Six starters are back, but Eagles reload with replacements of other five who all earned All-Big Sky Conference honors
Potent and prolific best describes Eastern's offensive attack under head coach Beau Baldwin, but All-America quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. has taken it to a new level.
His dissection of Oregon State began a record-breaking season that saw him establish 16 new school records, six Big Sky marks and six NCAA Football Championship Subdivision records. Being honored as the Big Sky Conference MVP and FCS Performer of the Year by College Football Performance Awards were the crowning glories of a season that saw him finish as the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award given by The Sports Network to the top player in FCS.
No other returning quarterback has thrown a pass in a collegiate game, with sophomore squad member Jordan West and redshirt freshman Conner Richardson joining incoming freshman Reilly Hennessey as backups for Adams.
The supporting cast for Adams will include five returning starters, but also replacements for five starters EWU lost that all received All-Big Sky honors in 2013. They include three linemen, a tight end and a wide receiver.
At wide receiver, Cooper Kupp is back for his sophomore season after emerging as a FCS All-American in his first collegiate season and winning the Jerry Rice Award presented by The Sports Network to the top freshman in FCS. He established four school records, one Big Sky mark and six FCS records after catching 93 passes for 1,691 yards and 21 touchdowns.
One of the FCS records Kupp set was for combined receiving yards by two players, with Ashton Clark finishing with 83 catches for 1,233 yards and 10 more scores. But Clark graduated after earning second team All-Big Sky honors, and his production will need to be replaced.
Besides Kupp, Eastern's other returning starter is senior Cory Mitchell, who caught 47 passes for 699 yards and three scores. Junior Shaq Hill also saw action as a starter and had 38 catches for 790 yards and nine scores. Both Mitchell and Hill earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors in 2013.
Sophomore Kendrick Bourne could be EWU's breakout receiver in 2014. As a true freshman, he caught seven passes for 117 yards and a pair of scores. Also back is senior Blair Bomber, who had five catches for 79 yards and a TD. Nic Sblendorio, the team's 2013 Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year, redshirted last season and could play a big role this year.
Eastern lost third team All-Big Sky tight end Zack Gehring, but does return a trio of players who have seen action at that position. They include junior Jake Withnell, sophomore Zach Wimberly and junior Terry Jackson II. Withnell had three catches a year ago and Wimberly had a pair.
Running back is full of depth and experience, including third team All-Big Sky selection Quincy Forte. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry in finishing with 1,208 yards and 11 touchdowns, including performances of 202 and 190 yards in the FCS Playoffs.
Also back is senior Mario Brown, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry and finished with 482 yards and four scores. Freshman Jabari Wilson saw action as a starter early in the year, and finished with 170 yards and a 5.5 average per carry, and freshman Jalen Moore closed the year with 192 yards.
Those players return with a collective eight letters won between them – Forte (3), Brown (3), Wilson (1) and Moore (1). Together they have 3,396 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns, plus another 97 receptions for 918 yards and 10 TDs.
Also on the roster at running back is senior Cody Hecker.
The position that suffered most from graduation losses was the offensive line. All-American and first team All-Big Sky center Ashton Miller, second team All-Big Sky guard Steven Forgette and honorable mention All-BSC guard Brandon Murphy combined for 132 games of experience and 114 starts between them.
Eastern should be extremely solid at tackle, featuring second team All-Big Sky performer Clay DeBord returning for his junior season. Also back as a junior is honorable mention All-BSC pick Cassidy Curtis. Senior Jake Rodgers, a transfer last season from Washington State, is back after sandwiching a knee injury between two stints as a starter at the beginning of the year and the end of the season. In addition, junior T.J. Boatright has seen significant playing time the last two seasons, and has made two career starts at tackle. And Washington State transfer Matt Meyer will also compete for time.
Because of his versatility, Rogers enters the season as a starter at right guard. Aaron Neary, who split time in 2013 with Murphy, is listed as the other starter. Centers Jase Butorac (senior) and Jay Deines (junior) have also lettered previously, with Butorac entering the season as the starter.