Experienced Eagles Begin Spring Practice on April 3
After an injury-plagued 2011 season, Eagles are excited to see results of off-season conditioning work and the depth provided by 53 returning letterwinners
The Eastern Washington University football team is hoping its late-season surge last fall – and the depth and experience that resulted from it – will be on full display this spring.
The Eagles concluded an injury-plagued 2011 season with six wins in their last seven games, and will continue preparations for the 2012 season when the Eagles open spring practices on April 3. The Eagles will get all of their allotted 15 practices in during the month of April, with the annual Red-White Game taking place on Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m. at Roos Field.
Eastern recently completed its winter conditioning program, and spring break takes place the week of March 26. Spring quarter classes start on April 2, and spring ball begins the very next day.
“We need to hit spring ball running,” said Baldwin. “It will be two days back on campus and then we start. There will not be any time to get ready, so they have to come back from spring break ready to go. If how hard they worked this winter is any indication, we anticipate seeing great things right away in spring ball.
“We worked really hard this winter,” he continued. “Our players grinded in the weight room, and (strength coach Nate) Brookreson did an amazing job of taking them to another level. We were impressed with some of the max lifts they were able to hit in a short time from January until now. That’s a product of a lot of hard work through our conditioning. We stayed competitive through the whole process, so it was not only hard work, but it was fun for the players.”
Baldwin, who enters his fifth season at the helm, is expecting to have about 80 players participating this spring, including 53 returning letterwinners. Among the returning letterwinners are eight starters on each side of the ball, as well as the school’s punter and long snapper.
A year ago, a total of 14 starters – seven on each side of the ball -- suffered injuries that kept them out of the lineup – including seven players lost for the season. Eastern started 46 different players in the 2011 season – 24 on offense and 22 on defense – with only five players starting all 11 games. A total of 21 players made starting debuts during the season.
“Injuries are always frustrating because you know how hard players work to prepare to play in games. It hurts,” Baldwin explained. “But there is always a silver lining in that you get to see some young players and backups get an opportunity to step up and do great things. Some of them never thought they would get that opportunity, and when they do, it’s fun to see as a coach. The other silver lining is that you are that much stronger a year later because you had players get experience that they might not normally receive. That creates an overall depth that helps us improve – we become better on special teams and we become better in case we do have injuries again.”
Among the injured players returning were seven lost for the season early in the 2011 season -- wide receiver Brandon Kaufman (knee/hand), wide receiver Tyler Hart (knee), guard Ashton Miller (Achilles), guard Steven Forgette (broken fibula), guard Jase Butorac (knee) and linebacker Zach Johnson (knee). Those players, along with several more, will be limited this spring, but their rehabilitation is going well, according to Baldwin.
“There will be a number of them who won’t get full-speed reps, but all of them one way or another will be back,” he said. “The plan is for all the players we lost last year to be involved one way or another this spring, but then all of them will be back by mid-summer and ready to go in the fall. It doesn’t look like any of the injuries will prevent them all from being ready in August.”
Spring Practice Schedule
Practices take place various days through April 28. Most practices are scheduled to start at 4 p.m. (media interviews at approximately 3:45 p.m. or after practice at about 6 p.m.). All practices take place at Roos Field. Scrimmages also take place on the red Sprinturf surface at the “Inferno” in Cheney, Wash.
April 3 - Practice (no pads), 4 p.m.
April 4 - Practice (no pads), 4 p.m.
April 6 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 7 – Practice/Half-Scrimmage, approx. 11 a.m., Roos Field
April 10 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 11 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 13 - Scrimmage, approx. 3:30 p.m., Roos Field
April 17 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 18 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 20 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 21 - Scrimmage, approx. 10:30 a.m., Roos Field
April 24 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 25 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 26 - Practice, 4 p.m.
April 28 - Red-White Spring Game, 2 p.m., Roos Field
Eastern is scheduled to scrimmage on Saturday, April 7 (a half scrimmage starting at approximately 11 a.m.), Friday, April 13 (approximately 3:30 p.m.) and Saturday, April 21 (approximately 10:30 a.m.) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. The annual Red-White Game will take place on Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m. at Roos Field in conjunction with Killin Weekend at EWU. The Red-White Game will be televised Live in the Spokane area by SWX (SWX Digital 6.2 in Spokane, 25.3 in the Tri-Cities & 23.3 in the Yakima area; Comcast 115; Time Warner 306; Charter 287, Cable One 466).
With only six starters lost, there are no gaping holes to fill. However, Baldwin points to the secondary, running back and quarterback as the areas that will be getting the most attention.
“There are a few positions where we have to figure some things out,” he explained. “We’ll let that run its course as the spring unfolds. But we have a lot of players with a lot of game experience, which should carry over into a productive spring.”
In the secondary, Eastern is replacing a starting cornerback (Alden Gibbs) and one of three players who shared the starting safety positions last year (Matt Johnson). Cornerback T.J. Lee III and safeties Jeff Minnerly and Allen Brown return to starting positions, but after that, Eastern will spend a great deal of time finding the next five players who will see the majority of action for the Eagles this fall.
“We still have a lot of questions to be answered in the secondary – mainly which players are going to be our top eight defensive backs,” said Baldwin. “That’s a big challenge and poses a big question for us.”
Running back is another area where the Eagles have plenty of experience, with four players sharing the load last year. That group includes no seniors, and each of the four players – Demitrius Bronson, Mario Brown, Quincy Forte and Jordan Talley -- started at least one game. Talley, who started six games and rushed for a team-high 413 yards and five touchdowns, is listed as the returning starter.
“Running back is going to be a great battle,” predicted Baldwin. “We have several players coming back, there are no seniors in the group and they all have game experience.”
