Nov. 12, 2008
By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information
Most players don’t redshirt their senior year, especially after they have already played in four games in the given season. But thanks to a revised NCAA rule, that was in the cards for Eastern Washington University senior running back Toke Kefu.
Kefu entered the 2007 season thinking it would be his fourth and final year suiting up for the Eagles, but a hand injury four games into the schedule put him on the shelf. Up until 2007, players could only play in three games and still be able to qualify as an injury redshirt. But a rule change effective in 2007 allowed Kefu to play in four contests and still redshirt the 2007 season, thus giving him one more year of eligibility in 2008.
He had a decorated prep career at San Mateo High School in San Mateo, Calif., where he was coached by former Eagle center T.J. Ewing (1993-94). While at Eastern, Kefu has been an important part of the Eagle backfield as both a running back and fullback. He has scored 11 touchdowns and has 959 all-purpose yards in his 43-game career, including 867 yards and 10 scores rushing.
Kefu saw action right away as a true freshman at EWU in 2004, rushing for 345 yards with four touchdowns and catching three passes for 32 yards with a touchdown. In 2005, he had 36 carries for 154 yards.
Although only seeing action in eight games in 2006, Kefu rushed for 281 yards with three touchdowns on the season. In the four games in 2007 before he injured his hand, Kefu rushed for 55 yards on 18 carries.
This season, Kefu’s 5-foot-10, 240-pound frame has been used at fullback and in short yardage situations. He has scored three touchdowns on 15 rushes for 32 yards on the year, as well as 31 kick return yards and five tackles on special teams.
Kefu has also been named to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team three years.
Kefu and 17 other seniors will be playing their final game at Woodward Field this Saturday (Nov. 15) as the Eagles take on Northern Arizona. Those seniors include Jason Belford, Marcus Walker, Alex Smart, Dale Morris, Shawn Powell, Charlie Wulff, Mark Lathim, Bryan Smith, Lance Witherspoon, Greg Peach, Adam Macomber, A.J. Jimerson, Alexis Alexander, Ryan Kelley, Fritz Brayton, Felipe Macias and Shane Hoffman. Including Kefu, 12 of the seniors have been four-year letter winners for the Eagles.
The Eagles will wrap up the 2008 season on Nov. 22 at Weber State in Odgen, Utah. The Wildcats are currently in first place in the Big Sky Conference standings at 9-2, 7-0 in the Big Sky.
Q: You received a gift of a fifth year back, how did that work and what does it mean to have an extra year to play?
A: "I'm grateful for this fifth year. I broke my hand early last season and I felt like I had a chance to get a year back, so I sat down with coach Wulff and asked him about the possibility of coming back. He thought it'd be a good idea since I never redshirted my freshman year. It was a great season, and as much as I questioned my decision last year to stay, I’m happy I did so that I could leave with the class that I came in with. They are a great bunch of guys that I have grown to love and see as family and brothers. This whole season hasn't turned out the way I pictured it but it doesn't matter. This group and team we have is special and it will be something I’ll remember and cherish forever."
Q: How did you end up at EWU? Your high school coach, T.J. Ewing, is a former Eagle, so he must have helped along the way.
A: "Well, that's what it was because coach Ewing felt like I was being overlooked my senior year. A lot of schools stopped calling so he called up coach Wulff and sent my tape out here to Cheney. My tape did all the talking for me. It’s funny because coach Ewing would tell me stories about Cheney and I thought, ‘wow, that's great’ but I never envisioned coming to the same school. It has been an awesome time and experience coming here."
Q: How are you feeling going into your last game at Woodward Field?
A: "It's not going to hit me until kickoff or the pre-game meal. I never thought this game would come, and right now I’m just trying to soak it all up and live in the moment so I can make the most of this."
Q: What are you going to remember most from your career?
A: "The grind -- everything that the fans and students don't see. The morning conditioning; the 5:45 a.m. weightlifting; the sweat, the blood, the struggle; the team competitions; the locker room bonding; road trips -- all of that stuff nobody notices. I feel like those were some of the moments that test your commitment to the game, to the team, to your family and yourself. If you can make it through the grind then Saturdays come easy."
