March 30, 2009
-- At a Glance -- As long as the weather cooperates, the Eastern Washington University football team begins spring practices for the 2009 season on Tuesday, April 7. Second-year head coach Beau Baldwin expects to have about 60 players participating, including 38 returning letter winners. The Eagles finished the 2008 season 6-5, including victories in their final three games of the season.
"To me, there are no excuses for us not to go out and compete at a high level every week of the season," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "From January until now our players have done a great job and have made strides, but we still have a long ways to go. How well we compete against the teams on our schedule and in our league depends on how we approach April, May, June and July, and then into August when we start our season."
Last year, poor field and weather conditions postponed several spring practice sessions. As a result, practices actually took place after the Red-White Game that traditionally ends spring practices. This year, the Eagles have intentionally scheduled a later start and will again practice the week after the Red-White Game.
-- Practices -- Practices take place Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through April 30. Most practices are scheduled to start at 4 p.m. (media interviews at approximately 3:45 p.m. or after practice at about 6 p.m.). All practices take place on the EWU Sports and Recreation Center practice fields.
-- Scrimmages -- Eastern is scheduled to scrimmage on Saturday, April 11 (approximately 1 p.m.) and Saturday, April 18 (approximately 12:30 p.m.), with locations to be determined based on field conditions. The annual Red-White Game will take place on Saturday, April 25 at 2 p.m. at Woodward Field in conjunction with Killin Weekend at EWU.
-- Players to Watch -- A total of 12 players return who earned All-Big Sky Conference honors a year ago, including a pair of wide receivers selected to the second team last year as juniors -- Aaron Boyce (Kent, Wash. - Kentwood HS '05) and Brynsen Brown (Puyallup, Wash. - Emerald Ridge HS '05). Boyce caught 63 passes for 917 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and has 183 catches for 2,696 yards and 23 touchdowns in his career . . . Senior quarterback Matt Nichols (Cottonwood, Calif.) is one of 10 players returning who earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors after earning the league's Offensive Player of the Year award as a sophomore. He has passed for 8,786 yards and 63 touchdowns in his career . . . Talented sophomore Taiwan Jones (Antioch, Calif.) will move to running back to help replace four departed seniors at that position. Jones missed the early part of the 2008 season with a broken fibula, but returned to start four games at cornerback for the Eagles . . . Twin brothers Matt and Zach Johnson (Tumwater, Wash. - Tumwater HS '07) return after stellar debut seasons. They combined for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team, with Zach finishing with 96 and a team-high seven passes broken up, and Matt closing the year with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. Both players earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades in 2008.
-- Injured Eagles -- Players not taking part in spring practices because of shoulder injuries include honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference special teams player Nicholas Ramos (Winters, Calif.) and defensive back Ethen Robinson (Spokane - Lewis & Clark HS).
-- Killin Dinner/Dance/Auction -- Orland Killin Weekend, which is presented by the Michael Roos Foundation, includes the Coaches Golf Tournament on April 24 and the annual Killin Dinner, Dance and Auction following the Red-White Game on April 25. More information on Killin Weekend is available at: http://goeags.cstv.com/genrel/022509aaa.html.
-- Comments from Head Coach Beau Baldwin --
-- On Focus of Spring -- "Like most springs, first and foremost you have more time to work on fundamentals, so that can be huge. During the season it becomes more schematic and each week you are taking on a team and game-planning. I'll be the first to admit that you get away from some fundamental things during the season. You want to get back to the fundamentals and the basic stuff, but from there we want to create our own identity."
-- On Off-Season -- "It's gone very well. The players really bought into our winter conditioning and off-season plan. They have done a great job and everybody is excited about April 7."
-- On Off-Season Recruiting -- "We had as strong a year recruiting as I can remember in a long time going back to my days as an assistant coach. We were able to sign a lot of quality players and great student-athletes, and we will have high hopes for them when they come in. Two or three years down the road we'll really find out."
-- On Little Things -- "We're going to talk about all the little things that can make the difference. When you go back and break down the season and ask why you were 5-3 in the league, maybe it's a couple of little things here or there. Maybe there are a couple of things we can do different in April that will carry over down the road."
