Sept. 10, 2007
An early season challenge is just what the Eastern Washington University football team needs as conference play approaches.
And the Eagles will get one this Saturday (Sept. 15) when UC Davis visits for the second all-time meeting between the two schools. The NCAA Football Championship Subdivision match-up begins at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Big Sky Conference play begins for the Eagles on Sept. 22 at Idaho State, and this week's game against the Aggies will go a long way in determining just how good the Eagles are. Eastern opened its season on Aug. 31 with a convincing and efficient 52-13 win over NAIA foe Montana-Western.
UC Davis, meanwhile, knocked off Portland State and new head coach Jerry Glanville 26-17 in PSU's home opener last Saturday (Sept. 8). The Vikings had entered the game ranked 18th in FCS and the previous week were 13th before losing their opener at nationally-ranked McNeese State. Portland State was picked to finish second in the Big Sky behind Montana, while the Eagles were selected fifth.
That impressive victory for UC Davis, a member of the Great West Conference and eligible this season for the first time for the FCS Playoffs, came on the heels of a disappointing loss. The Aggies fell at home in their opener, 28-21, to Western Washington on Sept. 1. UC Davis, which received votes as a preseason top 25 team in FCS, was playing its first-ever game at its new multi-use facility called Aggie Stadium.
The Aggies rallied for the win over PSU, scoring 23 unanswered points after falling behind 17-3 in the first half. UC Davis scored 17 points in the third quarter alone as redshirt freshman running back Joe Trombetta and quarterback Tom Plough led the way, Trombetta had 93 rushing yards and 154 total all-purpose yards, and Plough passed for 234 and two scores. The defense collected nine sacks.
Trombetta, who is currently ranked 10th nationally in rushing (141.0 per game) after two games, had 189 yards in the loss to Western Washington. He added five catches for 86 yards, but he had two fumbles as the Aggies had three turnovers compared to none for WWU.
The Aggies are no stranger to upsets. In fact, on Sept. 17, 2005, UC Davis knocked off Stanford of the Pacific 10 Conference 20-17. Last season, the Aggies were 6-5 overall, including a 3-0 mark against Big Sky Conference teams by a combined margin of 113-23 (38-7 over Northern Colorado, 45-0 against 20th-ranked Montana State and 30-16 versus Sacramento State). Eastern was 1-2 against those same teams with a margin of 73-31.
Now in his 15th year at the helm, UC Davis head coach Bob Biggs has compiled a 115-49-1 record, including a 17-9 mark against Big Sky Conference foes. He helped the Aggies to eight NCAA Division II playoff appearances and has had winning seasons in the last 14 of a current streak of 37 consecutive winning seasons.
The Eagles had a bye on Sept. 10 after scoring seven of their first eight possessions in the easy win over Montana-Western. Eastern finished with 567 yards of total offense to rank as the 20th-most in school history. Eastern allowed 244 yards, but just 84 in the second half when it held the Bulldogs without a score.
The Eagles, who were just 3-8 overall and 3-5 in league play last season, open their Big Sky Conference schedule at Idaho State on Sept. 22.
Eagle Head Coach Paul Wulff on UC Davis: "They always have a great passing attack and the ability to score points on anybody, which they've proven to do over the years. We all remember that two years ago they beat Stanford at this time of the season. Beating Portland State after losing to Western Washington was a great comeback for UC Davis. Against Portland State they played like they normally do, and beating a solid Big Sky team on the road was very impressive. From what I understand, they did not play very well in their first ballgame. It sounds like they were sloppy and kind of gave the game away against Western Washington. They will play a lot better -- that's just the kind of program they are. It will be challenging game. They have very good talent and are well-coached."
Wulff on Week Off After Opener: "We needed the work and time to get some players healthy. It's going to work out fine -- it's all about how you approach it mentally. We have a lot of things to shore up on both sides of the ball and on special teams. It was good to get that experience in a live situation, and now we have to continue to get better. Obviously we are going to face stronger opponents, and the one we face next is much stronger. I wish all the games would end up like our opener, but that's not how it's going to go. We just need to get ourselves better, push hard and see how quickly we can reach our peak."
On Win over Montana-Western: "Offensively we played fairly crisp and fast, and we executed extremely well, particularly at quarterback. Defensively they caught us off guard a little bit, but at the same time, we did some good things. We are a little young in secondary but we'll keep getting better as we move through the season."
Win Could Propel Aggies: A win over the Eagles this week could propel the Aggies into the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision rankings, as both are among those receiving votes in the three polls distributed weekly.
In this week's coaches poll, UC Davis received 51 points (26th) and Eastern received 17 (39th). The AGS (anygivensaturday.com) poll has the Aggies ranked 30th with 26 points, but the Eagles are not among those teams receiving five or more votes.
In The Sports Network weekly poll from Sept. 3, Eastern received 34 points (42nd) and UC Davis did not receive any votes. This week's TSN poll will be released on Tuesday (Sept. 11).
Appalachian State, which hosts Northern Arizona this week, is No. 1 in all three polls. Montana is second in both the AGS and coaches polls, and was third in last week's TSN poll.
Lots of Intrigue the Last Time EWU and UC Davis Met: The only previous meeting between the Eagles and Aggies in 2005 was full of intrigue, although the 19th-ranked Eagles won easily 24-7 on Nov. 19, 2005. It was EWU's 100th win all-time at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., and took nearly a year -- until Nov. 11, 2006, to be exact -- for the Eagles to win their 101st at that venue.
The heavy duty work was performed that day two years ago by Montana State. The Bobcats upended Montana 16-6 in Bozeman, Mont., giving the Eagles a share of the Big Sky Conference title with the Grizzlies and Bobcats, and the automatic berth in the I-AA Playoffs. The Eagles won the automatic berth by virtue of a season sweep over Montana and Montana State. It was the second-straight Big Sky Conference title for the Eagles, who defeated top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Southern Illinois in the first round of the playoffs in 2004.
Eastern, meanwhile, scored four-straight times in the first half and defeated the Aggies in fog that worsened as the night wore on. In fact, in the second half barely a third of the field was visible from the Woodward Field Donor Suites and Media Center. The Eagles found out the outcome of the MSU-UM game in the second quarter, then rested many of its starters in the second half.
Lower Division Opener Something New: For a change, Eastern got to see how it feels to open the season on the other end of the collegiate football food chain.
A 52-13 win over Montana-Western marked the first lower division opener for Eastern since 1997. It was also the first time Eastern opened the season at Woodward Field since 1997, when Eastern finished 12-2 and advanced to the "Final Four" of the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
In eight of nine seasons from 1997-2006, Eastern opened the season on the road against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe (formerly I-A). Just once in those nine seasons -- a 35-17 victory at Connecticut -- has Eastern opened the season with a victory.
Wulff on Team's Debut Peformance Against Lower Division Foe: "Regardless of who you play, you need to look at your execution level and see if the players are doing the things they've been coached to do. We had a lot of positives that way. Obviously, there are a lot of things we need to clean up, but it was encouraging to see some of the things we did real well."
First Big Sky Player of the Week Won by Nichols: One game doesn't make a season, but the sophomore football campaign for Eastern Washington University's Matt Nichols has gotten off to an impressive start after a not-so-impressive season as a freshman redshirt.
The quarterback from Cottonwood, Calif., equaled a 20-year school record with six touchdown passes to lead Eastern to an easy 52-13 non-conference football victory over Montana-Western in EWU's season-opener Aug. 31 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
As a result, he was awarded with the first Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor of the 2007 season. It was the first of what is hopefully many conference honors in the still young career of Nichols. He also earned team offensive player of the week accolades as well.
Nichols completed 20-of-26 passes for 229 yards against the Bulldogs as he tied the TD passes record originally set by Rob James in 1987 against Weber State. His passing efficiency rating of 227.06 is much better than the 109.0 rating he had in 2006 as a redshirt freshman.
"He did good things, he was very accurate and he ran the offense like we coached him to do," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff. "I think he's gained some confidence."
In his debut season, Nichols had just eight touchdowns the entire season and equaled a school-record 17 interceptions. The first start of his career came against nationally-ranked West Virginia on Sept. 9, 2007, when he completed 13-of-25 passes. His talent allowed him to start 10 games in 2006, but his inexperience and inconsistency caused him to be replaced in five of those outings.
Wulff on Sophomore Debut for Nichols: "The way he was practicing we thought there was a chance he would do well in this first game. We felt like we had better athletes outside at the receiver positions, and we knew that if we gave him enough time, he would be able to hit them. And that's what he did. His accuracy was good and I think of the six incompletions he had, three were dropped balls -- they were right in their hands."