And then there is quarterback, where Eastern enters the spring with just two players on its roster after losing Walter Payton Award winner Bo Levi Mitchell to graduation. Junior Anthony Vitto is the most experienced, with multi-dimensional Vernon Adams redshirting as a freshman in 2012.
“They are going to get a ton of reps,” said Baldwin. “There is going to be great competition and it will be exciting to see their progress. But with only two quarterbacks, we have to be careful and smart about how we structure things and what we do. They are going to get a lot of opportunities to show what they are capable of, to compete and to move the ball up and down the field. I’m excited about their opportunity this spring to battle one another.”
SPRING PRACTICE NOTES
Killin Dinner/Dance/Auction is April 28
Beginning its fourth decade of existence, the upcoming Orland Killin Weekend includes the 31st Annual Killin Dinner, Dance and Auction, following the Red-White Spring Football Game on April 28. On-line ordering of tickets and more information is available at www.goeags.com for the event, which takes place at the EWU Sports and Recreation Center in Cheney, Wash.
The weekend begins on Friday, April 27, with the Coaches Golf Tournament. The golf tournament takes place at the Fairways Golf Course near Cheney, Wash., at noon. The 41st Annual Pelluer Invitational Track and Field Meet will also take place on Friday, with field events starting at noon and running events beginning at 4 p.m.
The following day features an EWU volleyball scrimmage at 11 a.m. and a soccer scrimmage at noon, followed by the Red-White Spring Football Game at 2 p.m. The Killin Dinner, Dance and Auction starts at 4:30 p.m. at the EWU Sports and Recreation Center.
There is no admission charged for the track meet or the scrimmages , but cost for the dinner is $100 per individual, or $700 for a table of eight. The event starts with a social hour and auction at 4:30 p.m., followed by the dinner (6:15 p.m.), program/presentations/live auction (7:15 p.m.) and dancing (8 p.m.). Besides online at www.goeags.com, tickets may also be obtained by calling 509-359-2463 or 1-800-648-7697.
Net proceeds benefit areas of greatest need within Eastern Athletics. The event is named in honor of Orland Killin, who, along with his wife Bernice, helped create the event. Orland was a man immensely dedicated to academics and the integrity of Eastern Washington University, serving as professor, faculty athletic representative and faculty president. He was an Eastern football letter winner in 1941-42.
Friday, April 27, 2012
- 25th Annual Coaches Golf Tournament, noon, Fairways Golf
For more information, contact John Graham at 509.359.6918
- 41st Annual Pelluer Invitational EWU Track meet at Roos Field . . . field events start at noon and running events begin at 4 p.m., FREE
Saturday, April 28, 2012
- Eagle Volleyball Scrimmage (Upper Gym), 11 a.m. FREE
- Eagle Soccer Scrimmage (Soccer Field), noon FREE
- Red-White Spring Football Game (Roos Field), 2 p.m. FREE
- 31st Annual Orland Killin Dinner, Dance & Auction, 4:30 p.m.
Returning All-America/All-Big Sky Players
The Eagles return a pair of wide receivers who won All-America honors a year ago, plus one other All-American from the 2010 season. In addition, a punter named to the Freshman All-America squad is back, as well as a seven players from the 2011 season who earned All-Big Sky Conference honors and two more from 2010.
Nicholas Edwards is by far the most decorated player returning, having earned first team NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America accolades on seven different teams -- American Football Coaches Association, The Sports Network, College Sporting News “Fabulous Fifty”, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Phil Steele Publications, Beyond Sports College Network and College Sports Journal. He also earned second team accolades from Associated Press and Collegesportsmadness.com after catching a school-record 95 passes for 1,250 yards and 19 touchdowns to lead FCS.
Greg Herd earned Beyond Sports College Network honorable mention All-America recognition, having caught 67 passes for 1,022 yards and seven scores. Jake Miller, after nearly setting a school record with a 44.2 average per punt, was named to the College Sports Journal All-Freshman All-America Team.
Edwards and cornerback T.J. Lee were first team All-Big Sky selections a year ago, with Lee finishing the season with 48 tackles, a pair of interceptions and one pass broken up. Herd was a second team choice, and offensive tackle Will Post, defensive end Paul Ena, safety Jeff Minnerly and Miller were honorable mention All-Big Sky picks.
However, two other highly-honored players return after having their 2011 seasons cut short because of injuries. Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman redshirted as an injury hardship case, but in 2010 was a first team All-America selection by the College Sporting News and fourth team from Phil Steele Publications. He was a first team All-Big Sky selection with 76 catches for 1,214 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore when he helped lead the Eagles to the NCAA Division I title.
Linebacker Zach Johnson was granted a sixth year by the NCAA after injuries forced him to miss all of the 2009 season and most of 2011, with 19 total missed games in all. He earned second team All-Big Sky honors in 2010 and honorable mention accolades as a freshman.
Eastern Returns 40 Players With Combined 348 Starts
The Eagles return 40 players with a combined 348 starts between them entering the 2012 season. There are 18 players with starting experience returning on defense, and another 22 on offense, with 176 total starts on defense and 172 on offense. Of Eastern’s 14 letter winners lost, 12 combined for 229 starts (120 on defense and 109 on offense).
By contrast, the Eagles returned 30 players with a combined 335 starts between them entering the 2011 season. Of Eastern’s 19 letter winners lost, 13 combined for 191 starts -- including 22 by Taiwan Jones, who left EWU early to declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft. There were 15 players with starting experience returning on both offense and defense, with 168 total starts on defense and 167 on offense.
In EWU’s national championship season in 2010, a total of 24 players with starting experience (total of 196 starts) returned.