-- On Playing Portland State in Seattle at Qwest Field -- "I think it's great for the program and for the many student-athletes we have who come from that area. Even if they aren't from that area, it's a great opportunity to play in that environment and in that stadium. It's nice to be connected to the West side, and we're hoping there will be a lot of fans at that ballgame that may not get over to Cheney to see a football game. Maybe that can be a way for fans to be more involved and excited with our program. It's a great opportunity for everybody involved and we're excited about it."
-- On 2009 Schedule -- "Cal is obviously a great football team and a tremendous challenge for us, but the rest of our schedule is a good fit for us. Our focus needs to be on our first game on Sept. 5, and then we'll worry about the next one. It's natural to look at your entire schedule to see what you have. It's only a great schedule if you take care of business each week, but we're excited about it."
-- On Looking Good on Paper With 38 Letter Winners and 15 Starters Back -- "I've seen years where on paper you're set-up to achieve certain things and you don't. And I've seen years where you are aren't expected to do much and you do. It comes down to whether the coaches and players are willing to do all the things to put us in a position to have a successful season. In my opinion, it's going to come down to the little things."
-- On Resiliency of Players in Wake of NCAA Penalties -- "I've been extremely impressed with how resilient our players are -- they have a tough mindset to them. A lot was thrown their way, and people can say what they want on whether or not it was fair. The bottom line is that as a group, all of our players are going in the same direction."
-- On Quarterback Matt Nichols in the Off-Season -- "In my opinion, he's had the best winter that I've seen him have. He's been working hard in the weight room and in speed and agility drills to help change his body. This is the best winter I've seen out of him and one of best I've ever seen out of a quarterback."
-- More Eagle Football Headlines and Links --
Eagles Release Schedule With a Seattle Twist --
Eastern Offensive Linemen Participate in Blood Drive (March 10) --http://goeags.cstv.com/genrel/031009aaa.html
Eastern Will Appeal Football Postseason Ban (Feb. 21) --
Eastern Signs 33 Players to Letters of Intent (Feb. 4) --
More Eagle Football Information --
2009 SEASON OUTLOOK
Last November, the wins finally caught up with the improvement the Eastern Washington University football team made during the 2008 season.
For what they accomplished in the final half of that year, the Eagles are hoping for a carryover effect for the 2009 season to improve upon last year's 6-5 finish that included a 5-3 record in the Big Sky Conference.
The Eagles return 38 letter winners from last year's team that ended the season with a three-game winning streak, including 18 back on offense and 20 returning on defense. A total of 15 starters are returning, featuring eight on offense and seven on defense.
Eastern had high hopes in 2008 after appearing in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs three times in the previous four seasons, including breakthrough playoff victories in 2004 and 2007. Three losses in a four-game stretch from Oct. 4 to Nov. 1 spoiled those hopes, but Eastern still managed to salvage the season with its 10th winning season in the last 12 campaigns.
"There's a growing process between the coaching staff and the team," explained head coach Beau Baldwin, who had five new coaches join him during his first season as EWU's head coach. "Last year was our first year, so both sides were feeling each other out a little bit. Now we are moving forward because the players have a better idea of what is expected of them. Heading into this season we have a better idea of the team and its make-up, and we're all very excited about that."
Baldwin, a former Eastern quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from 2003-06, will help coach the offense again this season. Last year's progress of that unit mirrored the improvement of the defense, culminating in the season-ending three-game winning streak.
"Last year gave us the opportunity to get a feel again for what we are trying to do, what my goals are and what I like to do philosophy-wise," Baldwin explained. "I coached them when they were younger, but I was gone in 2007. We were pleased with how we finished as a team, and when you break it down offensively, I was very excited with the way the offense played as a group. We really came together at the end of the season, and we're hoping that will carry over this year. We want to be clicking from the get-go."
To return to the FCS Playoffs this year, the Eagles will not only have to win more, but hope they eventually receive good news from the NCAA as well. Eastern appealed a postseason ban levied by the NCAA after a two-year review of activities involving the EWU football team from 2003-07 was released in February. The NCAA investigated a series of secondary rule violations, which, taken in total, led to a major infractions case. The university originally self-reported the violations to the NCAA in February 2007.
Whether or not the appeal is denied, the Eagles are taking the approach that the postseason ban won't be a penalty unless Eastern takes care of business on the field.
"When the announcement was made initially, it was hard," explained Baldwin. "But it was amazing how resilient and how fast they came back from that. They said, `we don't control that so we're going to get after it and work hard.'"