Q: Who have been the most influential people in your playing career?
A: "My dad and coach Ewing. My dad because I love him and play for him every Saturday. I have always played for my dad because of the hard work he has put in and the sacrifices he made for my sisters and me to have a comfortable life. I learned from him to put everything into what I am doing and that there is no 50 percent. It’s all in 110 percent all the time. That’s how my dad worked and that’s how he led his choir at our church. I took that and put it into my own life in sports and in school -- all or nothing. I'm grateful and lucky to have a great father. Coach Ewing always pushed me to be the best I can be and never let me settle for less. He was always keeping the best interest of the players in mind and teaching us how to work together and for each other. There are so many things that my coach taught me in high school that I still carry with me and will forever carry with me. I look to him as a second father figure in my life. Some people aren't fortunate enough to have one father figure in their life. I feel truly blessed to have two great men showing me how to be a man and teaching me life lessons."
Q: What part of football do you like best?
A: "The best part about football to me is first and goal. The offense has four chances to impose their will on the defense. The defense has four chances to stop the offense from scoring. That tests a team's grit. I feel like it shows a lot about a stingy defense that plays all out and takes pride in their goal line defense. As an offensive player, I feel like it’s time to physically dominate the opponent and score. It's a tale of two teams trying to impose each other's wills on each other. It's either going to be a stop or a touchdown. Who wants it more?"
Q: You ran for 5,439 career yards and 78 career touchdowns in high school. What made you so unstoppable?
A: "Two words we use in the bay area, BEAST MODE! In all seriousness, it was a matter of believing in myself and having coaches whom believed in me that fed me the rock! They said, ‘here's our best player, try to stop him.’ Not many teams stopped us, so as a result I had those types of stats. But I will be the first one to say that I had a great team and those stats reflect my teammates, my coaches and the community."
Q: How firm is the bond between you and the other seniors on the team?
A: "The bond is unbreakable. I see my teammates as brothers and members of my own family. From Charlie Wulff to A.J. Jimerson is a wide range. We're all different, from different areas and walks of life but we're brought together through this beautiful game to create lifelong friends. I can remember my official visit when I met Jason Belford, and we clicked right from our first handshake. I felt like we could do some great things here so I committed that weekend. I'm happy I made that decision -- we all love each other and get along from top to bottom."
Q: What are your goals for after you graduate?
A: "Coach football, but what level I don’t know yet. I just know I want to be a football coach. I also would love to be a physical education teacher. PE was always my favorite and best subject when I was going through school so I’d love to teach PE."
Q: If you were stranded on an island, and could have one teammate with you, who would it be and why?
A: "I'd have to say not one but a group of my teammates -- the seniors. Alex Smart, he has great insight on politics so he would add to some great discussions. Jason Belford, he could bring his ukulele and the entertainment is covered. A.J Jimerson, he is hilarious and could beat up the animals so we could eat. Lance Witherspoon, he is the funniest guy on the team hands down. Greg Peach, he could wrestle a crocodile and win. Need I say more? Charlie Wulff and Bryan Smith, they could do the hunting, that is their thing. Adam Macomber, he could chase down all the chickens. Ryan Kelley, he is an aspiring fireman so he can start our fires and put them out! The kickers, Felipe Macias and Fritz Brayton, are funny guys to have around. Shawn Powell, he plays defensive tackle at 240 pounds, but he is a beast. Marcus Walker can speak Spanish so maybe he can talk to foreigners. Shane Hoffman is a skater-punk rock kind of guy, so he could add to some of our heated discussions. Mark Lathim the preacher. It would help to have some church while we’re stranded!"
Q: Name one super hero that describes you on the football field?
A: "The joker. I'm serious but at the same time I have fun and I’m always cracking jokes out there. When it’s a nice song out there you'll see me dancing on the field."