Call it “Human Nature” Instead of Revenge as #2 EWU Heads for #4 SHSU
In EWU’s biggest non-conference match-up between ranked FCS foes, Eagles play a Sam Houston State team that knocked them and two other Big Sky schools out of the FCS Playoffs a year ago
#2 Eastern Washington Univ. “Eagles”
#4 Sam Houston State University “Bearkats”
Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 • Noon
Bowers Stadium (12,976) • Huntsville, Texas
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington ‘96)
School Record: 46-20/30-10 Big Sky Conference (6th Season)
Career Record: 56-23 (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: 2-1/0-0 Big Sky
2012: 11-3/7-1 Big Sky Conference (co-champ; FCS Playoffs semifinals)
Last Game: Toledo 33, #2 EWU 21 (Sept. 14 in Toledo, Ohio)
TV: Broadcast regionally on Comcast, including Comcast SportsNet Northwest (channel finder at: http://www.csnnw.com/article/channel-locations).
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: http://www.gobearkats.com/liveStats/liveStats.dbml
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).
Watch Parties: Swinging Doors in North Spokane is the only location for "official" Watch Parties for the EWU-SHSU game.
Eastern Washington University head coach Beau Baldwin doesn’t hide the fact there is a revenge factor at play this week, but he’s simply calling it human nature.
Baldwin’s second-ranked Eagles take on fourth-ranked Sam Houston State, the same team that ended their season a year ago at Roos Field in the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. Kickoff Saturday (Sept. 28) at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas, is 12:07 p.m. Pacific time in a game televised live on Comcast SportsNet Northwest.
The Eastern-Sam Houston State game is a rematch of last year’s 45-42 loss in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs on Dec. 15, 2012, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. In that game, Eastern scored 42 second-half points to rally from a 35-0 deficit and nearly pull off the improbable comeback.
“There is a pride factor – no question,” said Baldwin. “There is a different feel to this game for us because of the tough loss we had to them in the semifinals. To Sam Houston State’s credit, they did a great job against us, they had a great team and they do again this year. We love getting another shot at them – it’s not a revenge factor but it is human nature for players to want to keep fighting back. And our players are no different.”
Besides knocking EWU out of the playoffs, Sam Houston State also knocked off Big Sky members Cal Poly and Montana State in the earlier rounds. With both the Eagles and Bearkats ranked in the top four in FCS, Eastern has never had a bigger non-conference match-up.
Whether conference, non-conference or playoffs, no other game in EWU history has matched two higher-ranked FCS teams than this week. A collective ranking of five is the next-best.
“Non-conference games of this magnitude in FCS are few and far between,” said Baldwin. “Down the road, if you are in a possible situation for an at-large berth, having a win like this on your resume gives you a better chance. There is a long way to go before we would ever think about that, but I really like playing a tough non-conference schedule. If you can do it against a top opponent at your own level in a home-and-home situation, it’s even bigger. It will be a challenge, but it’s great for FCS.”
The Bearkats are currently 3-1 this season after beating future Southland Conference member Incarnate Word 52-21 last Saturday (Sept. 21) in Huntsville. The top-scoring team in FCS with an average of 52.3 points per game, SHSU beat Texas Southern 55-17, trounced Houston Baptist 74-0 and fell to Texas A&M 65-28. Sam Houston State, which has lost the last two title games in FCS to North Dakota State, finished the 2012 season 11-4 overall and 6-1 in the Southland.
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The Sports Network (FCS Football) - http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page=cfoot2/indexpic.htm
NCAA FCS Football - http://www.ncaafootball.com/DivisionIFCS.aspx
NCAA Statistics (2013) - http://stats.ncaa.org/rankings?sport_code=MFB&division=12
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College Football Performance Awards – http://www.collegefootballperformance.com
College Sports Madness - http://www.collegesportsmadness.com/fcs-football
* Despite losing 33-21 on Sept. 14 against NCAA Football Bowl Division foe Toledo and not playing last week, Eastern remains second behind top-ranked North Dakota State in The Sports Network Top 25 FCS Poll released Monday (Sept. 23). Eastern is ranked ahead of No. 3 Towson, with Montana moving up to seventh, Montana State falling to 11th, Cal Poly remaining 18th and Northern Arizona moving up one notch to 25th. The Bearkats are fourth. Eastern, which is third in the FCS Coaches Poll just ahead of SHSU, practiced twice last week before resuming daily practices today (Sept. 23).