"There's a little chip on their shoulder, but to me, it has taken nothing away from their work ethic. A lot of that comes from great leaders. We have some players in place -- seniors especially -- who have done a great job of leading everybody through it. It's not what we planned for or expected, but the schedule is ahead of us so let's battle that. All we control is how well we play each day. We are guaranteed 11 games and we're going to do everything we can to prepare for that between now and Sept. 5."
In all, Baldwin has 25 players returning with starting experience and a total of 281 starts between them. That list is led by a pair of seniors who were highly-honored in 2007 -- quarterback Matt Nichols and wide receiver Aaron Boyce.
Nichols, who was Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP after throwing for a school-record 34 touchdowns in 2007, has started 33 games in his career. He has passed for more than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons after getting his feet wet as a freshman in 2006.
Boyce, an All-American in 2007, has started 32 games. He had 63 catches last season to give him a total of 183 in his career (second-most in school history).
In 2008, Boyce had to settle for second team All-Big Sky honors and Nichols earned honorable mention. A total of 12 Eastern players who earned All-Big Sky honors last year -- including second team wide receiver Brynsen Brown -- are back and provide a base of talent for the Eagles. Brown caught 50 passes and had four touchdowns a year ago.
Returning All-Big Sky honorable mention selections on offense included senior wide receiver Tony Davis, senior tight end Nathan Overbay, senior offensive tackle Chris Thomas and junior offensive tackle Brice Leahy. Returning honorable mentions on defense are senior linebacker Makai Borden, junior outside linebacker J.C. Sherritt and a pair of sophomore twins -- strong safety Matt Johnson and outside linebacker Zach Johnson. Another All-Big Sky player returning is senior special teams standout Nicholas Ramos.
Among the 19 letter winners lost were 18 seniors who combined for 232 starts in their careers. All but seven of those seniors were four-year letter winners, including three starting defensive linemen. One of those, All-America defensive end Greg Peach, won the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top player in FCS and was also the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
The offense has something to prove in 2009, and the leader of that effort is Nichols. He led Eastern to nine victories as a sophomore in 2007 when he passed for 3,744 yards and 34 touchdowns, and had another 392 yards on the ground. As a junior, his numbers (in two less games) slipped to 3,293 yards and 21 touchdowns passing, and 83 yards rushing.
"I've been extremely impressed with his approach to his senior season, especially with the unfortunate news of the postseason ban," said Baldwin. "One of the comments he's made is, `it's only a penalty if we make it a penalty. They could have slapped us with that last year and it wouldn't have mattered, right?' That's the right approach, and we have to earn the right for that to really be a penalty. He's going out there with the idea that we are going to make that a penalty if the appeal does not go our way."
Nichols will have a seasoned and experienced wide receiver unit returning, headlined by Boyce, Brown and Davis, who was Eastern's second-leading receiver a year ago with 53 catches and three scores. That trio has combined for 456 catches, 6,329 yards and 43 touchdowns in 98 games worth of experience (80 starts).
Other returning letter winners at wide receiver include Ramos, J.T. Leggin, and Ashton Gant. Ramos finished with eight catches for 88 yards, and Gant and Leggin added four and three catches, respectively.
At tight end, Overbay returns after catching 28 passes for 364 yards and a pair of scores. Also back is junior Matt Martin, who added 11 catches for 118 yards.
The offensive line was young and inexperienced in 2008, and actually gave up fewer sacks (18) than it did the previous season (25). But the Eagles generated only 98.5 yards per game on the ground -- nearly 70 less per game than the year before. It was the lowest average per game for the Eagles since 1987 when Eastern played the first of what is now 22 seasons as a member of the Big Sky Conference.
The line is led by a pair of honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selections in senior Chris Thomas (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) and junior Brice Leahy (6-7, 295). The other returning starter is senior Ryan Forney (6-3, 280), but Eastern also returns three other letter winners in Gabriel Jackson (6-4, 275), John Rice (6-7, 295) and Nikolai Myers (6-4, 275).
Eastern lost four senior running backs, but have three letter winners returning who are capable of filling that void. Tyler Hart was working his way up the depth chart and had 84 yards rushing with two touchdowns in 2008 before his season was ended with a broken scapula.
Also back -- but in a different position -- is speedster Taiwan Jones. He had 54 tackles and four passes broken up in seven games as a cornerback in 2008 after missing the first half of the season with a broken fibula.