Wulff on Reason for Early Success for Nichols: "The (biggest reasons) are last year's experience and the amount of work he has put in to get better. He's gotten to know his teammates better and doesn't have receivers that are freshmen to throw to. That is just part of college football and the maturation you have to go through. We went through that last year and we're better now because of it."
Eagles Lose Two More Safeties For the Season: Sophomore Jesse Hoffman and redshirt freshman Ethen Robinson both suffered season-ending injuries in Eastern's opener against Montana-Western. Both backups at free safety, Hoffman injured his elbow and Robinson tore his Achilles tendon. Besides those two players, projected starting free safety Gregor Smith was lost for the season with a nagging shoulder injury before practices even began.
Jesse Hoffman played considerably as a running back as a true freshman in 2006, but moved to defense when the fate of Smith was known. Hoffman finished with 234 yards, including the team's top performance of the year with 124 yards and a touchdown in a 34-0 win at Northern Colorado. Shane was a receiver before his move.
Eastern Has Burning Desire to Improve: Eastern is coming off a 3-8 finish last year that included a 3-5 record in Big Sky Conference play after losing all three of its non-conference games. Eastern head coach Paul Wulff is expecting his team to be championship contender once again after sharing the Big Sky Conference title in both 2005 and 2006 and advancing to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.
"I think there is a burning desire to get back to playing well and playing good football," he said. "That includes coaches and players. We have built enough expectations of success in our program that last year was not acceptable. We will prepare ourselves as well as we possibly can to come back this season and play better."
Eagles Are Still Youthful: Eastern enters the season with much more experience under its belt than last year, but the Eagles are still young. In the team's opener against Montana-Western, only three seniors were in the team's starting lineup on defense and four were on the starting offense.
All four of those seniors on offense are linemen as Eastern returns a pair of past All-Americans (Matt Alfred in 2005 and Rocky Hanni in 2004), as well another All-Big Sky tackle in Zach Wasielewski. The lone non-starting senior on the offensive line, Julian Stewart, is academically ineligible to play in 2007 and has been replaced by freshman redshirt Brice Leahy. Leahy or sophomore Chris Thomas are expected to start at left tackle this week versus UC Davis.
"That was a little bit of a hit, but we do have some experience there and it is an area that needs to be a strength," said Wulff of losing Stewart. "They are a group that should play well and get us out of the gate and play well early. There is a lot of pressure on those guys to perform well."
Eastern's offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols and five other sophomores expected to play key roles as offensive skill players. They include wide receivers Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce, Jeffrey Solomon and Brynsen Brown, as well as tight end Nathan Overbay.
"All of those youthful players have good experience," Wulff said. "We are still going to be a youthful football team, but I do believe we should be a good football team. How fast we grow as the season progresses is really going to be the indicator of how well we end up doing at the end of the season."
Wide Receiver Quartet Ahead of Previous Quartet: Eastern's returning receiving corp includes a senior and five sophomores who are learning their trade via trial by fire. Three of the sophomores - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006. Jeffrey Solomon added seven catches as a true freshman.
Those four young players are reminders 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 those players 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.
"They are not at that level yet, but at the same stage of their careers, they are clearly ahead of those guys," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of his Corp of sophomore receivers. "Whether they can continue to make themselves better and get them to play at a higher level, that remains to be seen. But there is talent there, and if they are mature about how they handle their business, then they have a chance to really improve. As much as the coaches drive them and push them, ultimately it's their responsibility to make themselves better athletes, better players and ultimately better people."
Six Players Make Starting Debuts for Eagles: Just six players made their starting debuts for Eastern Washington when the Eagles hosted Montana-Western on Aug. 31. However, EWU also had a new kicker, punter and return players to go along with a new starter at running back.
Powell is a junior two-year letter winner who graduated in 2004 from Shadle Park High School in Spokane, Wash. Hatch is a sophomore from Freeman (Wash.) High School, and lettered as a backup and special teams player last year. Hosley is a 2005 graduate of Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash.
A freshman redshirt, Leahy is a 2006 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, the same school that produced All-America guard Matt Alfred (2003 graduate). Overbay, whose uncle Lyle Overbay plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, is from Chehalis, Wash., and graduated in 2005 from W.F. West High School. Martin, a freshman redshirt from La Crosse-Washtucna (Wash.) High School, made his debut when the Eagles started in a two tight end formation.
Hatch and Leahy are taking the place of returning veterans who have to miss the season. Offensive tackle Julian Stewart is academically ineligible and free safety Gregor Smith will miss the year with a nagging shoulder injury.
Besides those new starters, Eastern has new special teams players. Taking over at kicker is Felipe Macias, a junior college transfer from Moorpark College in California. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton takes over at punter, and new returners include Dante Calcote (kickoffs and punts), Ira Jarmon (kickoffs) and Shane Eller (punts).
And listed at running back are familiar faces, including Alexis Alexander. The former minor league baseball player started the 2006 season as a fullback and will share running back duties with Dale Morris and Toke Kefu. Morris is the starter after missing 12 games his first two seasons because of injuries, which limited him to just one start each season. Kefu is listed as the team's fullback and is backed-up by Alexander, who earned second team All-Big Sky honors in 2006.
Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2007 season:
Defense (91 starts by 17 players): Greg Peach 17, Bryan Jarrett 15, Jason Belford 13, Ira Jarmon 12, Lance Witherspoon 9, Gregor Smith 7, Makai Borden 4, Anthony Dotson 3, Josh Jacobson 2, Marcus Walker 2, Shawn Powell 1, Kevin Hatch 1, Lonnie Hosley 1, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Jared Kuhl 1, Dezmon Cole 1 (includes one start on offense).
Offense (176 starts by 20 players): Rocky Hanni 34, Matt Alfred 34, Zach Wasielewski 23, Chris Carlsen 11, Aaron Boyce 11, Matt Nichols 11, Charlie Wulff 11, Brynsen Brown 8, Tony Davis 6, Alexis Alexander 6, Tom McAndrews 5, Julian Stewart 4, Dale Morris 3, Toke Kefu 3, Brice Leahy 1, Nathan Overbay 1, Matt Martin 1, Shane Eller 1, Jeffrey Solomon 1, Ryan Forney 1.
Starting Experience Leads to Wins: Returning starts -- and the experience that goes along with them -- can sometimes be a good gauge of how many wins can be expected on the field.
The Eagles entered the 2007 season with 31 players returning with starting experience and a total of 245 starts. Of the total, just 80 were on the defensive side and 165 were by offensive players. By contrast, the Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them.
The Eagles entered the 2005 season with 23 players with starting experience (280 total starts). Just five players made their starting debuts for the Eagles in the season opener, but 13 made starting debuts after that because of a large amount of injuries the Eagles suffered.
The Eagles opened the 2004 season with 29 players with starting experience (271 starts), and in 2003 they had 28 players with starting experience (168 starts). However, Eastern had just 17 players with a combined 108 starts between them entering the 2002 season.
In both the 2003 and 2004 season openers, the Eagles had six new starters in the lineup. In 2002, 13 players made starting debuts in Eastern's 38-2 loss at Arizona State.
Below is a breakdown by year of the returning starters Eastern has had and the record the Eagles ended up with.
Year - Players With Starting Experience - Total Starts - New Starters in Opener - Record
2007 - 31 - 245 - ? - ?
2006 - 25 - 225 - 5 - 3-8 (total of 21 new starters used during the year)
2005 - 23 - 280 - 5 - 7-5 (total of 18 new starters used during the year)
2004 - 29 - 271 - 6 - 9-4
2003 - 28 - 168 - 6 - 6-5
2002 - 17 - 108 - 13 - 6-5
*** Eastern has been picked to finish fifth in the league by both the media and coaches. Although Montana has won or shared every Big Sky title since 1998, Wulff expects another challenging season in which any team can compete for the league title. Last year Eastern lost three of its league games by a combined total of 14 points. "That's an indication of how this league has evolved," said Wulff. "There used to be the obvious two or three teams that could line-up, play pretty good and win. This league is not like that now. You have to play pretty darn well each week just to have a chance to win."
