conference. He is just two victories from the EWU record or 34 held by the EWU head coach he previously served under, Paul Wulff (2000-2007). Baldwin’s .696 percentage overall is 11th in league history, just ahead of Montana State’s Rob Ash, who is 54-24 overall (.692 to rank 12th in BSC history) and 37-13 in league games (.740 to rank 10th). Baldwin was 25-22 as an EWU assistant coach for four seasons (2003-06) under Wulff, for a collective total of 73-43 at EWU.
* Last week’s game at North Dakota was Eastern’s 200th Big Sky Conference game since joining the league in 1987. As the Big Sky celebrates its 50th anniversary this season, the Eagles are in their 26th year as a member and have a current record of 115-85 (.575). Later this season, the Eagles could win their 500th game all-time. Now in its 105th year of football, Eastern is 496-401-23 (.552) in 920 games.
* Ranked for the 22nd-consecutive time, Eastern moved up to fourth this week in The Sports Network Top 25 FCS Poll released Monday (Oct. 14). Eastern is behind top-ranked North Dakota State, Sam Houston State and Eastern Illinois, but moved past Towson and Northern Iowa after both of those teams lost at home a week ago. Other Big Sky schools in this week’s rankings include Montana State (#5), Montana (#10) and Northern Arizona (#19). Eastern is sixth in the FCS Coaches Poll.
* Sophomore quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Vernon Adams, coming off the sixth 300-yard passing performance of his Eastern career, is ranked No. 1 this week in passing efficiency in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He completed 22-of-30 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns against North Dakota. With a 67 percent completion rate (119-of-179), 1,891 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions for the season, he has a rating of 188.3, with EWU also leading the nation with a 184.5 team rating. Adams is also third in FCS in points responsible for with an average of 24.3 per game (total of 146 with 21 TD passes, three rushing touchdowns and one two-point conversion). He is second in touchdown passes (21), fourth in total offense (358.5) and sixth in passing yards (315.2 per game).
* In other individual national rankings, redshirt freshman receiver Cooper Kupp is fourth in FCS with eight touchdown receptions. Senior receiver Ashton Clark is 19th in receiving yards per game (93.7) and 39th in receptions (5.5 per game). Senior cornerback T.J. Lee, who is now tied for the school record for career forced fumbles with six, has three this season to rank third in FCS in average per game (0.5). He also is seventh in fumble recoveries per game (0.5), with a total of three.
* As a team, EWU is leading FCS in passing efficiency (184.5), and is fifth in total offense (499.3 per game), sixth in passing (328.3), 53rd in rushing (171.0) and 17th in scoring (37.2). Defensively, EWU is 78th in total defense (414.2), 71st in rushing (178.0), 78th in passing (236.2) and 72nd in scoring (29.2). In addition, the Eagles are the third-most efficient team in red zone offense (95.2 scoring percentage), ninth in third-down conversions (50.0 percent) and 18th in fourth-down conversions (77.8 percent).
* Southern Utah ranks eighth in FCS in turnover margin (+1.3 per game), with a total of 18 takeaways and just nine giveaways. The Thunderbirds are also eighth in time of possession (33:01 minutes per game) and 12th in red zone defense (68.2 percent). In addition, SUU is 22nd in rushing defense (115.1) and fifth in net punting (40.04). Individually, Brock Miller is fourth in punting (44.2) and Colton Cook is 13th in field goals per game (1.3 with a total of nine).
* Redshirt freshman Cooper Kupp has eight TD catches (seventh in FCS) on just 22 catches this season – a TD for every 2.8 catches so far this year. He is averaging 19.4 yards per catch (22-427). Kupp had five catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns in his debut as an Eagle against Oregon State on Aug. 31. He spent part of the summer in 2013 working at the Manning Passing Academy as a college counselor/coach. While in high school he previously attended the camp, which is run by Archie Manning, the father of NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning. Archie is a former New Orleans Saints teammate of Cooper’s grandfather, Jake Kupp.
* Senior linebacker and Buck Buchanan Award candidate Ronnie Hamlin had a momentum-changing 77-yard interception return for a touchdown in EWU’s 35-14 victory at North Dakota on Oct. 12. With UND driving for a potential game-tying score late in the third quarter, he leaped high to snag the third interception of his career, then returned down the sideline for the first pick-six of his career. It was the 10th-longest interception return in school history. He also had five tackles as he moved into 10th on EWU’s career leaders list with a current total of 264.