But Jones was a talented running back in high school, and his skill with the ball led the coaches to give him some repetitions at wide receiver for the Eagles late last fall. He averaged 9.3 yards per carry as a senior in high school as he finished with a total of 1,466 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns to earn San Francisco Chronicle All-Metro honors.
Jones had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for the Eagles last season against Northern Colorado, which further cemented the need to get the ball in his hands as a running back.
"Taiwan is obviously a dynamic athlete, and he wasn't able to show that a lot last year," explained Baldwin. "But we saw glimpses of it, like his kickoff return against Northern Colorado. He's a special player with the ball in his hands.
The third returning letter winner is fullback Darriell Beaumonte, who rushed for 25 yards and had three tackles on special teams.
"Tyler Hart is a tremendous running back, and had he not been injured, he could have had a very, very successful freshman season," Baldwin said of the running back corp. "We also have some younger players who can step-in. We're excited about that group as a whole, and Taiwan just adds an extra piece to that group that already had the potential of being very strong. They are still somewhat un-proven and have a lot to prove, but we're excited about the players that are there."
Like the offense, Eastern's defense was superb in the last half of the season under first-year defensive coordinator John Graham. After giving up 623 passing yards in a 47-36 loss at Portland State, the Eagles held five-straight opponents from Oct. 11 to Nov. 15 to 19 points or fewer. That was something that EWU has never done since becoming a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 1984. The Eagles closed the year by limiting Weber State's high-powered offense to 26 points in a 33-26 Eagle victory.
"A lot of that was just finding out what our identity was on defense, understanding our philosophies and the players having a better idea of how they were being coached," said Baldwin. "It was night and day when comparing the first five games with the last six. We're excited about carrying that over."
The defensive line last season featured a trio of senior All-Big Sky performers, but the cupboard is certainly not bare for Eastern's defense.
Sophomore Renard Williams (6-2, 300) returns as a starter after finishing his debut season with 27 tackles, two sacks and seven total tackles for loss. Junior Tyler Jolley (6-3, 275) started four games and finished the year with 27 tackles with a sack and three passes batted down in nine games played.
"We're excited about the group we have coming in," said Baldwin. "It's a lot like last year when we lost a lot of offensive linemen. We're excited to see the young defensive linemen and we're excited about some of the older players who haven't been able to play quite as much and now have that opportunity. We're excited to see how hard they work and how bad they want playing time. They are all excited to come in and try to prove something."
Six starters return at linebacker and the secondary, including three linebackers who all earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors in 2008. Zach Johnson leads the returning backers with 96 tackles and a team-leading seven passes broken up in 2008, with injuries sidelining Sherritt (64 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss, one interception) and Borden (43 tackles) at various times during the season. Borden has started 20 games, with Eastern owning a 13-4 record the past two seasons with him in the starting lineup.
Other returning letter winners at linebacker include senior Kyle Wilkins, junior Jason Harris and sophomore Bobby Gentry. Wilkins finished the 2008 season with 46 tackles and a sack as he helped fill the void when injuries sidelined a trio of linebackers at the same time.
In the secondary, 24-game starting free safety Kevin Hatch returns for his senior season. He had 60 tackles for the season and an interception he returned 73 yards for a touchdown in Eastern's season-ending win over Big Sky champion Weber State.
Matt Johnson and senior cornerback Lonnie Hosley are the other two starters returning, with Johnson finishing his freshman season with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. Hosley started EWU's first five games and finished with 13 tackles and six passes up before a foot injury ended his season.
Six other letter winners return in the secondary, including senior Brett Igbinoba, who has moved back to cornerback after playing as a wide receiver in 2008. The others are juniors John Roberts, Jesse Hoffman, Dante Calcote, Will Edge and Ethen Robinson.
"Another position where some young players are going to have to step-up is defensive back," said Baldwin. "We don't have a large number of defensive backs, but it was a position we recruited heavily. We signed a number of defensive backs, so there could be young players in the lineup, but a lot of that depends on where the veteran players are. We're hoping that's a very competitive position this spring and that some players who haven't played much in prior years are able to step-up for us."
Eastern's punter, kicker and long snapper were all seniors in 2008, and replacing them will fall on the shoulders of non-lettering squad members and newcomers.