*** Eastern returns a pair of the best offensive linemen in the league in guard Matt Alfred (6-3, 300) and tackle Rocky Hanni (6-5, 290). Hanni was a first team All-Big Sky and All-America selection in 2004, and Alfred followed suit in 2005. Both earned second team All-BSC honors in 2006 and have started 33 games each. Hanni was the Big Sky's Newcomer of the Year as a freshman in 2004, the only time in the history of the league (the award has existed for 29 years) that the honor has gone to an offensive lineman. Both have earned pre-season All-America honors in 2007. Alfred, who missed much of EWU's preseason practices with a knee injury, was honored by College Sporting News and was a second team pick by The Sports Network. Hanni was honored as a third team pick by TSN and Alfred was the lone Eagle selected to the All-Big Sky Conference preseason squad as selected by the league.
*** As a fullback new to the EWU program in 2006, Alexis Alexander earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was honored as the team's Offensive Player of the Year. Now, he's also expected to see action at running back entering the 2007 season. He started six games last season at fullback, including the last five games of the season. He made his Eagle debut against Oregon State (8/31/06) when he played in his first football game in six years dating back to his senior season in high school in 2000. He originally came to Eastern as a linebacker after transferring from Washington State University. He was a defensive scout team player in 2004 for the Cougars after going from receiver to defensive back to linebacker. He was an 18th-round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft. He hit .225 in 355 career at bats, with five home runs and 22 stolen bases. He spent the 2002 season with the Spokane Indians of the Class A Northwest League. Alexander graduated from Medical Lake HS in 2001.
*** Three of Eastern's returning players earned second team All-Big Sky honors a year ago -- offensive linemen Matt Alfred and Rocky Hanni and fullback Alexis Alexander. Players returning that earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors a year ago include offensive tackle Zach Wasielewski, defensive end Greg Peach, wide receiver Tony Davis and special teams standout Nicholas Ramos. Safeties Gregor Smith and Bryan Jarrett earned All-Big Sky honors previously but missed much of the 2006 season with injuries.
*** Eastern's defense was spectacular at times in 2006, but certainly wasn't consistent. Eastern allowed 33, 34 and 44 points in three of its five league losses, but allowed just 16 points total - 0, 6 and 10 - in its three victories. Eastern followed its first shutout in 215 games (34-0 over Northern Colorado) by falling victim to its first shutout in 205 games (34-0 to Portland State) in the very next outing for the Eagles.
*** Fans received a glimpse in the spring of the twists new offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy has added to Eastern's offensive attack. Lots of different offensive sets were on display in an effort to get the ball in the hands of playmakers. Notably, those productive playmakers in the spring were Tony Davis, Jeffrey Solomon and Jesse Hoffman. Hoffman has since moved to a safety position because of the team's depth at running back and lack of depth in the secondary. Solomon may redshirt because of a back ailment.
*** Success starts up front, and plenty of experience returns on the offensive line. In fact, seven players have a combined 118 starts between them. Matt Alfred (34) and Rocky Hanni (34) have started since they were freshmen, Zach Wasielewski (23) has started two seasons and centers Chris Carlsen (11) and Charlie Wulff (11) have started a full season each.
*** Quarterback Matt Nichols returns after starting Eastern's last 10 games as a redshirt freshman. He completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,749 yards, but had a school-record 17 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. Eastern averaged just 108 yards per game rushing in 2006, and hopes to improve those numbers considerably this season. A trio of experienced running backs return, led by injury-plagued junior Dale Morris, senior Toke Kefu and fullback-turned-running back Alexis Alexander.
*** Besides Nichols, Davis, Brown, Boyce and Solomon, tight end Nathan Overbay helps form Eastern's "Sensational Sophomore Six" on offense. Overbay, the nephew of Major League Baseball star Lyle Overbay of the Toronto Blue Jays, is poised for a big second season in an Eagle uniform after catching a pair of passes as a freshman. It would have been the "Sensational Sophomore Seven" had Jesse Hoffman remained on offense.
*** Senior guard Matt Alfred's younger brother Kenny Alfred currently plays as a lineman at Washington State. Matt graduated from Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School in 2003 and Kenny graduated from Gig Harbor in 2005. Matt's fellow starting lineman Brice Leahy is a 2006 graduate of Gig Harbor. The Alfred brothers' father, David, played at Western Washington. David and his wife Claudia attended 19 of 23 of the games their sons played in the 2006 season, however, sometimes they had to separate so at least one of them could attend games on the same weekend. Matt entered the 2007 season with a string of 33-straight starts for the Eagles. In 2006 he earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was named to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the third time. In 2005 he earned first team All-America honors from The Sports Network and second team All-America honors from the Associated Press. He was also a first team selection on the Football Gazette All-West Region squad and earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. As a freshman in 2004, he was a second team All-Big Sky Conference selection as an offensive guard.
*** Senior safety Bryan Jarrett hopes to put an injury-plagued 2006 season behind him. He started Eastern's first three games and last three games in 2006 at free safety, and finished the season with 48 tackles despite missing two games and five starts with an ankle injury. He had 16 tackles in back-to-back games late in the season versus Northern Arizona (10/28/06) and Weber State (11/4/06), finishing with a season-high nine stops against the Wildcats. As a junior, he earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He started Eastern's last eight games at whip safety, taking over for injured starter Gregor Smith and then never relinquishing his position. Jarrett played the 2003 season at Western Washington University where he started four of the nine games he played.
*** Junior college transfer Felipe Macias won the starting kicking job over freshmen redshirts Craig Danielson and Matt Pierce. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton will handle punting duties. They replace two of the best kickers in school history -- Brett Bergstrom and Ryan Donckers. Bergstrom kicked a school-record 15 field goals in 2007, including three of 50 yards or longer, to become the only Eagle in 2006 to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. Donckers averaged 42.4 yards per punt as a senior to rank third in school history, and his career average of 40.5 also ranks third.
*** Tight end Tom McAndrews has maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average in four years at Eastern. The 2003 graduate of Mead High School near Spokane has been used mainly as a blocking tight end at EWU. He enters his senior season with 12 career catches for 125 yards and is looking for his first touchdown as an Eagle.
*** Four Eastern seniors -- offensive guard Matt Alfred, center Chris Carlsen, running back Toke Kefu and tight end Tom McAndrews -- could earn their fourth-straight Big Sky All-Academic selection at the conclusion of the 2007 season. All four have been honored three times previously.
*** The injury woes of safety Gregor Smith and running back Dale Morris have seemingly gone in different directions. Smith will miss the 2007 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder that had already kept the 2003 graduate of nearby Lakeside High School (Nine Mile Falls, Wash.) out of 11 of 36 EWU games in his career. A second team All-Big Sky special teams selection as a freshman in 2004, Eastern is 15-10 in the 25 games he has played. In the 11 games he has missed, Eastern is 4-7. Morris, the brother of Seattle Seahawks running back Maurice Morris, missed 12 of a possible 23 games in his first two seasons as an Eagle with a painful Lisfranc foot sprain. However, he appears to be at full strength again after bio-mechanics rehabilitation to help the foot become flexible again and distribute weight evenly to the metatarsals.
*** A trio of Eagles have some noteworthy coaching relatives. Center Charlie Wulff is the nephew of Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. The father of linebacker Marcus Walker is Washington State University assistant coach Mike Walker. And punter Fritz Brayton, a transfer from WSU has three notable relatives. His father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at WSU from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL.
*** Eastern's new coaches in 2007 include offensive line coach Tom Ackerman, a former EWU All-American who spent eight years in the NFL. New offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy won 85 games as a head coach at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, and among his assistants there were current EWU defensive coordinator Jody Sears and former EWU offensive coordinator and current WSU quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach. In addition, former Cal Poly quarterback Chris Peterson has joined Eastern as running backs coach. Veteran Eastern coach Joe Wade has moved to wide receivers, Sears will coach defensive ends, Jeff Schmedding coaches safeties and Travis Niekamp has added special teams coordination to his coaching duties.
*** While at Puyallup (Wash.) High School, linebacker Makai Borden received recruiting interest from BYU, which is EWU's Oct. 20 opponent. His father Randy Borden played at BYU-Hawaii before shattering his wrist longboarding (surfing). A LDS family, Makai's mother also attended school at BYU-Hawaii.
Paul Wulff QUOTES
Wulff on Progress of Team: "This team continues to grow. We aren't there yet but we're on the right track. I think as we go along this year and in the next couple of years, this team is going to be pretty good."
Wulff on Not Having a Road Game Until the Third Game: "This the first time since I've been a head coach we've been able to do this. Hopefully in the long run it's going to be a benefit for us. Hopefully we will have matured enough as a team so that when we do have that first road trip we can handle it better."