* With the No. 2 Eagles taking on the No. 4 Bearkats, no other game in EWU history has matched two higher-ranked FCS teams than this week. The previous biggest game of such magnitude came last year when second-ranked MSU lost at home 27-24 to the sixth-ranked Eagles. The biggest non-conference game in school history was in 1992 when the 18th-ranked Eagles lost at No. 3 Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana-Monroe) 41-31. In the FCS Playoffs, Eastern was top-ranked when it defeated fifth-ranked Delaware 20-19 in the 2010 Championship Game. In last year’s EWU-SHSU matchup in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs, the Eagles were fourth and Sam Houston was fifth. Eleven of the last 17 seasons Eastern has entered the Montana game with both teams nationally-ranked, but the highest collective ranking was 14 in 2005 when the No. 12 Eagles beat No. 2 Montana 34-20 in Missoula.
* Besides last year’s thriller, Beau Baldwin was Eastern’s offensive coordinator when the Eagles and Bearkats staged an epic postseason battle in Cheney on Dec. 5, 2004. Sam Houston State rallied in the fourth-quarter to steal a 35-34 victory over the Eagles. The Bearkats won on the game’s final play, scoring three touchdowns in the last 11:04 after Eastern had taken a 34-14 fourth-quarter lead.
* Eastern is 3-6 all-time against current members of the Southland Conference, with all but two of those meetings taking place in the playoffs. The Bearkats are 10-10 overall against schools from the Big Sky.
* Sam Houston State senior tailback Timothy Flanders became the Southland Conference's all-time leading rusher while churning out 157 yards and two touchdowns in Sam Houston State's lopsided 52-21 win over Incarnate Word on Sept. 21. Flanders upped his career total to 4,851 yards, surpassing Claude Mathis' 4,694 yards for Southwest Texas from 1994-97. Last year in the FCS Playoffs against EWU, Flanders had the second-best performance in his career when he had 231 in SHSU’s 45-42 win over EWU in the semifinals.
* Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams in ranked in the top four in FCS in four separate categories this week. He is second in points responsible for with an average of 28.7 per game (total of 86 with 12 TD passes, two rushing touchdowns and one two-point conversion). He is fourth in passing efficiency (192.1), fourth in passing yards (345.0 per game) and second in total offense (396.3). Senior receiver Ashton Clark is 21st in receiving yards per game (103.3) and 41st in receptions (5.7 per game).
* As a team, EWU is fourth in FCS in total offense (533.0 per game), fourth in passing (364.7), 56th in rushing (168.3) and 21st in scoring (37.7). Defensively, EWU is 86th in total defense (424.7), 46th in rushing (152.7) and 78th in scoring (31.0).
* Sam Houston State leads FCS in scoring offense (52.3), and is also sixth in rushing (302.3) and 21st in total offense (467.0). Defensively, the Bearkats are 18th against the run (109.8) and are ranked 31st in total defense (337.0), 25th in scoring defense (25.8) and just 72nd in passing defense (227.3). Individually, running back Timothy Flanders is 14th in rushing with an average of 121.5 yards per game.
* Eastern was trying to join a select group of FCS teams that have knocked off two FBS teams in the same season. Before a 33-21 loss at Toledo on Sept. 14, EWU upset 25th-ranked Oregon State from the Pac-12 Conference 49-46 on Aug. 31 and then scored 29 first-quarter points in a 43-14 romp over NCAA Division II Western Oregon on Sept. 7.
* Defensively against Toledo, senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin had 14 tackles to lead the Eagles – the 10th time in his career the Buck Buchanan Award candidate has finished in double figures in tackles. He now has 245 career tackles to rank 13th in school history.