"Those positions are going to be extremely competitive," said Baldwin. "We have players on the roster right now who are competing for those positions, plus we also recruited to those areas. Spring will answer a few of those questions, and then we'll answer the rest in fall camp when the freshmen report. We'll evaluate it and determine what direction we need to go."
Eastern does return some of the league's premier kick returners in Ramos, Jones and Davis. Ramos returned 17 kickoffs for a 23.2 average a year ago, and Jones averaged 36.3 in just seven returns with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown versus Northern Colorado. Davis had a 10.3 average in 19 punt returns in 2008, and in his career he has returned 28 punts for a 9.9 average and a touchdown.
-- Eagles Release Schedule With a Seattle Twist -- The Eastern Washington University football team will play five home games in the 2009 season, and one of them will take place across the Cascade Mountains on Halloween Day.
The Eagles will host Portland State on Oct. 31 in a Big Sky Conference game that begins at 1 p.m. at Qwest Field in Seattle. It's believed to be the first time in Eastern's 100-year football history that it has played a game in Seattle. The Eagles will play their first game in the Puget Sound area since Oct. 30, 1982, when Eastern won at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.
Eastern will also play home games against Western Oregon (Sept. 5), Northern Colorado (Sept. 19), Weber State (Oct. 10) and Montana State (Oct. 24) at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
There are nearly 11,000 Eastern alumni who reside in the Puget Sound area in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. More than 16,000 reside west of the Cascade Mountains. Among current Eastern students, nearly 1,500 are from King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, and a total of nearly 2,500 are from cities west of the Cascade Mountains.
"We are excited to be able to bring Eagle football to Seattle where we have a tremendous alumni base," said Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves. "The game will also afford our team the opportunity to play in an NFL stadium."
Ticket prices for the EWU-PSU game, as well as season tickets for the four home games in Cheney, will be announced at a later date.
Eastern's season-opening game with Western Oregon on Sept. 5 has been tentatively scheduled to start at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time, while the Northern Colorado and Portland State games have been tentatively scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Times for Weber State and Montana State will be announced.
Following the game against the NCAA Division II Wolves, Eastern will play at Pacific 10 Conference member California on Sept. 12. After hosting Northern Colorado, Eastern will play at Sacramento State on Sept. 26 and Idaho State on Oct. 3.
Eastern plays defending Big Sky Conference co-champions Weber State and Montana on back-to-back games on Oct. 10 and 17, respectively, with the Eagle-Grizzly showdown taking place in Missoula, Mont. Eastern hosts Montana State for Homecoming on Oct. 24 before spending Halloween in Seattle against PSU on Oct. 31.
Following a bye on Nov. 7, Eastern closes the season with a pair of road games -- a non-conference game at Southern Utah on Nov. 14 in Cedar City, Utah, and a league game Nov. 21 at Northern Arizona.
-- Eastern Appeals Football Postseason Ban -- Eastern Washington University officially submitted its appeal in March to the 2009 postseason ban imposed on the EWU football team by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves said Eastern is appealing just the postseason ban and not the other penalties -- most of those were self-imposed previously -- that were released by the NCAA on Feb. 11. The NCAA released its findings that day from a two-year review of activities involving the EWU football team from 2003-07. At the time, Chaves said the process of the appeal will take several months.
The NCAA looked into a series of secondary rule violations, which, taken in total, led to a major infractions case. The university originally self-reported the violations to the NCAA in February 2007.
In its report, the NCAA's Committee on Infractions accepted self-imposed measures the university already implemented. Those measures began at the start of the current academic year and will be continually improved and assessed. In addition, the NCAA levied a penalty on the football team which prohibits postseason play during the 2009 football season and placed EWU on three years of probation, from 2009-2012. During the probationary period, EWU will be required to file additional compliance reports with the NCAA.
After the arrival of EWU President Rodolfo Arévalo and Chaves, who came to Eastern in September of 2007, several new monitoring systems and resources for coaches were put in place to reflect Eastern's commitment to properly-managed athletic programs. At the time of the violations, many of those resources were not in place, including checks and balances that may have helped avoid the violations from occurring.
-- Eagles Return 25 Players With Starting Experience -- A total of 25 players with starting experience are expected to return for the 2009 season. Here are the current number of career starts by Eastern players currently on the 2009 roster:
Defense (108 starts by 12 players) -- Kevin Hatch 24, Makai Borden 20, Lonnie Hosley 13, Matt Johnson 11, Zach Johnson 11, J.C. Sherritt 8, Renard Williams 7, Tyler Jolley 5, Josh Jacobson 5, Kyle Wilkins 2, Jacob Kragt 1, Will Edge 1.