Wulff on Alexis Alexander and Dale Morris: "They are emerging as our best ballcarriers. Toke Kefu gives us good balance in there with those two guys. We have a good chance to be very good at that position. But they have to stay healthy and to continue to work hard to get themselves in great condition. And our offensive line has some work to do but the makings are there. We have to get them rolling and executing a little better."
Wulff on Young Receivers: "They've worked hard and put themselves in a position to make a lot of improvement. Now it's about producing on game day. We expect big things from them and we should. They have some youth, but they also have some experience. We are going to need them to make plays. Tony Davis is going to do a lot of different things. I think that fits his talent."
Wulff on Loss of Gregor Smith: "It's a big loss. Gregor was clearly one of our best defensive players. We move on and new guys step-up. We moved Jesse Hoffman over to safety, along with his brother Shane, to fill that void. Hopefully that will give us some young talent and depth there. Jesse has a shot to compete for a starting spot and really help this team. We have some veteran experience and need to develop the backups. But at the same time, we need about five safeties that have the ability to step in and not miss a beat. Right now we have only about two or three."
Wulff on Applying for Sixth Year for Gregor Smith: "We don't even have the results from his MRI yet to know exactly what the possibility is to get himself healthy again. We have to go back through and look at all the time he's missed -- counting this year. I don't know all the rules and details yet to see if he qualifies for a sixth year, but I would like to think he does and we will apply for it."
Wulff on New Offensive Line Starter Brice Leahy: "He's doing well. He has some work to do but he has made a lot of progress in practice. Rocky moved back to guard and may play some tackle depending on how other linemen are playing. Our offensive line is coming along, although we still aren't where we need to be. We are making strides but we just need to make them faster."
Wulff on Special Teams: "I do feel comfortable with our special teams personnel. We've made a lot of changes there, and now we have a lot of starters on special teams to improve our quality. Special teams is a huge, huge factor, especially now with kickoffs (moved to the 30-yard line). You have opportunities for some great kickoff returns and you face the challenge of covering kickoffs. It's so critical to have quality personnel on those units."
Wulff on Alexander Earning Repetitions at Running Back: "He's handled it great -- he gets to carry the ball more. It was becoming clearer that when we put the ball in his hands more good things happen. It's something we've thought about over the summer and has evolved in camp. We have to get the ball in his hands. He's good enough to catch it and good enough to run it. As long as he keeps producing and playing at a high level he's going to carry the ball. We'll make sure he helps this football team and he clearly does. He's a tough guy to tackle."
Wulff on Dale Morris: "So far Dale is healthy and getting in football shape. He's missed a tremendous amount of football -- it's basically been a year since he even put his pads on. But anybody who misses a year in their sport is going to be a little rusty. Hopefully as the season progresses we'll see him continue to improve and break off a lot of that rust. He's doing a nice job in camp to get himself in shape."
2005 Revisited -- #19 Eastern Washington 24, UC-Davis 7: The Eastern Washington football team took care of its business Nov. 19, 2005, with its 100th win all-time at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., but the heavy duty work was performed by Montana State.
The Bobcats upended Montana 16-6 in Bozeman, Mont., giving the Eagles a share of the Big Sky Conference title with the Grizzlies and Bobcats, and the automatic berth in the I-AA Playoffs. The Eagles won the automatic berth by virtue of a season sweep over Montana and Montana State.
It was the second-straight Big Sky Conference title for the Eagles, who defeated top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Southern Illinois in the first round of the playoffs in 2004.
Eastern, meanwhile, scored four-straight times in the first half and defeated UC-Davis 24-7 in a non-conference game in fog-shrouded Cheney, Wash. The Eagles found out the outcome of the MSU-UM game in the second quarter, then rested many of its starters in the second half.
Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer, who would go on to win the Payton Award, left the game for good late in the second quarter after completing 11-of-19 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he had a 67-yard run on his only carry of the game that set-up an Eagle score.
All-America wide receiver Eric Kimble also left the game before halftime after finishing with five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown gave him 44 in his career and moved him into second behind the 50 of Jerry Rice on the I-AA all-time pass receptions touchdowns list.
Eastern punted on its first possession, then scored touchdowns on drives of 45, 80 and 78 yards. A 38-yard field goal by Sheldon Weddle capped a 50-yard scoring drive and gave Eastern a 24-0 lead at halftime.
"We needed to win today," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "I didn't want to pull our starters immediately, I thought it might mess the rhythm of the game up, so we just tried to play the first half as smart as we could. You can't be too cautious -- we still needed to win. We thought that if we could go into the half up 24-0 then we could try a different offense, get a few first downs and keep our lead."
UC Davis scored its only touchdown on a 50-yard interception return by Nolan De Graff in the third quarter. Eastern finished with 329 yards of total offense, while UC Davis finished with 308.
Senior linebacker Jake Young, filling in for the injured David Eneberg, led the Eagles with 13 tackles and had an interception. Nick Denbeigh added nine tackles and a pass broken up, and Isaiah Trufant had five tackles with the 11th interception in his career to move him into sixth in school history.
"I think we played solid, but we slowed down a little in the second half and pulled a lot of guys out," added Wulff. "We played great defense -- we shut them out and we played a great game."
EAGLES IN PRO FOOTBALL
Three Players Remain on NFL Rosters: Michael Roos (Tennessee Titans), running back Jesse Chatman (Miami Dolphins) and defensive end Keith Grennan (San Diego Chargers) all secured spots on NFL teams when final cuts were announced in early September in the 2007 season. Roos and Chatman are on the active roster and Grennan is a practice squad player.
In his team's 2007 opener, Chairman rushed seven times for 15 yards and caught six passes for 48 yards in an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Roos helped the Titans rush for a club-record 282 yards in a 13-10 win over Jacksonville.
Former Eastern football star Erik Meyer was one of seven former Eagles who started the 2007 season with NFL teams. The others three were kicker Brett Bergstrom (New Orleans Saints), safety Brandon Keeler (Arizona Cardinals) and offensive lineman Harrison Nikolao (Cincinnati Bengals). Those three, as well as Grennan, were rookies after playing for Eastern in 2006.
Meyer capped a record-breaking year in NFL Europa by signing a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks during the summer. He attended Seattle's training camp in Kirkland, Wash., in August, a camp that formerly took place in EWU's hometown of Cheney, Wash.
A year ago, Meyer was with Cincinnati before getting cut and Eric Kimble was with Miami. Kimble suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and missed the 2006 season, then was released on March 1, 2007.
Other current pros include Jesse Hendrix who is now in Montreal of the Canadian Football League, along with fellow Alouettes Luke Fritz and Dario Romero. Lamont Brightful started the 2007 season with Montreal and is now with Calgary. Other former Eagles still active in the CFL are Ryan Phillips (British Columbia) and Bashir Levingston (Toronto). Isaiah Trufant is in the ArenaFootball League, joining the Kansas City Brigade in 2007 after playing for the Spokane Shock in af2. Raul Vijil is a current member of the Shock, and other current af2 players include Josh Blankenship (Tulsa Talons) and Muhammad Shamsid-Deen (Tri-Cities Fever).
Several former EWU coaches have also spent time in the professional ranks, including Jimmy Lake, Jim McElwain, Keith Murphy, Randy Hansen, Bill Diedrick Jr., and Aaron Best. Diedrick, a 2007 inductee into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame, and Best are now offensive coaches for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL.
Chatman "Hot" in Sports Illustrated: Former Eastern running back Jesse Chatman, now with the Miami Dolphins, was listed in the "Who's Hot" section in the Aug. 20 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. Here's what the magazine had to say about Chatman, who rushed for 4,173 yards and 53 touchdowns from 1999-2001 at Eastern:
Running back Jesse Chatman gained 392 yards (on just 65 carries) for the Chargers in 2004. Then he gained 50 pounds and missed two seasons. Now looking svelte in a Dolphins uni, he broke off a 74-yard TD run last Saturday. Chatman: "I'm not going to take this for granted."
In two preseason games thus far, Chatman is Miami's leading rusher with 107 yards on 14 carries and the leading receiver with five catches for 43 yards. He is listed as the team's No. 2 running back behind Ronnie Brown.
Meyer Sets NFL Europa Completion Percentage Record That Will Never Be Broken: Former Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer completed 68.8 percent of his passes in the 2007 season for the Cologne Centurions, setting a NFL Europa record that will never be broken. Shortly after the season ended, the National Football League decided to cease existence of the league.