* Senior All-America cornerback T.J. Lee finished the North Dakota game with six tackles and a pass broken up, as well as a forced fumble and a fumble recovery -- giving him three of each for the season and equaling a career record in the process. His six forced fumbles tied the school record of six owned by five other former Eagles. He also moved into ninth in school history with 18 passes broken up.
* In last year’s 30-27 Southern Utah win, the Brad Sorenson-led Thunderbirds scored the final 10 points in a game that featured five lead changes and no lead of more than seven points. Both teams finished with nearly 500 yards of offense, but a missed Eastern field goal with 2:51 left and a made SUU field goal with three seconds remaining was the difference as the Eagles fell from their perch as the No. 1 team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Southern Utah improved to 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big Sky at the time, while EWU’s five-game winning streak came to an end and dropped the Eagles to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the league. On a day when Eastern managed only 91 rushing yards, quarterbacks Vernon Adams and Kyle Padron combined to pass for 404 yards. However, Sorenson was up to the task, as the senior passed for 392 yards on 33-of-43 passing with one interception and one touchdown. Adams started both halves and finished 11-of-15 for 181 yards and a score. Ashton Clark had a career-high 11 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, with his catch total ranking 12th in school history. Ronnie Hamlin had 13 tackles to lead the Eagle defense, and T.J. Lee added nine with a sack.
* Eastern has outscored opponents 133-79 in the first half and have had leads at intermission in all of its wins. Eastern is 0-2 when it trails at halftime and has been out-scored 96-90 after intermission.
* The Eagles have already won a nailbiter in 2013, and have now won 12 games since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter. Besides a 49-46 victory over 25th-ranked Oregon State in 2013, Eastern won three in 2012 (Montana, Montana State, UC Davis), two in 2011 and six in the 2010 national title season.
* Eastern’s 49-46 victory at No. 25 Oregon State on Aug. 31, 2013, was just the fourth time since the division was created in 1978 that a FCS (formerly known as I-AA) team defeated a ranked FBS opponent. The other times that feat occurred came in 1983 (Cincinnati def. #20 Penn State 14-3), 2007 (Appalachian State def. #5 Michigan 34-32) and 2010 (James Madison def. #13 Virginia Tech 21-16).
* Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and several other Eagles helped at the Russell Wilson Passing Academy in Spokane this past summer. Adams and Wilson – the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks -- are similar in stature and ability, and will continue to draw comparisons as Adams’ career progresses. Adams, in fact, is now wearing jersey No. 3 for the Eagles – the same number Wilson wears -- after donning No. 16 as a redshirt freshman last season. The switch is unrelated to Wilson -- Adams wore No. 3 in high school and asked for that number after it became available when wide receiver Greg Herd graduated.
* Team co-captains for the 2013 season include a quartet of seniors from high schools in the state of Washington -- center Ashton Miller, senior wide receiver Ashton Clark, senior safety Allen Brown and junior linebacker Ronnie Hamilton. The players were selected by a vote of their teammates.
* A total of 15 Eastern players were honored on preseason All-America lists, All-Big Sky Conference teams and positional rankings released this summer by NCAA Football Championships Subdivision media outlets. Preseason All-America accolades were received by cornerback T.J. Lee III, offensive lineman Steven Forgette and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, who was also named to the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award presented by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in FCS.
* Eastern, which ranked fourth in the final regular season Sports Network Top-25 poll and was seeded second in the playoffs, finished the 2012 season 11-3. It was the fourth 10+ win in school history (joining the 2010, 1997 and 1967 squads), and came on the heels of EWU’s sixth Big Sky Conference Championship in football. Eastern entered the 2013 season ranked fourth in The Sports Network preseason Top-25 poll, and was ranked third by the coaches.
* The Eagles are one of just five schools in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision to advance to the playoffs six times in the last nine seasons (2004-2012), and EWU hopes to add to that this year. Eastern’s 2012 season ended with a 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State in the semifinals, denying the Eagles a repeat trip to Texas to play for the NCAA Division I title they won in 2010.
* Among the returning letterwinners are seven starters on offense and 5 1/2 on defense, as well as the school’s punter and kickoff specialist. Three All-Americans (linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, cornerback T.J. Lee, offensive guard Steven Forgette) and three others who earned Freshman All-America accolades (quarterback Vernon Adams, safety Jordan Tonani and return specialist Shaquille Hill) are among the returning players. Tonani, a seven game starter in 2012, will miss the 2013 season because of hip surgery.
* Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin is back for his sixth season at the helm after being selected as one of 20 coaches on the voting list for the 2012 Eddie Robinson Award, given to the national coach of the year in FCS. He finished fifth in the voting, and was also the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year for the first time. Baldwin has now been a part of four Big Sky Conference championships as either an Eastern assistant coach (2004, 2005) or head coach (2010, 2012). In addition, he has been a part of five FCS Playoff berths – two as an assistant (2004, 2005) and three in four seasons as head coach (2009, 2010, 2012). In receiving the Big Sky Coach of the Year honor for the first time, Baldwin is the fourth coach in school history to win the award. His predecessor, Paul Wulff, won in 2001, 2004 and 2005. Current Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer won in 1997 and Dick Zornes was Eastern’s first in 1992. The Eagles won league titles and advanced to the playoffs in all of those years except for 2001. Baldwin coached in his 100th Eastern game when the Eagles rallied to beat Montana 32-26 earlier in the 2012 season.
* Ronnie Hamlin’s long hair has been a trademark of his, and a friendly wager between teammates lasted three years. During the 2010 season, Hamlin and safety Jeff Minnerly 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. Minnerly eventually cut his hair on Dec. 17, 2012 -- just two days after his career and the 2012 season concluded -- and donated the hair to Locks of Love.
* The top plays and honors of sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams have been encapsulated in a new web site located at www.BigPlayVA.com. Featured are some of the top plays by Adams, including his incredible scramble and touchdown throw against Sacramento State on Oct. 20, 2012, which was one of eight finalists for the GEICO Play of the Year. His game-winning touchdown run against Oregon State on Aug. 31, 2013, is also on the site. He had a school-record of 518 yards of total offense in the 49-46 upset over the Beavers in only the fourth-ever win by a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision school over a ranked member of the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. The many accolades Adams won as a result of the OSU victory are also featured, as well as an interview on the Jim Rome Show. His complete bio, statistics and information on EWU tickets and the Gateway Project are also prominent.
Quoting Coach Baldwin
On Southern Utah: “They have a veteran offensive line and it all starts there. Brad Sorenson brought a lot to the table for them, but their quarterback now (Aaron Cantu) is finding his way and getting better every day. Their whole mindset is to manage the game, grind it out, play smart football and take care of the ball. They will try to force turnovers and gain field position with their special teams and defense. It feels like their offense is trying to do enough to win, but all the while they are getting better every game. I think they will score more and more points as the season goes along. We have to definitely guard against that fact.”
On Defense Versus UND: “I thought it was a good challenge for our defense, and they answered that challenge. We answered in the red zone and made huge plays. Our defense didn’t feel sorry for themselves when they let North Dakota get down the field. Our players just said ‘let’s go make a play.”
On Battle at North Dakota: “I think our difficult schedule will continue to pay off when we get into these kinds of battles and wars. Every game we have played to this point has been that way, especially when we schedule the way we do. It’s hopefully going to keep paying dividends. It did against North Dakota.”
On Preseason Schedule: “This was definitely the toughest preseason schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here in terms of the first four games. But I invite it – I love it. It’s helped us be battle-tested because we’ve been in some serious wars. It’s tough and it’s a challenge. We were put on a stage on the road against one of the top teams at our level and now we have move forward in a very tough conference.”
On Being Fourth FCS School to Defeat a Ranked FBS Team: “It’s big and shines a light on our program, even more than before. I’m not going to undersell it – it’s huge for the program and what it does in recruiting and the image of who we are.”
On Victory Over No. 25 Oregon State: “I’m proud of our players. We’ve come up short before in games like this, but I’m proud when I see them out there fighting, not getting wide-eyed and attacking the situation. When things don’t go right, we want them to be ready to respond. And our team did that against a very good Oregon State football team. Winning the ballgame is huge, but I was just proud of how our team handled every situation that came up in the game.”
On Coaching Eagle Players: “The best part about coaching to me is working with 18 to 23-year-old student-athletes and getting a chance to make an impact in their lives. We get to watch them grow, and it’s fun to be a part of that process. The culture and attitude that has been built over the years has grown to a new level. We’ve had great players and leaders here before, but this group has learned from past teams and players on how to prepare in the offseason and what to do in the summer. The makeup and mental attitude of our players has grown. If you have that, you have a chance to be successful and the more enjoyable it is to coach.”
Defense (193 starts by 18 players): Allen Brown 32, Ronnie Hamlin 28, T.J. Lee 26, Ronald Baines 20, Andru Pulu 19, Anthony Larry 13, Cody McCarthy 11, Evan Day 9, J.C. Agen 8, Jordan Tonani 7, Will Katoa 8, Tevin McDonald 5, Miquiyah Zamora 2, Zackary Johnson 1, Todd Raynes 1, Dylan Zylstra 1, Miles Weatheroy 1, Christian Hudnell 1.