* Senior wide receiver Ashton Clark had six catches for 119 yards and a touchdown against Toledo, and finished with his third career performance of at least 100 yards receiving. He had a 23-yard TD catch on EWU’s first possession of the game to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead. Clark now has exactly 100 catches for 1,401 yards and 11 touchdowns in his 30-game EWU career.
* Punter Jake Miller had a 20-yard effort on his first of seven punts against Toledo, but he averaged 45.5 yards in his last six. He had boots of 57 (33rd-longest in school history), 50 and 50, and three of punts were downed inside the Rocket 20-yard line. Miller, who had punted only twice in EWU’s first two games, has a 41.7 average for the season, as well as a 43.5 average in his career which currently ranks as the school record.
* The Eagles have scored 43 percent of their points in the first quarter this season, with fast starts in all three games yielding a total of 49 tallies in the first period. Eastern has scored 23, 14 and 27 points in quarters two through four, respectively. Eastern has outscored opponents 72-33 in the first half, but have been out-scored 60-41 after halftime.
* The Eagles are now an incredible 37-of-42 since 2011 kicking field goals after senior Kevin Miller made all three of his attempts from 33, 23 and 36 yards against Oregon State on Aug. 31. Miller, a kickoff specialist in his first three years in the Eagle program (2009, 2010, 2012), is now 6-of-7 in his career (1-of-1 in 2012, 2-of-3 in 2010). Last season, senior Jimmy Pavel was selected to six all-America teams after making 17-of-19 field goals (0-of-1 in 2011); the year before that, senior Mike Jarrett was an impressive 16-of-18.
* 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 earned a variety of honors after finishing with a school-record 518 yards of total offense in the win over Oregon State, scoring the winning points with a 2-yard run with 18 seconds to play. Most notably, he was Sports Illustrated’s College Football Breakout Performer of the Week and was featured in their Sept. 2 issue and on SI.com. Adams was selected as The Sports Network National Offensive Player of the Week, and was also a College Sporting News All-Star for FCS. CBSSports.com selected him as one its four Players of the Week consisting of players from all classifications of college football, and he was among 20 players selected as Yahoo! Sports College Football Best. He was one of Eight FCS/FBS Nominees for the Manning Award Player of the Week and was nominated for Geico Play of the Year accolades (game-winning 2-yard TD run vs. OSU). Plus, Adams was one of six recipients of Beyond Sports Network FCS Offensive Player of the Week honors and was one of five “Stars of the Week” on the SVP & Russillo Show on ESPN. In addition, Adams was one of four FBS/FCS nominees for Capital One Impact Performer of the Week, and was the College Sports Madness National FCS Offensive Player of the Week and that organization’s Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week. College Football Performance Awards also selected him as its National FCS Performer of the Week, and National FCS Quarterback of the Week. And not surprisingly, Adams won Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week accolades for the third time in his career.
* Aiding in EWU’s win over Pac-12 member Oregon State on Aug. 31 were six of eight Eagle players who previously spent time on rosters of Pac-12 teams. Included is UCLA transfer Tevin McDonald, who had 135 tackles in 27 career games (24 starts) the past two seasons for the Bruins. Offensive tackle Jake Rodgers started all 12 games at Washington State last year. Running back Demitrius Bronson and Andru Pulu both saw action previously at Washington, while the others – Zackary Johnson (WSU), Derek Weston (UW), Blair Bomber (WSU) and Jake Miller (WSU) were on Pac-12 squads but never played. Bronson and Weston did not play against the Beavers.
* Freshman redshirt wide receiver Cooper Kupp had five catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns in his debut as an Eagle against Oregon State on Aug. 31. He played sparingly against Western Oregon before suffering a hip pointer, and for the season he has 13 catches for 266 yards and a team-leading four TD. 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.
* 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.
* Redshirt freshman Zach Wimberly saw action as a tight end after moving to that position on Aug. 22 following a knee injury suffered by senior Cody Humphrey. Wimberly, in fact, was in the game as a fullback and helped provide the lead block on the game-winning 2-yard run by Vernon Adams with 18 seconds to play. Wimberly made the first start of his career against Toledo on Sept. 14, starting at fullback.