Offense (173 starts by 13 players) -- Matt Nichols 33, Aaron Boyce 32, Brynsen Brown 29, Tony Davis 19, Chris Thomas 18, Nathan Overbay 11, Brice Leahy 11, Ryan Forney 11, Taiwan Jones 4 (includes four on defense in 2008), Matt Martin 2, Nicholas Ramos 1, Ashton Gant 1, Gabriel Jackson 1.
-- Twin Stat Lines Commonplace for Johnson Twins -- Since the first game of their careers against Texas Tech in August, twin brothers Zach Johnson and Matt Johnson produced some incredible defensive numbers as redshirt freshmen.
They combined for 22 tackles in EWU's 28-13 win over Northern Arizona on Nov. 15 and 27 a week earlier in a 31-16 victory over Northern Colorado. Versus NAU, Zach had 12 stops and Matt had nine, with each breaking up a pass. Versus UNC, Zach had 15 tackles and a key interception in the third quarter while Matt finished with 12 tackles.
"There was no question Zach had a huge pick against Northern Colorado," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of the 2006 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School. "He did a great job and is a great player. Both of the Johnson twins are great players. At different times they were a little banged up because they played a lot of snaps, but those guys kept coming to play."
Both had impressive collegiate debuts in Eastern's 49-24 loss at Texas Tech on Aug. 30. With Matt starting at strong safety and Zach at strong-side inside linebacker, the Johnson brothers finished with a combined 18 tackles, including eight tackles and three passes broken up by Zach. Matt had a team-high 10 tackles and a game-changing interception in the second quarter. The Eagles trailed 21-0 when Matt intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards to the TTU 7-yard line. Two plays later, Alexis Alexander scored from one yard out to give EWU its first score.
"They are great players and have bought right in," said Baldwin after the Texas Tech game. "They're coachable, they can run, they can tackle -- they have all the tools to be great defensive players in this league. They left it on the field and went hard. There was no question that a lot of young players stepped up against Texas Tech."
They finished the season combining for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach, whose 96 tackles ranks 20th in school history, was third in the Big Sky (8.7 per game) and 47th nationally. Matt had 83 total tackles and was eighth in the league (7.6). Zach also had seven passes broken up and ranked eighth in the league in tackles for loss (0.95 per game). Matt had four interceptions to rank 47th in FCS and sixth in the league (0.36 per game).
-- Nichols Has Six 300-Yard Passing Games -- Junior quarterback Matt Nichols had six 300-yard passing games in 2008, giving him a total of 12 in his 35-game career thus far. He had at least 300 yards of total offense in seven games in 2008 (14 in his career), including a season-ending 313-yard effort against Weber State (242 passing, 71 rushing).
He also had a 346-yard passing performance against Northern Arizona (11/15/08) and had 418 against Portland State (10/4/08) to rank as the third-best in his career and 10th-best in school history. A week before the PSU game, he had 382 and five touchdowns against Idaho State (9/27/08) as he earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors. A Walter Payton Award candidate in 2008, his completions (36) and attempts (61) against Texas Tech on Aug. 30 both rank as the second-most in school history.
On Eastern's single season passing lists, Nichols finished the 2008 season with the second-most attempts (451), completions (3,293) and average passing yards per game (299.4); the fifth-most passing yards (3,293); the ninth-most touchdown passes (21); and the fifth-most total offensive yards (3,376).
On EWU's career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top three in all categories, including second in total offense (9,376) as he passed Mark Tenneson (7,428 from 1989-92) versus Portland State. Nichols is now also second in passing yards (8,786), surpassing Tenneson's mark of 7,492 versus Montana State. The record holder for both passing yards and total offense is 2005 Payton Award winner Erik Meyer (2002-05) with 10,261 passing yards and 10,942 yards of total offense. Meyer is the player Nichols replaced in 2006 as Eastern's starting quarterback.
Nichols now owns the school record with 1,150 career pass attempts, and also ranks fifth in efficiency rating (136.0), second in touchdown passes (63, ranking only behind the 84 of Meyer), second in completions (698) and third in interceptions (40).