Offense (240 starts by 25 players): Steven Forgette 37, Brandon Murphy 29, Zack Gehring 26, Ashton Miller 21, Clay DeBord 19, Vernon Adams 15, Ashton Clark 11, Quincy Forte 10, Demitrius Bronson 9, Jordan Talley 9, Drew Reynolds 8, Ryan Seto 7, Cooper Kupp 6, Mario Brown 5, Cory Mitchell 5, Cassidy Curtis 4, Jake Withnell 4, Shaquille Hill 3, Cody Humphrey 2, Daniel Johnson 2, Jase Butorac 2, Jake Rodgers 2, Jabari Wilson 2, Zach Wimberly 1, T.J. Boatright 1.
* Only four positions had players making their first starts as Eagles against Oregon State, and two were manned by former starters in the Pac-12 Conference. Redshirt freshman Cooper Kupp started at wide receiver and redshirt freshman Jabari Wilson started at running back. Jake Rodgers, a 12-game starter at Washington State last season, started at right tackle in his Eagle starting debut. The other Eagle starting debut was by safety Tevin McDonald, who started 24 games the past two seasons at UCLA. Sophomore wide receiver Shaquille Hill made the first start of his career in EWU’s second game of the season against Western Oregon, and offensive tackle Cassidy Curtis and fullback/tight end Zach Wimberly made their first starts at Toledo. Linebacker Miquiyah Zamora made the first start of his career against Weber State and responded with five tackles (1 1/2 for loss) and had his first career interception, which led to an EWU touchdown. Against North Dakota, safety Todd Raynes and defensive end Zackary Johnson made the first starts of their careers. Raynes had a team-high seven tackles with a pass broken up in his debut, and Johnson finished with three tackles.
Wide receiver and kickoff returner Shaquille
Hill (knee sprain) was injured against North Dakota and is
questionable for this week’s game. Starting offensive tackle
Jake Rodgers (knee sprain) and running back
Jabari Wilson (shoulder) were both injured against
Western Oregon on Sept. 7 and have missed four games since. Both
are also questionable for Southern Utah. Another running back,
Jalen Moore, missed the North Dakota game with a
hip pointer and is listed as questionable this week pending further
evaluation. True freshman wide receiver Kendrick
Bourne (ankle) missed the UND game and is the fifth Eagle
to be questionable for the SUU game. Defensive lineman
Jordan Pulu had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug.
29 and made his season debut against Weber State on Oct. 5. But he
suffered a shoulder injury in that game and is listed as out for
this week after missing the North Dakota game. Offensive lineman
Drew Reynolds (knee) also made his season debut
against WSU after missing EWU’s first five games. Running
back Demitrius Bronson (high ankle sprain) suited
up versus Toledo, but sat out for the third-straight game. He
carried five times and scored twice in his season debut against Sam
Houston State on Sept. 28. Running back Quincy
Forte (hamstring) missed the Oregon State game, but
returned to rush for 99 yards against Western Oregon. Senior tight
end Cody Humphrey suffered a dislocated patella in
practice on Aug. 21 and required surgery, and is out for the
season. As a result, defensive lineman Zach
Wimberly was moved to tight end, and Ryan
Seto will play as both a wide receiver and tight end.
Before the season began, freshman All-America safety and Ferris HS
graduate Jordan Tonani began surgical treatment
for a hip ailment that will cost him the 2013 season.
Tonani’s painful hip injury is called hip joint acetabular
impingement, and the ailment requires surgery to both hips with six
months of rehabilitation required for each. His first surgery on
his left hip took place on July 29, and also included a labral tear
that was repaired. He had the second surgery on his right hip on
Sept. 16. He would have competed for a starting position at safety,
but should return fully healthy in spring 2014.
* Currently on the 2013 Buck Buchanan Watch List, senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin has 264 tackles already in his 31-game EWU career (28 starts) to rank 10th in school history. He also has three career interceptions, and his 77-yard return for a touchdown against North Dakota (10/12/13) was the 10th-longest in school history. Despite being listed as a senior, Hamlin will eventually apply to the NCAA to receive his sixth year. After redshirting the 2009 season because of the bum knee, the injury also kept him from playing during Eastern’s national championship season in 2010. If he does get the extra year back, he could challenge the school record of 432 tackles set by 2010 Buck Buchanan Award winner J.C. Sherritt. Hamlin earned All-America honors in 2012 from Phil Steele Publications (fourth team) and was a first team All-Big Sky Conference selection. He had 136 tackles in 2012 to rank fifth in school history, and his average of 9.71 per game ranked 31st in FCS and fourth in the Big Sky.