* Five true freshmen saw action in EWU’s season-opener against Oregon State. They included linebacker/special teams player Albert Havili, defensive linemen Matthew Sommer, Samson Ebukam and Joe Douglas and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. Against Western Oregon on Sept. 7, true freshman defensive back D’londo Tucker made his Eagle debut. Kicker Christian Fanning and linebacker Jake Gall were suited up for the OSU game, but did not play. Those two players are expected to redshirt this season, along with the other 10 true freshmen on EWU’s roster.
* 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.
* A total of 33 players with 301 career starts returned for the 2013 season, including 174 starts by 19 players on offense and 127 starts by 14 players on defense. A year ago, the Eagles returned 40 players with a combined 348 starts between them entering the 2012 season. In 2011, the Eagles returned 30 players with a combined 335 starts. In EWU’s national championship season in 2010, a total of 24 players with starting experience (total of 196 starts) returned.
* 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. He is now 46-19 in five-plus seasons as a head coach (2008-13), and was 25-22 as EWU assistant coach for four seasons (2003-06), for a collective total of 71-41. His .750 winning percentage in Big Sky Conference games (30-10) is the best-ever by an Eastern head coach and currently ranks eighth in the 50-year history of the Big Sky Conference. His .708 percentage overall is ninth in league history.
* 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 Showdown Between Top-Five Foes: “We’ve had big conference games versus Montana and Montana State, but I don’t think we’ve played a non-conference opponent at our level in a game that has this kind of hype or magnitude. It’s hard to find non-conference FCS games here on the West Coast anyway, let alone play a team with their ranking.”
On Revenge Factor: “A lot of coaches will say there is no such thing as revenge. But let’s be honest, you don’t forget – and players definitely don’t forget. Regardless whether it’s revenge or human nature, it was 45-42 last year. I can say all I want that it’s just another game, but that is just coach-talk. The reality is we’re playing the team that knocked us out of the playoffs and ended our season.”
On 2004 Loss to Sam Houston State: “In 2004, when I was an assistant, that was a brutal loss. I’m 0-2 against them, so I’m hungry as well to get that first victory against them.”
On Toledo Win: “It was something to build on. The nice thing was our defense played some of its best football of the season. Toledo got a couple of scores late, but they are a really good team and we were playing on the road.”
On Bye: “It did come at a good time after playing two games versus FBS schools in three weeks. It gave us the opportunity to heal up physically and mentally – we put a lot into our first three games. And the extra time preparing for a team like Sam Houston State – especially with what they do offensively – doesn’t hurt.”
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 Performance by Vernon Adams Versus OSU: “It was pretty impressive. He wasn’t afraid of the situation. When it was time to run he took off and ran, and made them pay with his legs. But he didn’t just force the run – he found guys downfield. Ultimately, one of the things I’m most proud of is that he took care of the football. That’s hard to do against a Pac-12 opponent. We took care of the ball as a team, but he had the ball in his hands the most. He really did a great job – I couldn’t be happier.”
On Cooper Kupp: “He has been as consistent as any young player I have seen. That is a tribute to his mental toughness. A lot of young players will show flashes, but they don’t have the consistency. That’s what we like about Cooper. We know he has talent and makes plays, but we like that he has consistent work ethic.”
On Vernon Adams: “He has taken a leadership role. He is going to be hard on himself. He may end up with a great stat line, but he will think he should have been better or he should have done something else. I love that about him. He is never satisfied. He has stepped up as a leader. I have watched him inspire people even when the situation doesn’t go great. He can bring people up, bring people going forward and keep their heads up when things are not going well. That is the true definition of a leader. I am seeing him do that more and more with the group.”