Meyer led the Centurions to a 6-4 record. He ranked second among NFLE quarterbacks with a passer rating of 101.1. He completed 141-of-241 passes for 1,612 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Meyer also added 138 rushing yards and one touchdown. Shortly after the season, he signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.
He was NFL Europa's Player of the Week after his performance for the Cologne Centurions in a key victory over the Amsterdam Admirals on June 9. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions during Cologne's 31-13 victory. That performance gave him a league-best quarterback rating of 138.1 in the game, edging his previous league-best performance of 136.9 earlier this season against Berlin.
He earned the starting position in week three with a 14-6 victory over the Rhein Fire. At the time, the win moved the Centurions into second place in the standings behind the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy.
While at EWU, Meyer was named the Big Sky Offensive MVP in 2004 and 2005 and his senior year was named the Walter Payton Award winner. He helped lead Eastern to back-to-back Big Sky Conference co-championships and two NCAA Championship Subdivision playoff berths.
He broke the NCAA Championship Subdivision record for efficiency rating (166.5) by quarterbacks with at least 400 completions. He had 10,261 yards and 84 touchdowns in 42 career games.
Blankenship Helps Tulsa Advance to ArenaCup8 Title: Former Eastern quarterback Josh Blankenship helped the Tulsa Talons to the championship game of the af2 indoor football league. However, a mid-season injury made his contribution minimal after leading Tulsa to victories in its first seven games of the season. Tulsa won the title with a 73-66 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Blankenship did not play.
Blankenship, who earned honorable mention All-America honors and was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year for EWU in 2002, passed for 43 touchdowns in those first seven games before suffering a foot injury (strained arch support). He played in just five games after that as Justin Allgood took over as the starter and has held that position ever since. In 12 games, Blankenship has completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,365 yards, 54 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Tulsa is 17-2 this season, including three playoff victories.
MORE SEASON NOTES
Eagles Play Six Home Football Games: Eastern will open a six-game home schedule on Friday, Aug. 31, with a non-conference home game versus Montana-Western. After a bye week, Eastern plays another non-conference game against UC Davis on Sept. 15.
Big Sky Conference play begins at Idaho State on Sept. 22, followed by the EWU Athletics Hall of Fame Game on Sept. 29 against Portland State. After playing at Montana on Oct. 6, Eastern hosts Montana State on Oct. 13.
A difficult road trip at NCAA Division I Bowl Division (formerly I-A) member Brigham Young follows on Oct. 20, then the Eagles play at Sacramento State on Oct. 27. Eastern's Homecoming game is Nov. 3 against Northern Colorado, and the Eagles conclude the regular season with a road game at Northern Arizona on Nov. 10 and a home game versus Weber State on Nov. 17.
Last season, Eastern finished 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference with a schedule that included two NCAA Division I Bowl Division members West Virginia and Oregon State. The Eagles, young and inexperienced at several positions including quarterback and wide receiver, closed the year with a convincing 40-6 victory over Idaho State.
Eastern is 7-0 all-time against Western Montana, but hasn't played the Bulldogs since 1982 when both were affiliated with NAIA. Montana-Western is still a NAIA member while Eastern is now a member of the NCAA Division I Championship Division (formerly I-AA).
UC-Davis is also in the NCAA Division I Championship Division and is a member of the Great West Conference. The Aggies, who were 6-5 in 2006, will be eligible for the postseason for the first time since 2002 when it was still a member of NCAA Division II. In the only meeting between the two teams, Eastern beat UC Davis 24-6 on Nov. 19, 2005, at fog-shrouded Woodward Field.
Brigham Young finished the 2006 season ranked 15th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 16th in the Associated Press top 25. The Cougars won their final 10 games, including a 38-8 victory over Oregon in the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl to finish the season with an 11-2 record.
The Cougars finished the season ranked fourth nationally in passing offense (323.5 yards per game) and total offense (465.5). The BYU offense also ranked fifth in scoring offense with an average of 36.8 points per game. Additionally, the Cougars had a 167.08 passing efficiency rating on the season to rank second nationally.
Defensively, the Cougars finished the season ranked 10th in scoring defense, allowing just 14.7 points per game. BYU ranked 16th in passing efficiency defense (106.2) and 38th in total defense (319.2).
Since 1982 when it became a member of NCAA Division II (the Eagles became a I-AA team in 1983), Eastern is now 8-13 all-time versus Bowl Division teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus I-A foes. Eastern has lost its last four since beating Idaho 8-5 in 2003.
Montana is the defending Big Sky Conference champion, a title it has won outright or shared for the past nine seasons. The Grizzlies advanced to the playoffs for a record 14th straight season, and won twice in the playoffs before falling to Massachusetts 19-17 in the semifinals. Montana finished its season ranked third in The Sports Network poll with a 12-2 record.
Montana State won its first playoff game in 22 years, downing Furman 31-13 in the first round in Bozeman. The Bobcats' season came to an end with a 38-17 loss at eventual national champion Appalachian State. Montana State finished its season 8-5, and ranked 10th in The Sports Network poll.
Eagles Picked to Finish Fifth in Big Sky: The Eastern football team has been picked to finish fifth in the 2007 Big Sky Conference football season as the preseason polls were released July 16 at the league's Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
Eastern is coming off a 3-8 season in 2006 that included a 3-5 record in the Big Sky. Eastern finished in a tie for sixth in the 2006 league race after being picked to place second by the coaches and sixth by the media.
This season, Eastern returns 13 starters and a total of 46 letter winners. Picked to finish exactly in the middle of the nine-team league, Eastern was picked to finish behind Montana, Portland State, Montana State and Northern Arizona. The Eagles were picked ahead of Weber State, Sacramento State, Idaho State and Northern Colorado.
"That doesn't bother me at all, and I don't think it bothers anybody else on our team at all," said EWU senior safety Gregor Smith. "It's that record at the end of the season that shows how you do."
Smith, a 2003 graduate of Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls, Wash., was EWU's player representative at the media gathering and meetings in Park City.
Alfred, Hanni Honored on Preseason All-America Teams: Senior offensive guard Matt Alfred has been selected to a pair of preseason NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision All-America football teams. He was a member of the College Sporting News squad, and was a second team selection by The Sports Network. In addition, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Alfred was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team. Fellow offensive lineman Rocky Hanni was on the Sports Network's third team.
A 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, Alfred was an All-American in 2005 and has earned three previous postseason All-BSC honors at EWU (second team in 2004 and 2006 and first team in 2005). He enters the 2007 season with 33-straight starts as an Eagle.
Hanni earned All-America honors as a freshman in 2004 when he was the Big Sky Conference's Newcomer of the Year. He has also started 33 games at Eastern.
Former 1,000-Yard Rusher Among New Hall of Fame Members: Five individuals and two teams will comprise the eighth class of inductees into the Eastern Washington University Athletics Hall of Fame in ceremonies that will take place on Sept. 29, 2007, in Cheney, Wash.
The new inductees include record-setting All-West Coast fullback Meriel Michelson, who held the school's career rushing record for nearly 40 years. He finished with 2,517 yards, including the school's first 1,000-yard season as he led Eastern to 29 victories and three conference titles. He had 1,049 in 1950 when he led the nation in rushing and was selected to the United Press Little All-West Coast team. Michelson, who was a counselor and teacher in Pasco, Wash., for more than 30 years, passed away recently on July 18 after a battle with lung cancer.
The other individual inductees include All-America cross country and track standout Kari McKay and former gymnastics coach and long-time supporter Thorne Tibbitts. The other two individual inductees were members of Eastern's highly-successful volleyball program in the late 90's -- player Kim Exner and her coach Pamela Parks, who has been a fixture for more than 30 years in the Eastern athletic department.
Two teams will also be inducted as Eastern celebrates the 25th anniversary of the school's 1982 NCAA Division II cross country title and the 30th anniversary of the 1977 NAIA wrestling championship.
Established in 1996, this year's inductees will bring to the total number of individuals in the Hall of Fame to 40 and teams to five. More information may be found at: http://goeags.cstv.com/hallfame.
The inductees will be honored with a social that starts at 10 a.m. on Sept. 29 at the Pence Union Building. The public is invited to attend (RSVP to 509-359-2463 or 1-800-648-7697).
Recipients will also be honored at the volleyball match against Northern Arizona that starts at 1 p.m. at Reese Court, and EWU's football game with Portland State that begins at 6:05 p.m. at Woodward Field.