Defense (176 starts by 18 players): Zach Johnson 30, Paul Ena 24, Tyler Washburn 22, Jeff Minnerly 17, Evan Cook 14, David Gaylord 12, Allen Brown 12, Ronnie Hamlin 8, Anthony Larry 8, T.J. Lee 7, Cody McCarthy 5, Grant Williams 5 (includes one start on offense in 2009), J.C. Agen 4, Jerry Ceja 3, Will Katoa 2, Ronald Baines 1, Rusty Haehl 1, Billy Lechtenberg 1.
Offense (172 starts by 22 players): Nicholas Edwards 37, Brandon Kaufman 23, Will Post 22, Steven Forgette 17, Zack Gehring 12, Greg Herd 9, Brandon Murphy 9, Drew Reynolds 8, Jordan Talley 6, Mario Brown 5, Ashton Clark 4, Patrick Mealey 3, Tyler Hart 3, Demitrius Bronson 2, Caleb Worthington 2, Jase Butorac 2, Quincy Forte 2, Cody Humphrey 2, Cory Mitchell 1, Daniel Johnson 1, Ashton Miller 1, Ryan Seto 1.
What is it About Wide Receiver Troupes at Eastern?
Over the last decade, Eastern has had a pair of wide receiver trios and one quartet who have accumulated some impressive statistics in their careers. The current trio of Nicholas Edwards, Greg Herd and Brandon Kaufman could wind up the best yet.
They have combined for 99 games worth of experience (69 starts), and have collective totals of 405 catches for 5,475 yards and 56 touchdowns. There is still one season left to play for Edwards and Herd, and a pair for Kaufman after he received an injury redshirt in 2011. However, they’ll do it without Bo Levi Mitchell, who graduated after a record-breaking two-year run as EWU’s starting quarterback.
A trio of players who concluded their careers in 2009 -- Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce and Brynsen Brown -- combined for 567 catches for 7,758 yards and 50 touchdowns in 120 games worth of experience as receivers (95 starts). They caught the majority of passes from four-year starting quarterback Matt Nichols, who was a two-time Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year. That group didn’t win a league title, but did advance to the playoffs in 2007 and 2009.
Just prior to that, a quartet of players began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002 and graduated with him in 2005. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts). In 2005, Meyer and his teammates won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Early-Season Schedule Tough Again for Eagles
Featuring an early-season schedule with a familiar feel to it, the Eastern Washington University football team will open the 2012 season with three road games and a bye, as the schedule was released Jan. 18 by EWU.
The Eagles open the 2012 season at former Big Sky Conference rival Idaho, then return to the Palouse a week later to face Washington State and new head coach Mike Leach. After a bye in the schedule, Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play at Weber State against former Idaho head coach and WSU assistant John L. Smith.
Finally, on Sept. 29, the Eagles will play their home opener versus Montana at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Two years ago, in the debut of EWU’s red Sprinturf surface in the first game at the re-named field (it was formerly Woodward Field), the Eagles knocked off the Grizzlies 36-27.
A year ago, Eastern opened the season with road losses to Washington and South Dakota, then began league play with a loss at Montana and a home setback to Montana State. However, the Eagles won six of their last seven games to conclude the season with its 14th winning season in the last 16 years.
“The teams are tough and that will be a challenge,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who expects to return eight starters on both offense and defense from last year’s squad, which finished 5-3 in the Big Sky. “Yes, it’s tough – there is no question about that. But in terms of the trips themselves, they are not as difficult as they could be.”
“Two out of our first three road games are pretty short bus rides,” he continued. “Then we have a bye before our first league game, which is a fairly easy flight.”
Eastern will host Big Sky Conference newcomer North Dakota the following week on Hall of Fame Day at EWU on Oct. 6. Other home games for EWU are Oct. 20 versus Sacramento State for Homecoming; Nov. 3 versus Cal Poly on Military Appreciation Day and Nov. 10 versus another Big Sky newcomer, UC Davis.
Eastern’s other Big Sky Conference road games are Oct. 13 at Montana State, Oct. 27 at Southern Utah and Nov. 17 at Portland State. Cal Poly and Southern Utah are the other new teams to join the Big Sky, but the Cal Poly match-up is a non-conference game because of a pre-existing contract between the two schools.
The Eagles will still play eight league games each year, with six opponents on a rotating basis and two of them (Montana and Portland State) on an annual basis. Thus, this year the Eagles play league games versus North Dakota, Southern Utah and UC Davis, but won’t be playing Idaho State, Northern Colorado or Northern Arizona.
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter which teams are on or off your schedule – it’s going to be tough year-in and year-out,” said Baldwin. “Ultimately that’s what you want – you want to play and compete in a tough conference. If you can have success through the season, being in a conference like this will prepare you that much more for the playoffs. It may end up giving more teams opportunities for postseason play because of the strength of our conference and the credibility we can get nationally.”
After narrowly falling 30-27 this past season at Washington, the WSU game will mark the second-straight year the Eagles will play an in-state opponent from the Pac-12 Conference. And it won’t be the last. Eastern has scheduled a second football game against the University of Washington, giving the Eagles games in both 2011 and 2014 versus the Huskies of the Pac-12 Conference.
Eastern opened the 2011 season at Husky Stadium on Sept. 3, and will return on Sept. 6, 2014. The Eagles will play at Washington State in 2012 and Oregon State in 2013, giving Eastern four-straight games against Pac-12 opponents. Besides games in 1907 and 1908 against Washington State, Eastern’s only other games versus Pac-12 opponents have been against Oregon State (2000 and 2006), Arizona State (2002) and California (2009). Eastern has also played recent Pac-12 newcomer Colorado (2008).
Eastern was a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) for most of its history before becoming a member of FCS in 1984. But despite playing 27 games against NCAA Football Bowl Division members from 1983-2010 -- including four against the Pac-12 Conference -- the Eagles did not play Washington State or Washington during that time span. Eastern had never played Washington until a narrow, 30-27 loss to open the 2011 season. Eastern is now 7-20 all-time versus FBS teams.