On Receivers: “We teach our receivers that we don’t call you just a C, an X or a slide -- you learn everything. Some guys may play more slot than anything else, but I want them to learn the entire offense and the concept of each play. It makes the receivers better than just memorizing their single position and it lets us move our receivers so we can change their positions game to game. We will get in different groupings of personnel. I want Cooper and all our receivers to progress to that point. Our older guys are at that level, and the younger guys are getting to that level. You are learning each play as a concept, not memorizing what your position is when you hear the call.”
On Ronnie Hamlin: “Ronnie comes to work, brings his lunch pail and does his deal. He leads by example. He will say stuff when he needs to, but for the most part it is about his work ethic and how hard he plays (that the guys learn from). He is that type of leader, and we are lucky to have him. He is great for the other guys to go against because they are going against one of the best backers in the country. When you go against that every day you get better. That is why I love seeing Ronnie on the other side of the ball.”
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 (160 starts by 15 players): Allen Brown 29, Ronnie Hamlin 25, T.J. Lee 23, Ronald Baines 17, Andru Pulu 16, Anthony Larry 11, Cody McCarthy 8, J.C. Agen 7, Jordan Tonani 7, Evan Day 6, Will Katoa 5, Tevin McDonald 3, Dylan Zylstra 1, Miles Weatheroy 1, Christian Hudnell 1.
Offense (207 starts by 24 players): Steven Forgette 34, Brandon Murphy 26, Zack Gehring 23, Ashton Miller 18, Clay DeBord 16, Vernon Adams 12, Ashton Clark 9, Demitrius Bronson 9, Jordan Talley 9, Drew Reynolds 8, Ryan Seto 7, Quincy Forte 7, Mario Brown 5, Cory Mitchell 4, Jake Withnell 3, Cody Humphrey 2, Daniel Johnson 2, Jase Butorac 2, Cooper Kupp 3, Jake Rodgers 2, Jabari Wilson 2, Cassidy Curtis 1, Zach Wimberly 1, T.J. Boatright 1, Shaquille Hill 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.
The bye week allowed several ailing Eagles to rest and recover, but several are still listed as out or questionable for this week by head coach Beau Baldwin. Offensive tackle Jake Rodgers (knee sprain) and defensive lineman Jordan Pulu (knee) are both listed as questionable, and running back Jabari Wilson (shoulder) is not expected to be available this week. Wilson and Rodgers missed the Toledo game on Sept. 14 after both were injured against Western Oregon on Sept. 7. Pulu, who played last year as a true freshman and has a redshirt season available, had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 29. Running back Demitrius Bronson (high ankle sprain) suited up versus Toledo, but sat out for the third-straight game. Offensive lineman Drew Reynolds (knee) has yet to play this season. 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 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. Hamlin has 245 tackles already in his 28-game EWU career (25 starts) to rank 13th 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.
* Junior cornerback T.J. 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. Lee now has 166 tackles, three interceptions, 16 passes broken up and 3 1/2 sacks in his 37-game career (23 starts). He is just 34 tackles from becoming the 34th Eagle in school history to finish with 200 career tackles. He needs just two passes broken up to rank on EWU’s top 10 list in that category (currently 12th). 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 33 career starts are the most among all Eastern players. The only game he didn’t start in his 35-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 170.4 (62 percent, 2,996 yards, 32 TD, 11 INT), which ranks as the school record. His career average of 199.7 passing yards per game is currently seventh all-time at EWU. 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 finished second on the team with 91 tackles in 2012 to help him earn second team All-Big Sky honors. He was also second on the team with seven passes broken up to go along with a pair of forced fumbles. Brown has played in 42 games in his career (29 as a starter), with totals of 200 tackles, four interceptions and 12 passes broken up. He is the 34th Eagle in school history to finish with 200 career tackles. He needs six passes broken up to rank on EWU’s top 10 list in that category. He has 29 career starts, ranking first on the defense and second overall (Steven Forgette has 34). 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. 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 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 fifth-best career kickoff return average in school history (26.2) and is eighth in kickoff return yards (1,020). 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 43.5 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 19 punts of 50 yards or more in his career, including a school-record 74-yarder. He owns six of the top 33 punts in school history, with boots of 74, 59 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 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.