The induction is part of the All Athletes Reunion and Hall of Fame Weekend at EWU. More information may obtained at: http://www.ewu.edu/x49735.xml.
McKay was an All-American in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 NCAA Track & Field Championships and also made two appearances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. The graduate of nearby Almira (Wash.) High School went on to a successful road-racing running career, including a string of six-straight years as the top area female finisher at the annual Lilac Bloomsday race.
Tibbitts has been recognized as one of 34 "pioneers" of the sport of gymnastics in the State of Washington. He coached Eastern to a second-place finish at the 1965 NAIA Championships, and helped lay the groundwork for the school's future success in that sport. He has been a fixture in Cheney ever since, and has been a huge supporter and contributor to the athletic department.
Exner led Eastern to 46 victories in her last two seasons (1997 and 1998), including a NCAA Tournament berth and co-Big Sky Conference title. Twice she was the league's MVP and earned All-Region VIII honors as she finished her career with school and Big Sky records for kills (1,860). Formerly from Vernon, B.C., she is married to former Eastern and current Washington State assistant football coach Timm Rosenbach.
Parks began her legacy at Eastern as a volleyball player, then won 291 matches in 18 seasons as the school's head coach. In her tenure, Eastern had six 20 victory seasons, won two Big Sky Conference regular season titles, one BSC tournament title and advanced to three NCAA Tournaments. She remains on staff as an associate athletic director.
Timing Rule Changes Rescinded: Two timing rules put into effect in 2006 were rescinded for the 2007 season. The changes were originally designed to speed up play, but as a result provided for less plays in the game as the game clock in 2006 was started sooner in several situations. In most circumstances the clock started on a change of possession on the ready-for-play signal instead of when the ball is snapped. It also started when the ball is kicked on free kicks (kickoffs), where previously it started when the ball was touched in play. In 2006, there were an average of 126.9 plays per game (both Eastern and its opponents). In 2005, there were an average of 147.0 plays and the year before that the average was 146.5.
Terms I-A and I-AA Eliminated: The terms I-A and I-AA are no longer being used by the NCAA in distinguishing teams in NCAA Division I football. Schools in I-A are now referred to as the "NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision" or "FBS" and I-AA will change to "NCAA Football Championship Subdivision" or "FCS." The Collegiate Commissioners Association helped develop the new labels and were approved by the NCAA Board of Directors.
The new term is designed to distinguish Division I institutions for purposes of governing football, the only sport for which such a distinction is necessary. Members felt the old nomenclature inaccurately tiered Division I institutions in all sports, not just football, and produced instances in which media outlets and other entities incorrectly cited institutions as being Division I-AA in basketball or baseball, for example.
"All Division I institutions, regardless of whether they sponsor football, are in fact and should be referred to as Division I members," said Board Chair and University of Connecticut President Philip Austin. "The only reasons for labeling are the need to distinguish the two football subdivisions for the purpose of governing the sport and to maintain separate statistics. The Board is stressing that the nomenclature reflect the totality of the Division I membership whenever possible and that the subdivision labels be used sparingly. Still, there are instances in which we need to use them, and we feel the new labels are more accurate."
Big Stat Totals in Spring: Eastern's starting and backup offensive units were impressive in four spring scrimmages (including the Red-White Game), with 1,598 total yards and an average of 7.2 yards per play. Offensive units rushed for 586 yards (5.2 per play) and completed 65 percent of their passes (72-of-111) for 1,012 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception.
Nichols, who started as a redshirt freshman a year ago, completed 38-of-58 passes (66 percent) for 591 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Junior backup Alex Smart completed 68 percent of his passes (28-of-41) for 335 yards, three scores and no picks. Smart had an impressive passing efficiency rating of 161.1, compared to 181.8 for Nichols. Third-string quarterback Jason Harris completed 6-of-12 passes for 86 yards.
Sophomore wide receiver Tony Davis was the team's big playmaker, catching 13 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing eight times for 134 yards and two more scores. Sophomore Jeffrey Solomon had 12 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown and rushed five times for 60 yards and a score.
The team's leading receiver was senior Shane Eller with 17 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Aaron Boyce added nine catches for 141 yards. Sophomore Nicholas Ramos added eight grabs for 100 yards and two scores.
Leading the running game was sophomore Jesse Hoffman with 124 yards on 25 carries (5.0 per carry) and one touchdown. Senior Toke Kefu had 27 rushes for 140 yards (5.2 per carry) and a touchdown. A.J. Jimerson played in two scrimmages, and had 75 yards on 16 carries (4.7 per carry) with a touchdown.
Defensively, sophomore safety Kevin Hatch had 17 tackles and a four passes broken up, and sophomore cornerback Lonnie Hosley had 14 stops with a pass broken up. Linebackers Shane Cooley and Jared Kuhl had 14 and 16 tackles, respectively. Cooley is a freshman and Kuhl is a senior.
Eagles Announce Spring Award Winners: Center Chris Carlsen from Poulsbo, Wash., was a double winner as EWU handed out awards at the conclusion of spring practice. The 2003 graduate of North Kitsap High School received one of four strength and conditioning awards handed out and was one of two recipients of "Iron Eagle" awards for academic and athletic achievement.
The "Iron Eagle" for defensive players was given to senior defensive back Ira Jarmon, a 2003 graduate of Clover Park HS in Lakewood, Wash. Others winning strength and conditioning awards were senior defensive back Bryan Jarrett from Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03), junior defensive end Greg Peach from Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS '05), and sophomore wide receiver Tony Davis from Olympia, Wash. (Capital HS '05).
Sturdy Takes Over as Offensive Coordinator: St. Ambrose University head football coach Todd Sturdy decided to leave his post to take the offensive coordinator position at Eastern, it was announced on March 13, 2007.
Sturdy was 85-40 in 12 seasons as head coach for SAU, which is located in Davenport, Iowa. Sturdy, 39, was selected as NAIA Region 2 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association after coaching the Fighting Bees to a perfect 10-0 regular season finish. The team's season came to an end with a 38-31 double-overtime loss to Morningside in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series.
Wulff has known Sturdy for seven years, dating back to when Timm Rosenbach joined the EWU coaching staff after a stint at St. Ambrose. Rosenbach is now the quarterbacks coach at Washington State University. Jody Sears also worked for Sturdy at St. Ambrose.
"He has a proven track record as an assistant and has accomplished even more as a head coach," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff. "I first met him seven years ago and it's a great fit. He's going to bring great leadership, passion and work ethic to our program. He's an excellent worker"
Besides serving as offensive coordinator, Wulff said Sturdy will also coach quarterbacks, assist with special teams and serve as the team's academic liaison. He replaced Beau Baldwin, who left Eastern to become head coach at Central Washington University.
Ackerman Joins EWU Coaching Staff: A former starter in the National Football League and one of the greatest offensive linemen in school history, Tom Ackerman took over as offensive line coach when preseason practices for the 2007 season began in mid-August.
Formerly from Nooksack, Wash., Ackerman played eight seasons in the NFL, including the first six with the New Orleans Saints and the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
Ackerman was the 145th pick overall in the 1996 NFL Draft and was the first offensive lineman in Washington and the Big Sky Conference to be taken. He was a third team All-American at EWU following his senior season in 1995.
"Tom will give us a great presence," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff, who came to Eastern in 1993. "I coached Tom when I first arrived here and spent three seasons with him. We see the exact same things and work well together. It will be great for our players."
He played in 105 career games in the NFL, including 21 as a starter. While in the NFL, he started and ran the Ack for Kids Foundation for five years, with proceeds benefiting children in his hometown and Whatcom County. Following his playing career, he returned to the Spokane area and has spent time in private business and as a football coach and strength coach. In 2007, he coached the offensive line for the Spokane Shock in arenafootball2.
Ackerman is a 1991 graduate of Nooksack Valley High School where he earned All-State honors in football as a linebacker and tight end. He started 32 games at Eastern, playing as a guard, tackle, center and long snapper. He earned third team All-America accolades and first team All-Big Sky honors as a senior, and was a second team All-BSC pick as a junior. The Eagles won 21 games in his four seasons, including the Big Sky Conference regular season title in 1992.
Ackerman was born Sept. 6, 1972, in Nooksack, and will turn 35 during Eastern's bye week in the 2007 schedule. He has three daughters - Riley (9), Lexi (8) and Avery (6). His brother T.J., who was an offensive lineman at Eastern and played briefly in the Canadian Football League, is now living in Ferndale, Wash. T.J. is selling real estate along with their father Jim, who is the current mayor of Nooksack.