The short 90-mile trek to Pullman, Wash., to face WSU will be the first varsity meeting between the two schools in more than 100 years. Eastern lost to the Cougars in 1907 (46-0) and 1908 (73-0), and were 8-10-1 from 1921-46 against WSU’s junior varsity or freshman teams.
Washington State was previously coached by Paul Wulff, who was 53-40 with three NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoff berths as Eastern’s head coach for eight seasons (2000-2007). He spent a total of 15 seasons at EWU as a coach.
But he was let go by WSU after compiling a 9-40 record in four seasons, including a 4-8 mark in 2011. In his place, the Cougars hired Leach, who was a former head coach at Texas Tech University. Eastern played Leach to open the 2008 season – and the EWU head coaching career for Beau Baldwin -- in Lubbock, Texas, and the Red Raiders came away with a 49-24 victory, piling up 536 of its 639 yards of offense through the air.
The last time Eastern played Idaho was in 2003 when Eastern won 8-5 in the Kibbie Dome. Eastern is 5-15 all-time against its former Big Sky Conference rival, and 2-3 since the Vandals moved to FBS in 1996. Eastern has never played North Dakota.
RETURNING PLAYER NOTES
Linebacker Zach Johnson Will Be Back for 2012 Season
The NCAA provided Eastern Washington University and Zach Johnson some good news on Feb. 6, 2012.
Eastern head football coach Beau Baldwin said that Johnson’s appeal to grant him a sixth year to complete his four years of eligibility has been approved as the result of decisions made since last season by the Big Sky Conference and the NCAA.
In his first five years in the program, the linebacker from Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS ’08), had 19 games wiped out because of the same knee injury -- 12 in 2009 and the last seven as a senior co-captain in the 2011 season. He earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors in 2010 when he started all 15 games, helping EWU to a 13-2 record and the NCAA Division I National Championship.
“It’s exciting and we’re happy for Zach,” said Baldwin. “He’s worked hard since the day he got here and has been a hard worker all his life. He deserved to get a sixth year based on the injuries he suffered and what he’s gone through. We couldn’t be happier to have Zach back with us.
“They did a great job of getting an answer back to us quickly, so now Zach is preparing for spring ball and the season coming up,” Baldwin said. “We felt pretty good about it, but until you hear a yes, you really are not sure. It was obviously great news.”
The senior co-captain played the first four games last season with a chronic tear in his left patellar tendon and had surgery shortly after the announcement on Sept. 27, 2011, that his season had ended. It’s the same injury that required surgery to repair on June 30, 2009. However, Johnson missed the entire 2009 season after a blood clot developed in his leg following the surgery.
“He feels really good right now,” Baldwin said. “He’s been in the weight room doing everything he can in there. You can’t predict how injuries are going to go for anybody, but he’s showing great progress with his rehab, how he’s moving and how he’s lifting. He feels very good about his body, maybe even better than previous seasons at this time.”
Although Johnson played sparingly in his final game on Sept. 24 against Montana State and had only one tackle, through four games he was tied for the team lead in tackles with 30. He has started all 30 games he has played as an Eagle, with 260 career tackles to rank 10th in school history. A second-team All-Big Sky Conference selection in 2010 and a preseason All-American this season, Johnson’s average of 8.7 tackles per game is fourth-best in school history.
Johnson’s twin brother, Matt Johnson, who also started every game he played as an Eagle, had his senior season cut short because of a painful biceps tendon injury he played with since the second game of the season. Baldwin announced on Oct. 19, 2011, that Johnson’s illustrious 45-game career came to a premature ending and Matt underwent surgery the following week.
At the time his season ended, Matt was the team’s second-leading tackler with 52, including a team-high eight tackles for loss. He had 1 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a quarterback hurry in 2011.
He finished his career just one interception away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. Johnson is tied with former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93), who both have 17 each. Johnson was also only nine interception return yards from the record of 219 held by Schulz, and his six career forced fumbles tied for the school record along with Renard Williams (2008-11), J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97).
Matt had 341 tackles in his career to move into fifth all-time at Eastern – just five from moving into fourth (Derek Strey had 346 from 1994-97) and only six from third (Jason Marsh had 347 from 1991-93). Johnson had five interceptions in 2010 to help Eastern lead the FCS with 26.
Interestingly, the first start for both Matt and Zach came on Aug. 30, 2008, when Eastern played at Texas Tech University and head coach Mike Leach. The Red Raiders came away with a 49-24 victory, piling up 536 of its 639 yards of offense through the air. Leach is the new head coach at Washington State University – EWU’s opponent on Sept. 8 in Pullman, Wash.
Wide Receiver Tyler Hart Is Granted Sixth Year
Head coach Beau Baldwin would like to see three balls in the air at a time to provide enough receptions to go around.
His already impressive Eastern Washington University wide receiver corp only got stronger when Tyler Hart was notified in late February by the NCAA that he was granted a sixth year to complete his football eligibility at Eastern after having two seasons shortened because of injuries.
Expected to be a slot receiver and returner for the Eagles last season as a senior, he missed EWU’s first three games, but returned to catch a nine-yard pass versus Montana State. But he lasted only three plays against the Bobcats before he was injured again and lost for the season. Hart was also lost for the year with a broken scapula in EWU’s fourth game of the 2008 season.
Out of a possible 49 games he could have played from 2008-2011, Hart played in only 28.
“It’s exciting for Tyler,” said Baldwin. “He’s had a tough go of it with a couple of injuries, so it’s great for him to get a chance to finish his career hopefully healthy. Up until his injury last year he was going to be a big contributor for us. Our goal is to get him back to where he was in fall camp a year ago – he was going to be a strong force in the return game and at slot receiver.”