* Senior cornerback T.J. Lee now has 186 tackles, three interceptions, 18 passes broken up and 3 1/2 sacks in his 40-game career (26 starts). He is just 14 tackles from becoming the 34th Eagle in school history to finish with 200 career tackles. He shares the school record with five other Eagles for most career forced fumbles with six, and his 18 passes broken up ranks ninth. Three times in his career he has forced and recovered the same fumble, with two of them occurring on quarterback sacks. Lee earned All-America honors in 2012 from The Sports Network (second team), and was also honored on the College Sporting News “Fabulous 50” All-America squad. He piled up some impressive statistics in 2012, ranking third on the team with 90 tackles and finishing with 11 passes broken up to rank 10th in school history. His average of 6.4 tackles per game ranked 29th in the Big Sky and his total of 11 passes broken up were second. The two-time first team All-Big Sky selection also had 2 1/2 sacks, nine total tackles for loss, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. As a sophomore in 2011, Lee was a first team All-Big Sky selection, finishing the season with 48 tackles, a pair of interceptions and one pass broken up.
* Senior offensive guard Steven Forgette earned honorable mention All-America honors in 2012 from the College Sports Journal and second team All-Big Sky accolades. He was also named to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team. Despite missing most of the 2011 season because of an injury, Forgette’s 37 career starts are the most among all Eastern players. The only game he didn’t start in his 38-game career was to allow a senior to start on Senior Day in 2010. Forgette helped EWU rank seventh in the FCS in 2012 in passing yards per game (318.9), 14th overall in total offense (442.0) and 17th in scoring (33.7). He started all 14 Eastern games at left offensive guard a year after breaking his fibula against Montana (9/17/11) and missing the rest of the season. He earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors as a redshirt freshman in 2010 when the Eagles won the NCAA Division I title.
* Vernon Adams currently has a career passing efficiency rating of 173.3 which ranks as the school record (64 percent, 3,852 yards, 41 TD, 13 INT). A starter in 15 of the 18 games he has played in his career, Adams has a career average of 214.0 passing yards per game to currently fifth all-time at EWU and his 41 TD passes are already seventh. He is now 12-3 as a starter, with his lone losses coming against Southern Utah in 2012 and Toledo and Sam Houston State in 2013. Adams was selected as the Freshman of the Year on the College Sporting News “Fabulous 50” All-America team in 2012, and was also on the College Sports Journal Freshman All-America squad. Adams was also one of 20 players on the ballot for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the top freshman in FCS by The Sports Network (he finished sixth in the voting, which occurred prior to the playoffs). Adams ranked fourth in FCS in passing efficiency (160.80), and was the only freshman in the top 24 of the rankings. His efficiency rating also ranked fourth all-time in school history. In nine games as a starter and three as a sub, he completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,961 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
* The Eagles finished seventh in FCS in passing offense (318.9 per game) in 2012, as returning starter Vernon Adams combined with Kyle Padron to lead EWU to the school record for passing yards. The Eagles finished with 4,469 yards, breaking the previous record of 4,102 yards in 2005. Padron started five games and played six others as a sub, and completed 59.1 percent of his passes for a team-leading 2,491 yards, 17 TDs and seven interceptions, and ranked 29th in FCS in passing yards per game (226.5). In back-to-back games in the FCS Playoffs, each had a school-record six touchdown passes -- Padron versus Illinois State (12/8/12) in the quarterfinals and Adams against Sam Houston State (12/15/12) in the semifinals. Adams completed 14-of-26 passes for 364 yards – all after intermission --- as EWU scored 42 points in the second half to rally from a 35-0 halftime deficit and nearly pull off an improbable rally.
* Despite standing just 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, senior safety Allen Brown has played in 45 games in his career (32 as a starter), with totals of 214 tackles, four interceptions and 14 passes broken up. He is the 34th Eagle in school history to finish with 200 career tackles, and currently ranks 25th. He needs four passes broken up to rank on EWU’s top 10 list in that category. He has 32 career starts, ranking first on the defense and second overall (Steven Forgette has 37). At the end of spring practices, Brown was the recipient on defense of the “Iron Eagle” Award for achievements in the off-season in strength and conditioning and the classroom. He finished second on the team with 91 tackles in 2012 to help him earn second team All-Big Sky honors. Brown was also second on the team with seven passes broken up to go along with a pair of forced fumbles. His average of 6.5 tackles per game in 2012 ranked 28th in the Big Sky. He was also second on the team with seven passes broken up to go along with a pair of forced fumbles.