Eagles to Play Colorado in 2008: Eastern has agreed to play the Colorado Buffaloes in the 2008 football season as Eastern will play its first-ever game against a Big 12 Conference foe. The game versus the member of the NCAA Bowl Subdivision (FBS) is scheduled for Sept. 6, 2008, in Boulder, Colo.
The Eagles will be just the second NCAA Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent for the Buffaloes, who were upset by Montana State 19-10 on Sept. 2, 2006. Colorado finished 2-10 a year ago under first-year head coach Dan Hawkins and has no FCS opponents on its 2007 schedule.
Colorado is one of three non-league games for the Eagles in 2008. Eastern is also scheduled to play at UC Davis on Sept. 13 and a lower-division home game against an opponent to be determined.
Eastern's eight Big Sky Conference games in 2008 begin Sept. 27 with a home game against Idaho State and conclude Nov. 22 at Weber State. Other league home games include Montana (Oct. 11), Sacramento State (Nov. 1) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 15).
Eastern opens its 2007 schedule at home against Montana-Western on Aug. 31 and plays UC Davis on Sept. 15. Other 2007 home games include Portland State (Sept. 29), Montana State (Oct. 13), Northern Colorado (Nov. 3) and Weber State (Nov. 17).
Eastern Football Shirts Get National TV Exposure: A simple trade made in summer 2006 in Finland turned out to be a pretty good swap for Eastern Washington University and the Eagle football team.
A pro football teammate of former Eagle Jake Young wore three different EWU football shirts in July 2007 on the hit CBS television reality show "Big Brother 8." Young, who now lives in Nampa, Idaho, after last playing for EWU's Big Sky Conference championship teams in 2004 and 2005, was simply shocked when he saw his former practice shirt on TV in early July.
"That sucker has my shirt on!," he yelled at his TV.
Nicholas Starcevic -- or Nick as he's know on the show -- is the contestant spreading Eastern to a world-wide audience. He appeared on the show for a month before finally being kicked out by his fellow housemates.
"Isn't that great?," Young said of the exposure EWU and the football team has received. "I knew he was going to be on TV, but I didn't know what show he was going to be on. Now I know where my clothes went -- he has three of my shirts."
Eastern's athletic logo on a helmet and "Eastern Washington" is prominent on one of the shirts, and Big Sky Conference Champions is on the back of another. The back of the third shirt includes the face of Young's former EWU teammate, quarterback Erik Meyer. That shirt commemorates the record-breaking season Meyer had in 2005 when he won the Walter Payton Award.
"We kept getting calls and e-mails from people saying they saw the shirt and wondered what former player of ours is on the show," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "I wish it was a former player because I would have been sending him more shirts and gear than he knew what to do with."
But just how did Starcevic end up with the shirts? At first, many people thought Nick played football at Eastern, but that was quickly dispelled when it was revealed that he was from Kimball, Minn., and played at Minnesota-Crookston. Listed by the show as a former professional football player, Nick's only professional experience came in the European Federation of American Football (EFAF) while playing for the Seinajoki Crocodiles in Finland.
His teammate in 2006 just happened to be Young, and they were two of the three Americans allowed to play on each team in that league. During their successful 11-2 season during the spring and summer months, Young and Starcevic became close friends. Before they departed back to their lives in the United States, they made a couple of trades.
"I have some of his gear and he has some of mine," Young said. "He's one of my best buddies. We had a good time together in Europe."
Young last talked to him this spring, but Starcevic couldn't say much. "But he told me something big was going to happen. He couldn't tell me anything because he said he had to take a lie detector test."
"I had the FBI or an agency like that contact me," Young said of what happened next. "I thought he was in trouble. It was a heckuva background check. Next thing I know, I see him on TV. I said, `oh my gosh!'"
Starcevic was a defensive back and linebacker for the Crocodiles, who finished second in the Maple League and fourth overall in the Euro League in 2006. Young played linebacker, quarterback and wide receiver -- "a little bit of everything," he said.
The third American on the squad was Maurice Drayton from The Citadel. Nick has been wearing a Citadel shirt on the show as well.
Young, who helped Kamiah (Idaho) High School win a State title as a senior in 2000, was impressed by the level of football played in Finland. But to see Nick listed as a pro football player in the show's biographical information elicited a chuckle out of Young.
"I laugh every time I see that," said Young. "But it was definitely pro football -- we got paid for it -- but it was really more like semi-pro football. It was probably comparable to (NCAA) Division II Football."
A backup throughout his career, Young played 23 games at Eastern and finished with 51 tackles, a sack and an interception he returned 46 yards. Eastern won Big Sky titles and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in both 2004 and 2005, but playing in Finland with Starcevic was yet another football experience Young will never forget.
He remembers a trip to Russia for a game in which he was selected the team's MVP in the victory. On that same trip, despite warnings to not drink the water, Starcevic didn't follow the directive and spent several days -- including during the game -- throwing up with the stomach flu.
"We had some wild times, definitely," Young said. "He was very goofy and one of the funniest people I've ever talked to. But he is also very smart and very athletic. He fits right in (on TV)."
Eastern's current TV exposure is similar to the exposure the school luckily received back in 1992. The Eagles were on a charter flight to play at Northern Iowa in the playoffs, and that same plane was scheduled to later pick-up president-elect Bill Clinton. That gave athletics marketing director Lee Yerty an idea.
Yerty, a former football teammate of Wulff's at Washington State University, gave a flight attendant an EWU hat and asked her to give it to Clinton. She did, and Clinton wore the hat soon after that during an appearance on a beach. Video and still photographs were shown nationwide, including a prominent photo in USA Today of Clinton wearing the hat.
Now, 15 years later, Eastern enjoyed good fortune again.
Young was a walk-on at Eastern, earned a partial scholarship for his junior season and was on full scholarship as a senior. Now, thanks to a trade in Finland, he has more than re-paid his debt to EWU.
"We owed Jake then, and we owe him now," said Wulff. "I guess Jake is a marketing genius for trading those shirts. It was fun to watch and see if Nick would wear our shirts on the show."
101st Win Was Long Time Coming: It took a long time for Eastern to record its 101st win at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. Eastern concluded the season with a 40-6 win over Idaho State after EWU lost its first four home games of the season at home. Eastern has never been winless at the current site of Woodward Field as the Eagles are now 101-51 there dating back to 1967. A 24-7 win over UC-Davis on Nov. 19, 2005, at the fog-shrouded stadium was Eastern's 100th victory at Woodward. The last time Eastern went winless at home came in 1962 when it finished 0-4 in Cheney and 0-1 at Spokane's Albi Stadium. The Eagles finished 0-8-1 that season.
Eagles in NCAA Statistics: Eastern finished the 2006 season ranked 77th out of 116 NCAA Championship Subdivision teams in total offense (310.3 yards per game). Eastern, which finished the previous two seasons ranked fourth nationally in offense, was 112th after three games in 2006 and its highest ranking of the year was 70th after seven games. Eastern also finished 86th in rushing (108.4), 34th in passing (201.9) and 77th in scoring (19.5).
Defensively, Eastern was 92nd in total defense (370.6) while ranking 99th in rushing defense (185.8), 87th in passing efficiency defense (134.9) and 91st in scoring defense (26.9). Eastern was 21st nationally with 14 interceptions. The Eagles were also ranked 28th nationally in net punting (34.0).
Kicker Brett Bergstrom, who was 15-of-18 kicking field goals, finished sixth in field goals (1.36 per game). Punter Ryan Donckers was 12th in punting with a 42.37 average. Quarterback Matt Nichols was 63rd in total offense with an average of 169.5 yards per game. Tony Davis finished 63rd in receiving (4.36 per game) and Greg Peach was 52nd in sacks (0.5 per game).
Eagle Tidbits From 2006: Eastern's streak of winning seasons came to an end at seven. The streak started in 1999, a year after Eastern began the season 0-3 but recovered well enough to finish 5-6. Eastern also started the 2006 season 0-3. In 1995, a young Eagle team finished 3-8 overall and 1-6 in the Big Sky. Two years later, in 1997, the Eagles finished 12-2, won the Big Sky with a 7-1 record and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs . . . Eastern set the school's single season attendance record in 2006 as Eastern averaged 7,116 in five home games (35,580 total). It broke the previous record average of 7,090 in 2005 (35,451 total in five home games). The largest crowd in Woodward Field history -- 11,583 -- attended the Eastern-Montana game on Oct. 7. The previous most came two years prior against the Grizzlies when 10,754 attended the game . . . Since coming off his redshirt year versus Montana State, Toke Kefu rushed for 281 yards and three touchdowns. He had 98 yards against Sacramento State and 93 versus Montana State, giving him four performances in his 31-game career of between 89 and 98 yards.