Hart, a 2007 graduate of Friday Harbor (Wash.) High School, has 43 career catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Originally a running back his first two seasons in the program, he also has rushed 66 times for 278 yards (4.2 per carry) and four touchdowns, and has returned five punts for a 9.4 average and five kickoffs for a 23.2 average.
Brandon Kaufman, an All-America receiver during EWU’s national championship season in 2010, redshirted the 2011 season after suffering hand and knee injuries early in the year. That opened the door for Nicholas Edwards to earn unanimous All-America honors, and for Greg Herd to become EWU’s third 1,000-yard receiver in two seasons.
“It makes us want to have three footballs on the field,” said Baldwin of EWU’s receiver contingent. “It makes it tough for opponents to identify who is going to get the ball – you can’t do it. As a group we’re that much stronger. It forces a defense to cover the entire field and not really be able to decide to try to shut one person down or cloud somebody in coverage. If teams start doing that, a couple of our other receivers will do really well.”
Edwards finished with 1,250 yards (95 catches, 19 touchdowns) and Herd had 1,022 (67 catches, seven touchdowns) in 2011, and Kaufman had 1,214 yards (76 catches, 15 touchdowns) in 2010. Hart, Edwards and Herd will be seniors in the 2012 season, while Kaufman will be a junior.
Other players who lettered in the 2011 season at wide receiver were Ashton Clark (33 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore), Cory Mitchell (19 catches for 310 yards and two TD as a freshman) and Daniel Johnson (two catches for 13 yards as a sophomore).
The quartet of Hart, Kaufman, Edwards and Herd have combined for 127 games worth of experience (72 starts), and have collective totals of 448 catches for 5,842 yards and 59 touchdowns.
“It’s exciting to have that much experience and talent at that position,” added Baldwin. “But at the same time, they have to continue to do a great job, be team players and understand that the goal of the group is much bigger than any goals individually. Our receivers are not only talented, but they are hard-working and have great character. They are most concerned about the success of the team.”
The receivers will have a new quarterback throwing them the ball, as All-American Bo Levi Mitchell completed his eligibility in 2011. He led the Eagles to the NCAA Division I title in 2010 when he was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in the national championship game, then won the Walter Payton Award after a senior season in which he passed for 4,009 yards and 33 touchdowns.
“I would give anything I could to come back and play with these guys again,” Mitchell said in January after he won the Payton Award. “You have three 1,000-yard receivers, two of them All-Americans who have set records. Plus you have my brother, Ashton Clark and Tyler Hart all coming back. It’s a group of receivers I can put the ball anywhere and they will go make plays. The quarterback next year has to really be drooling knowing they have such a talented receiving corp to throw to.”
Nicholas Edwards Ranks With the Likes of Rice and Moss as he Breaks EWU’s TD and Receptions Records
Junior wide receiver Nicholas Edwards broke Eastern’s school record for receptions in a single season, finishing with 12 catches for 106 yards in EWU’s final game of the 2011 season versus ISU. He finished the season with 95 grabs to break the record previously set by Eric Kimble with 87 in 12 games in 2005. His receptions ranks 20th in FCS history and third all-time in the Big Sky, and his average of 8.64 catches per game is fifth in BSC history.
The 19 touchdown receptions Edwards had equaled the school record of 19 set in 2004 by Kimble, who owns the top two receiving yardage marks with 1,453 in 2004 and 1,419 in 2005. Edwards finished the season with 1,250 yards to rank fifth all-time at Eastern.
Edwards finished the season ranked fourth in FCS in receptions per game (8.64) and fourth in receiving yards per game (113.6). In his career, Edwards already has 29 touchdown receptions to rank second in school history, and has caught a total of 178 passes (fourth all-time at EWU) for 2,198 yards (10th).
Edwards, a 2008 graduate of Foss High School in Tacoma, Wash., had performances of 13 catches (second in school history), two of 12 (eighth), 11 (12th) and two of 10 (20th) in the 2011 season, and had nine catches for 166 yards and three touchdowns versus Portland State on Oct. 29. His 13 receptions – second-best in school history behind the record of 17 – came against South Dakota on Sept. 10.
Edwards earned a variety of national NCAA Football Championship Subdivision honors, including The Sports Network/Fathead.com co-National Player of Week, after tying a school record with four touchdown receptions in EWU’s 42-35 come-from-behind overtime victory over Sacramento State on Oct. 22. He also earned National Performer of the Week and National Wide Receiver of the Week from College Football Performance Awards. Edwards was named Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week as well, giving EWU a string of three-straight weeks in winning the award.
Edwards finished with 11 catches for a career-high 192 receiving yards, and had TD catches of 35, 16, 39 and 22 yards from Mitchell. Jamie Buenzli had four touchdown catches versus Nevada on Sept. 12, 1987, and Joe Pierce had four against Central Washington on Sept. 13, 2003.
Three of his TD catches came in the fourth quarter, and he added a 17-yard reception in overtime that set-up a go-ahead 1-yard touchdown run by Jordan Talley. The 11 catches for Edwards versus the Hornets equaled the 11th-most in school history (now 12th) and his yards ranks eighth.
“When you have on your team Jerry Rice, I mean Nick Edwards, it’s hard not to get him the ball,” joked Mitchell after the Sac State win, in which the Eagles rallied from a 28-13 deficit. “He works hard and puts in the effort and time. He deserves everything he gets and deserves the credit for this win. The plays he made were just ridiculous.”