Below is a complete list of his 300-yard outings:
-- 300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols (total of 12)
451 - 37x59, 2td - Montana - 10/6/07 (#3 in school history)
434 - 34x44, 2td - McNeese State - 11/24/07 (#6 in school history)
418 - 34x55, 2td - Portland State - 10/4/08 (#10 in school history)
382 - 26x40, 5td - Idaho State - 9/27/08 (#18 in school history)
363 - 29x43, 1td - Sacramento State - 11/1/08 (#27 in school history)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#27 in school history)
346 - 25x42, 2td - Northern Arizona - 11/15/08 (#37 in school history)
335 - 36x61, 1td - Texas Tech - 8/30/08 (#42 in school history)
329 - 21x42, 1td - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
328 - 20x29, 3td - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
316 - 17x22, 5td - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
303 - 32x51, 1td - Colorado - 9/6/08
-- 300-Yard Total Offense Games for Nichols (total of 14)
478 - 451 passing, 27 rushing - Montana - 10/6/07
459 - 434 passing. 25 rushing - McNeese State - 11/24/07
435 - 418 passing, 17 rushing - Portland State - 10/4/08
376 - 382 passing, -6 rushing - Idaho State - 9/27/08
375 - 426 passing, 29 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/15/08
370 - 363 passing, 7 rushing - Portland State - 9/29/07
359 - 256 passing, 103 rushing - Weber State - 11/17/07
359 - 329 passing, 30 rushing - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
364 - 316 passing, 48 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
355 - 328 passing, 27 rushing - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
322 - 335 passing, -13 rushing - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
320 - 363 passing, -43 rushing - Sacramento State - 11/1/08
314 - 303 passing, 11 rushing - Colorado - 9/6/08
313 - 242 passing, 71 rushing - Weber State - 11/22/08
-- Wide Receiver Trio Ahead of Previous Quartet -- Eastern's receiving corps in 2008 includes three juniors - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - who have started since they were freshmen in 2006. In their careers, that trio has already combined for 456 catches for 6,329 yards and 43 touchdowns in 98 games worth of experience (80 starts). In 2008, they combined for 166 passes for 2,229 yards and 17 touchdowns. They combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006, then combined for 172 catches for 2,561 yards and 18 scores in 13 games in 2007.
In 2008, Boyce equaled his 2007 performance with 10 touchdown catches to rank eighth in school history, and his 63 catches also rank eighth. He has already moved onto EWU's career lists, ranking second in catches (183), fourth in touchdown catches (23) and third in receiving yards (2,696). Brown is 12th in receptions (137) and Davis is 14th (136).
The only player ahead of Boyce on the career catches list is Eric Kimble (253 from 2002-05). Interestingly, all of Boyce's touchdown catches have come from Matt Nichols. Of the 43 total touchdowns Boyce, Brown and Davis have caught, all but two of them have come from Nichols (Brown and Davis each caught a TD pass from Chris Peerboom in 2006).
That trio is a reminder of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts). In 2005, Meyer and his teammates won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
-- 100-Yard Receiving Games for Aaron Boyce
232 (*17 catches, 1 TD) - Montana - 10/6/07 (#2 in school history)
186 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Sacramento State - 10/27/07 (#10 in school history)
181 (#13 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 10/4/08 (#14 in school history)
157 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Northern Arizona - 10/15/08
135 (9 catches, 3 TD) - Idaho State - 9/27/08
135 (9 catches, 1 TD) - Brigham Young - 10/20/07
126 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Montana State - 10/13/07
119 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
108 (6 catches, 2 TD) - Weber State - 11/22/08
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - UC Davis - 9/15/07
*School record. #Second in school history.
-- 100-Yard Receiving Games for Tony Davis
150 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Idaho State - 9/22/07
131 (8 catches, 1 TD) - McNeese State - 11/24/07
126 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Western Washington - 9/20/08
114 (#13 catches, 1 TD) - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
112 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Central Washington - 9/16/06
#Second in school history behind Aaron Boyce.
-- 100-Yard Receiving Games Brynsen Brown
147 (%11 catches, 1 TD) - Sacramento State - 11/1/08
139 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
138 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Northern Arizona - 10/28/06
104 (4 catches, 1 TD) - Idaho State - 9/27/08
104 (7 catches, 0 TD) - McNeese State - 11/24/07
104 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Sacramento State - 9/3/06
99 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Weber State - 11/17/07
%Ninth in school history.