* Returning players Ashton Miller and Jordan Talley were selected to the 2012 Capital One Academic All-District VIII squad, which is selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). They joined Eastern senior safety Jeff Minnerly, who “three-peated” on the squad. Miller, a senior offensive center, has a 3.67 GPA and is majoring in business administration. Talley is a sophomore linebacker who formerly played running back, and is a pre-medicine major with a 3.55 GPA. Eastern football players have now been honored 56 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and eight players have gone on to win 10 Academic All-America honors. The District VIII university division includes all NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams from nine western states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
* Redshirt freshman Shaquille Hill currently has the sixth-best career kickoff return average in school history (25.8) and is seventh in kickoff return yards (1,085). He was a member of the College Sports Journal Freshman All-America team and earned honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference honors in 2012. Hill, who had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota (10/6/12), finished ranked 17th in FCS with an average of 26.8 yards per kickoff return. On EWU’s single season leaders lists, he finished the 2012 season ranked in the top 10 in kickoff returns (third, 34), kickoff return yards (second, 912) and kickoff return average (10th, 26.8). As a backup wide receiver, he caught seven passes for 66 yards. Hill would have had another TD in the FCS Playoffs against Illinois State (12/8/12), but the video replay official determined he dropped the ball a yard shy of the end zone and it became a non-scoring 93-yard return. He earned honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference honors. As a team, Eastern was 14th in FCS with a 23.5 average, as Cory Mitchell added a non-scoring 67-yard return in the Illinois State (12/8/12) game.
* The 43.0 career punting average of sophomore Jake Miller currently ranks as a school record, placing him ahead of the 42.3 average of Jesse Nicassio (2002-03). He has had 20 punts of 50 yards or more in his career, including a school-record 74-yarder. He owns seven of the top 34 punts in school history, with boots of 74, 59 (twice) and 57 (four times). Named to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team in 2012, Miller had a school-record 74-yard punt versus Washington State (9/8/12), breaking the previous record of 71 set in 2006 by Ryan Donckers. Miller’s average of 43.3 yards per punt in 2012 ranks third all-time in EWU history, just behind his No. 2 ranking with a 44.2 average in 2011 (the school record is 44.4). Of his 40 punts in 2012, six were for at least 50 yards and 15 were downed inside the opponent 20-yard line.
* Junior safety Tevin McDonald had 135 tackles in 27 career games (24 as a starter) at UCLA, plus four interceptions and 14 passes broken up. He is the son of six-time NFL All-Pro safety Tim McDonald, who is currently the defensive backs coach for the New York Jets where he coaches former Eagle Isaiah Trufant (2002-05). Tevin’s brother, Tim, Jr., (goes by T.J.), was a senior All-America safety at USC in 2012 and was drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft by St. Louis. Tevin was with Eastern during 2013 spring practices after getting dismissed from UCLA’s squad for violating team policy.
* Another talented transfer joining the Eagles in 2013 is offensive lineman Jake Rodgers, a 12-game starter at Washington State last fall. He started at right guard in the team’s season-opener at BYU, then started at left guard in WSU’s 24-20 win over Eastern Washington. He started a total of three games at right guard (BYU, UNLV, Colorado), one at left guard (EWU), five at right tackle (Oregon, Oregon State, California, Stanford, Utah) and the final three games of the season at left tackle (UCLA, Arizona State, Washington).
* Lost for the 2013 season with a painful hip injury that required surgery to both hips, Jordan Tonani had a sensational redshirt freshman season for the Eagles in 2012. As an injury replacement for senior safety Jeff Minnerly, Tonani earned a spot on the College Sports Journal Freshman All-America squad and was awarded with honorable mention All-Big Sky honors. He started seven games and finished the year sixth on the team with 68 tackles, and also had a team-leading three interceptions with five passes broken up and a fumble recovery. In one of many impressive performances during his debut season, Tonani’s 21-yard interception return for a touchdown with 11:15 to play became the winning points in a 27-24 victory over second-ranked Montana State (10/13/12). He also had eight tackles, and as a result, was selected as the College Sports Madness National FCS Defensive Player of the Week, as well as their same honor for the Big Sky Conference.