Eastern All-America receiver Brandon Kaufman had a sensational season in 2010, but Edwards produced even bigger numbers for the Eagles in the latter stages of 2010 and the first part of the 2011 season. In the last four games of the 2010 season and first four in 2011 before he was lost for the season with a hand injury, Kaufman caught 50 passes for 565 yards and six touchdowns, while Edwards caught 59 for 647 and eight touchdowns in the same time frame.
Kaufman broke a metacarpal in his left hand in the Montana State game on Sept. 24, and missed the rest of the season. That, and a season-ending injury to senior Tyler Hart, opened the door for Edwards and Greg Herd to become EWU’s premier receivers in 2011. Sophomore Ashton Clark, buried in the depth chart and with no career catches entering the season, had 33 grabs for 436 yards and four scores. And Mitchell’s older brother, Cory Mitchell, caught a career-high seven passes for 132 yards and a touchdown on Nov. 12 at Cal Poly, and finished the season with 19 receptions for 310 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Herd Gets to 1,000 Yards to Join Nicholas Edwards and Brandon Kaufman in the Club
Thanks to a 42-yard reception on EWU’s final scoring drive of the season against Idaho State on Nov. 19, junior wide receiver Greg Herd finished with over 1,000 yards for the season. He finished the year with 67 catches (ninth-best all-time at Eastern) for 1,022 yards (11th) and seven touchdowns.
Herd will be one of three Eastern receivers returning in 2011 with a 1,000-yard season to their credit. Nicholas Edwards finished with 1,250 yards (95 catches, 19 touchdowns) in 2011 and Brandon Kaufman had 1,214 yards (76 catches, 15 touchdowns) in 2010. Kaufman played in just four games in 2011 because of a broken metacarpal on his left hand that required surgery, but he will return for the 2012 season as a junior after his application for an injury redshirt was approved.
A quarterback in high school, Herd attempted and completed the first pass of his Eastern career when the Eagles needed it the most – in the second overtime in EWU’s 53-51 victory over Cal Poly on Nov. 12. After running two reverses earlier in the game, he looked to be running a third time when he pulled up and hit a wide-open Nicholas Edwards for a 25-yard score and send the game into a third overtime. On the next play, he gathered in a go-ahead 25-yard TD pass from Bo Levi Mitchell, and the Eagles went on to the two-point victory.
“We’ve had that play in for a few weeks, but I haven’t had the guts to call it,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of the wide receiver pass. “Finally, we ran out of everything else and decided to run it. We showed two reverses with Herd earlier, so I thought they might bite on it.”
Herd, who had 13 catches for 128 yards and a pair of scores in the final four games of 2010, had six performances of at least six catches in 2011. Versus Portland State on Oct. 29, Herd had five receptions for 196 yards, which ranks sixth in school history -- just two spots ahead of the 192 yards Edwards had a week earlier versus Sacramento State. Herd’s yardage included a 96-yard pass play from Mitchell, and was sprung by a key block downfield by Edwards. It was the second-longest pass play in school history, ranking behind the record of 99 on a pass from quarterback Todd Bernett to Jason Anderson against Montana on Sept. 17, 1994. Herd also had receptions of 49 and 41 yards versus the Vikings.
Herd finished the season ranked 15th in FCS in receptions per game (6.1) and 14th in receiving yards per game (92.9).
Before Injury Redshirt Season, Kaufman Gathers In Trio of Game-Winners in 2010
Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman redshirted his sophomore season as a medical hardship case, having broken a metacarpal on his left hand. He had surgery on Oct. 3, 2011, after playing in just five games, and shortly after that had knee surgery to repair a nagging injury from early in the 2010 season.
In NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics released on Oct. 2, he was 11th in receiving (7.25 with 29 total) and 14th in receiving yards per game (93.3 per game with 373 total yards). At the beginning of the season, Kaufman was on the watch list for the Payton Award after being selected to the College Sports News “Sweet 63” All-America Team and the Phil Steele Publications All-America fourth team.
In his career, Kaufman has 128 receptions for 1,881 yards and 17 touchdowns, and is nearing Eastern’s top 10 all-time lists in all three categories.
He proved to be Eastern’s go-to receiver as a sophomore in the 2010 season, catching a team-leading 76 passes to rank as the fifth-most in school history (now sixth). His catches were good for 1,214 yards (now sixth in EWU history) and 15 touchdowns (third behind the school-record of 19 set by teammate Nicholas Edwards in 2011 and Eric Kimble in 2004). Kaufman’s TD total was the second-most in the FCS as he caught a TD pass in 11 of 15 games in the 2010 season, including EWU’s last seven regular season games.
He had caught a pass in 18-straight games before his streak was broken versus North Dakota State on Dec. 11, 2010, as the last time he failed to catch a pass was on Oct. 10, 2009, in the third game of his career. In addition, he had fourth-quarter game-winners against Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Delaware, and had a game-tying catch with 3:08 left in EWU’s come-from-behind win over Northern Colorado.
Kaufman was selected as the FCS Playoffs MVP by College Sporting News, thanks in part to his nine catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-19 win over Delaware in the championship game, in which EWU rallied from a 19-0 deficit. He had a 22-yard TD catch with 16:48 left in the game for EWU’s first score, then had a championship-clinching 11-yard scoring grab with 2:47 remaining. He caught eight passes for 135 yards against Villanova in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs, including a 76-yard touchdown catch from Bo Levi Mitchell in the third quarter. Their 76-yard connection equaled the 30th-longest pass play in school history. He also had four receptions for 37 yards in the second-round triumph over Southeast Missouri State.