A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry: In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years -- including 2005 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 22-10-1. Eastern is 4-11-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 11 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.
Seven recent games in the series that have been decided by margins of 10 points or less are the exclamation points in a rivalry that has seen the Grizzlies come out on top 21 times in 32 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 653 yards of total offense in 1997 in a 40-35 win, and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 22 meetings the winning team has averaged 34.3 points. In six of those 22 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane's Albi Stadium in 2000.
As for suspense, that one's covered too. In 2004 Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002 Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana's record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the six matchups in the last 10 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally-ranked:
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34 at #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (overtime in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
EWU Play in Front of Largest Crowd in School History: Eastern's game versus West Virginia at sold-out Milan Puskar Stadium was attended by 59,504 fans -- the largest crowd by nearly 20,000 fans the Eagles have ever played against. The previous record was 39,581 set at Arizona State in 2002. Eastern's game at Oregon State is now the third-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 12 crowds in excess of 20,000 the Eagles have ever played against.
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
59,504 - at West Virginia - Sept. 9, 2006 - :L, 3-52
39,581 - at Arizona State - Aug. 31, 2002 - L, 2-38
38,071 - at Oregon State - Aug. 31, 2006 - L, 17-56
34,389 - at Air Force - Sept. 11, 2004 - L, 20-42
30,782 - at Oregon State - Sept. 2, 2000 - L, 19-21
27,323 - at U.S. International - Oct. 28, 1967 - W, 44-19
25,493 - at Boise State - Oct. 14, 2000 - L, 23-41
23,739 - at Montana - Oct. 15, 2005 - W, 34-20
23,329 - at Montana - Nov. 15, 2003 - L, 10-41
21,981 - at Boise State - Oct. 9, 1999 - L, 7-41
21.487 - at Boise State - Sept. 21, 1991 - L, 17-31
21,145 - at San Diego State - Aug. 30, 2003 - L, 9-19
Eagles Versus Football Bowl Subdivision Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of NCAA Division II (the Eagles became a Football Championship Subdivision team in 1983), Eastern is now 8-13 all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus FBS foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games FBS members since 1983.
Year - Opponent - Result
1983 - Cal State-Long Beach - W, 20-17
1985 - at Cal State-Long Beach - W, 30-23
1986 - at Cal State-Long Beach - L, 34-35
1990 - at #10 Houston - L, 21-84
1994 - at Utah State - W, 49-31
1996 - at Boise State - W, 27-21
1996 - at Idaho - L, 27-37
1997 - Idaho - W, 24-21
1998 - at Idaho - L, 14-31
1999 - Idaho - L, 21-48
1999 - at Boise State - L, 7-41
2000 - at Oregon State - L, 19-21
2000 - at Boise State - L, 23-41
2001 - at Connecticut - W, 35-17
2002 - at Arizona State - L, 2-38
2003 - at San Diego State - L, 9-19
2003 - at Idaho - W, 8-5
2004 - at Air Force - L, 20-42
2005 - at San Jose State - L, 21-35
2006 - at Oregon State - L, 17-56
2006 - at #6 West Virginia - L, 3-52
2007 - at Brigham Young
Eastern Surrenders Lots of Points, But Doesn't Cough Up Ball Against Mountaineers: Although Eastern was out-scored 108-20 in the two games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, the Eagles improved significantly in turnovers from one game to the next.
Against Oregon State, Eastern fumbled away the ball on the second offensive play of the game, then had three more turnovers in its next six possessions. The Beavers turned three of them into touchdowns en route to a 35-0 lead after the first 19 minutes of the game.
Eastern had just one turnover against West Virginia, and none of them were fumbles. An interception thrown by Matt Nichols was Eastern's only miscue as EWU made the Mountaineers earn their points.
"We'll see how we respond from it as the season goes along," Wulff said of playing at West Virginia a week after playing OSU. "I think it was great for our players. I'm a big picture kind of guy -- I'm not always looking at whether we win all the time because there are a lot of other factors in life. Our players had a great experience coming across the country, and played good, hard football and lost."
"We are going to learn from it," he added. "We have a chance to win a conference championship and compete for a national championship in the (Football Championship Subdivision). Those are our program goals, and this game gave us a flavor of how to play at a high, high level. We need to do that."
Eagles Play Nationally-Ranked Football Bowl Subdivision Opponent for Second Time: Playing the likes of nationally-ranked West Virginia was virtually uncharted territory for the Eagles. Eastern is 7-13 all-time versus NCAA Football Bowl Division schools, and the only other time the Eagles played a ranked FBS opponent came in 1990 when Eastern fell 84-21 to Houston. That game was played in the Houston Astrodome as the Cougars finished the season ranked 10th in the Associated Press poll.
Eastern lost 52-3 to a West Virginia team that was 11-1 in 2005 and defeated Georgia 38-35 in the Nokia Sugar Bowl after winning the Big East Conference title with a perfect 7-0 record. The win over the Eagles was the 28th in 32 games for the Mountaineers.
Eastern played in Morgantown at Mountaineer Stadium in the NAIA Championship Game in 1967, where it lost 28-21 to Fairmont State. Eastern was actually known as the Eastern Washington State College Savages at the time.
Incidentally, Eastern's two trips to Morgantown are half of the four the Eagles have made previously East of the Mississippi River. The others were at Eastern Illinois in 1991 (a 30-12 loss) and at Connecticut to open the 2001 season (a 35-17 victory). The game against UConn came during the second year the Huskies were members of the Football Bowl Subdivision, and the meeting came four seasons before they joined the Big East Conference in 2005.
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's 2005 appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs was the school's fifth berth in school history, and the first time the Eagles have made back-to-back appearances.
Eastern's 2004 appearance in the second round was the third time Eastern advanced past the first round. Eastern now has a 4-5 record in five playoff appearances after losing at Northern Iowa 41-38 in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU's first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern hadn't appeared in the FCS playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school's only other post-season experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.
Here is a complete list of EWU's playoff games:
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)
Eagles Looking for 1,000: Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 12 seasons from 1995-2006, including six different players. Eastern had eight-straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher from 1995-2002.
The last time it happened came in 2004 when Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games. Because of a shoulder injury, he had just 16 yards in his last two regular season games, but had 257 yards in a pair of playoff games. The Eagles came up short in 2003 as Reggie Witherspoon finished with 766 after Washington's season came to a premature end with a knee injury in Eastern's second game of the season.
Joe Sewell started the string of 1,000-yard rushers with 1,025 in 1995, then had 1,094 in 1996. In 1997, Rex Prescott rushed for what was then a school-record 1,793 and Mike MacKenzie accumulated 1,058 in 1997 and 1,396 in 1998. Jovan Griffith finished with 1,275 in 1999, and Jesse Chatman had 1,188 in 2000 and a remarkable 2,096 in the 2001 season that surpassed Prescott's single season school record. The eighth-straight performance was by Griffith with 1,130 yards as he went over the 1,000-yard mark with a 199-yard performance in Eastern's season-ending 30-21 victory over No. 1 ranked Montana on Nov. 16, 2002. In Eastern's first 86 years of football, only three 1,000-yard performances have been recorded - 1,238 by Mel Stanton in 1965, 1,049 by Meriel Michelson in 1950 and 1,114 by Jamie Townsend in 1985.
Eagles 6-4 in Overtime Games: After defeating Montana State 51-44 in overtime on Nov. 13, 2004, Eastern Washington is now 6-4 in overtime games. The Eagles are 4-1 in single overtime games, 1-3 in double overtime, and 1-0 in triple overtime contests. Here is the complete list of EWU overtime games:
2004 - at Montana State - W, 51-44 (one overtime)
2003 - at Idaho State - L, 52-55 (two overtimes)
2001 - at Sacramento State - W, 42-35 (one overtime)
2001 - at Montana - L, 26-29 (two overtimes)
2000 - at Weber State - W, 27-24 (one overtime)
1998 - Portland State - L, 27-30 (one overtime)
1994 - Montana State - W, 34-31 (three overtimes)
1991 - at Idaho - W, 34-31 (two overtimes)
1990 - Montana State - L, 25-28 (two overtimes)
1990 - at Idaho State - W, 33-26 (one overtime)