He finished his sophomore season ranked 25th in the FCS in receiving yards per game (80.9), was 45th in receptions per game (5.1) and his 15 touchdown catches were the second-most in the FCS. Kaufman had six 100-yard receiving performances in 2010, with those coming against Montana on Sept. 18 (five catches for 119 yards), Weber State on Oct. 2 (five catches for 138 yards), Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 (five catches for 117 yards), Southern Utah on Nov. 13 (nine catches for 129 yards), Villanova on Dec. 17 (eight catches for 135 yards) and Delaware on Jan. 7 (nine catches for 120 yards)
Against Southern Utah on Nov. 13, he caught a career-high nine passes for 129 yards with a long of 43, and had touchdown catches of 25 and 24 yards that were of the “how did he make that catch?” variety. His latter TD catch came with 3:39 left and provided the winning points in Eastern’s 31-24 victory. In the next game against Idaho State, he scored EWU’s first two touchdowns in the 34-7 victory with TD catches of 10 and 30 yards.
Among his three catches at Portland State on Oct. 30 was a 15-yard touchdown grab. He had just four catches for 34 yards against Sacramento State on Oct. 23, but he had a 17-yard touchdown to start the scoring and a game-winning 6-yard scoring grab with 33 seconds to go in the game. One game prior, he had a five-catch, 94-yard performance against Northern Colorado, which included a 4-yard touchdown pass with 3:08 left that knotted the score at 28. He is a 2009 graduate of Heritage High School in the Denver, Colo., area, just a short distance from the game played in Greeley. His family was at the game in force, reportedly purchasing 80 tickets for the game.
Minnerly Repeats on District VIII All-Academic Squad
Eastern junior safety Jeff Minnerly was a repeat selection on the 2011 Capital One Academic All-District VIII squad as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). Minnerly is a 2008 graduate of Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., and currently has a 3.83 grade point average as a finance major.
Eastern football players have now been honored 53 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and seven players have gone on to win nine Academic All-America honors. In 2010, Minnerly and senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt were both selected to the squad. In 2009, defensive end Jacob Kragt from Ritzville, Wash., earned first team Academic All-America honors after being selected to the All-District VIII team for the third-straight season.
The qualifying standards include having a minimum 3.3 grade point average at Eastern and being a significant contributor to the team. The District VIII university division includes all NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams from nine western states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Interestingly, Minnerly’s high school classmate (as well as football and basketball teammate), Jared Karstetter, was also a repeat selection on the All-District VIII team as a receiver for Washington State University.
Minnerly started eight of 11 EWU games in 2011, and ranked second on the team with 77 tackles. He had seven tackles for loss, an interception and two passes broken up. In his 31-game Eastern career – 17 as a starter – he has 127 total tackles with four interceptions, eight passes broken up, two forced fumbles and 10 tackles for loss.
He closed his junior campaign with a career-high 13 tackles in a 42-14 victory over Idaho State. He also broke-up a pass and had two tackles for loss, as the Eagles out-gained ISU 578-363 in total offense. Minnerly had a diving interception in the end zone to squelch a potential game-tying NAU scoring threat with 2:35 left to play in EWU’s 36-28 victory at Northern Arizona on Oct. 10. He finished that game with a team-high and career-high 12 tackles.
In the 2010 season, Minnerly was awarded the “Elite 88” Award by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He received the award for having the highest cumulative grade point average among the participants in the 2010 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Eastern won that game 20-19, as Minnerly finished with two passes broken up and two tackles.
Earlier in the 2010 season, Minnerly was honored as an honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection and was also chosen for the Academic All-District VIII squad. He was selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the second time in 2010 and was selected as EWU’s Scholar-Athlete for the month of December. He had 48 tackles, three interceptions and four passes broken up for the year.
Minnerly was a 4.0 student at Ferris where he excelled in football and basketball.
Grant Williams Has Seventh-Most Tackles in School History
Junior linebacker Grant Williams had 36 tackles for the season entering EWU’s game against Cal Poly on Nov. 12, but recorded a game-high19 in EWU’s 53-51 triple-overtime victory. His performance ranks as the seventh-most in recorded school history as he was making just his third start of the season at linebacker. Williams is a 2008 graduate of Rogers High School in Puyallup, Wash. Williams finished the year with 61 tackles to rank third on the team.
Ena Now One Fumble Recovery From School Record
One of Eastern’s most versatile players, junior defensive end Paul Ena had fumble recoveries in back-to-back games on Oct. 8 and Oct. 15, giving him seven in his career and putting him one away from the school record. He also has totals of 166 tackles (28 for losses totaling 82 yards), 7 1/2 sacks, one interception and three passes broken up in his 38-game career, after finishing his junior season with 48 tackles, 3 sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Ena closed the year with four tackles, a sack and one other tackle for loss in EWU’s 45-14 win over Idaho State on Nov. 19. He also had a pass deflection that was intercepted by teammate Bobby Gentry and returned 15 yards for a touchdown.
Ena had six tackles to lead the Eagles in EWU’s 48-27 win over Northern Colorado on Oct. 15. Ena also had the seventh fumble recovery in his career to move into third in school history, and four of his tackles were for losses, including 1 1/2 sacks. His fumble recovery came on a sack and forced fumble by Anthony Larry, and led to a touchdown that gave EWU a 48-20 lead. He is now just one recovery away from the record of eight held by Nicholas Ramos (2006-09) and Steve Mattson (1994-97). A week earlier in a 36-28 road win over Northern Arizona, Ena also had a fumble recovery.
In the most productive game of his career, Ena made big plays early and often in EWU’s 50-17 victory over Portland State on Oct. 30, 2010. On PSU’s first possession of the game, he had two quarterback hurries, then recovered a fumble on the ensuing third down play on one of six three-and-outs (plus a four-down turnover on downs) for the Eagles. Three of those three-and-outs came on PSU’s opening three possessions as Eastern jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and at one point had a 183-5 advantage in total offense. Later in the half, he had a 13-yard tackle for loss that led to a punt and a 65-yard scoring run by Taiwan Jones that gave EWU a 28-3 advantage. Ena also combined with J.C. Sherritt for another tackle for loss on that possession, and finished with four tackles in the game, including 2 1/2 for loss.
He began his second tour of duty at defensive end for the Eagles after originally beginning the season at linebacker, and he started at end against Weber State on Oct. 2. In the 2010 season, Ena had 55 tackles with 8 1/2 for loss including 2 1/2 sacks. He also had five quarterback hurries, an interception and four fumble recoveries. Two of his fumble recoveries came against Villanova on Dec. 17 in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
As a true freshman in 2009, Ena played as a backup defensive end, then started at middle linebacker in the regular season finale against Northern Arizona (11/21/09) and finished with a team-high 16 tackles. He started again in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs against Stephen F. Austin (11/28/09) and had 20 tackles to rank as the sixth-most in recorded school history. He finished the season fifth on the team with a total of 63 tackles.
He was Eastern’s fourth player to be on EWU’s depth chart as a starter at middle linebacker in 2009. Returning starter Zach Johnson did not play because of a blood clot that developed following knee surgery during the summer, then Kyle Wilkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice before Eastern’s seventh game. Tyler Washburn started four games until he also suffered a knee injury.
Ena was a linebacker at Inglemoor High School in Seattle, finishing his senior season in fall 2008 with 162 total tackles (65 solo, 97 assisted) and two sacks. His father Tali Ena was a standout running back at Washington State University and went on to play for the Seattle Seahawks.
Jake Miller Named to Freshman All-America Squad
After nearly breaking a school record in his debut season, Eastern Washington University punter Jake Miller was named to the 2-11 College Sports Journal All-Freshman All-America team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
A transfer from Washington State who graduated in 2010 from Central Valley High School in Spokane, Wash., Miller was one of 20 players on the voting list for the inaugural Jerry Rice Award given by The Sports Network to the outstanding freshman in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He was given honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference honors, as All-American David Harrington from Idaho State (led FCS with a 48.7 average) and Josh Kealamakia from Weber State (21st in FCS with a 41.29 average) were given first and second team accolades, respectively.
Miller did not meet the minimum of 3.6 punts per game to qualify and be ranked in NCAA statistics. But if he did, his 44.26 average would have ranked third nationally in FCS. He had 39 attempts and would have needed 40 to qualify.
The highest-ranked freshman in NCAA statistics was 15th and had a 41.91 average. Miller’s season average came just .16 from the school record of 44.42 yards per punt set by Jesse Nicassio in 2003.
Miller had 10 punts of at least 50 yards, with a long of 59. Ten of his 39 punts were downed inside the opponent 20-yard line.
Against Cal Poly on Nov. 12, Miller had all four of his punts travel at least 51 yards in EWU’s 53-51 triple-overtime victory. He had a pair of punts of 57 yards, another of 55 and one of 51. That effort earned him College Football Performance Awards National Punter of the Week honors.
True Freshman Cody McCarthy Has Back-to-Back Double-Digit Tackle Performance
In what is expected to be the first of many impressive tackle performances in his Eagle career, true freshman Cody McCarthy had a team-high 12 tackles in EWU’s 42-35 overtime win over Sacramento State on Oct. 22. He added 10 a week later versus Portland State, and finished his injury plagued year with 41 in seven games played in the 2011 season to rank ninth on the team.
McCarthy had arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason and didn’t make his Eagle debut until the Montana game on Sept. 17. He made the first start of his career Oct. 8 at Northern Arizona and had four tackles in his starting debut, a week after having seven against Weber State. He missed EWU’s final game of the season against Idaho State.
One of the highest-rated recruits by scouting services that Eastern has ever signed, Scout.com rated him as a three-star recruit and the No. 52 linebacker in the nation. Rivals.com rated him as the No. 36 linebacker nationally. A two-time first-team All-State selection and a second-team pick as a sophomore, he was picked as Idaho’s Gatorade Football Player of the Year in 2010 after leading his school to the 4A State title. He was also selected as one of 50 players nationally as Old Spice National Player of the Year. As a senior, the Idaho Statesman picked him as its State 4A Player of the Year. McCarthy was a four-year starter in high school and set school tackle records in a career (377), season (177) and single game (24).
Wager Continues Between Minnerly and Hamlin
A friendly wager between teammates is now concluding year two. During the 2010 season, safety Jeff Minnerly and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin challenged each other to see who could go the longest without cutting their hair. Linebacker Zach Johnson was also in on the wager, but dropped out after EWU won the NCAA Division I title.
Eastern Finishes With Winning Season With Six Victories in Last Seven Games
The 2011 season ended on a high note for the Eastern Washington University football team. Just not quite as high as the year before.
Finishing the regular season 6-5 – and with the requisite six wins to be considered for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs – the Eagles found out a day after the regular season ended that they weren’t lucky enough to be selected to the 20-team field. The defending NCAA Division I Champions, the Eagles overcame a rash of injuries to win six of their last seven games after a 0-4 start.
“I’m very proud of our team,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, whose team clinched a winning season by ending the year with a 45-14 victory at Idaho State. “Some of the things we overcame after starting 0-4 were tougher than some of the things we did in 15 games when we won the national title. It took a lot of grit and we had to get after it. It took a lot of heart and courage to come back like we did after being 0-4 and having to overcome the injuries. I’m very proud of these players for coming back to win six of their last seven.”
Eastern’s five losses were against teams that were a collective 39-22 in the 2011 season -- Washington was 6-6 and was ranked 22nd in the Associated Press Football Bowl Division poll before losing to Stanford on Oct. 22. South Dakota finished 6-5 and was ranked as high as 15th in FCS. Montana was 11-3 and ended the season ranked ranked third in the nation, and Montana State was 10-3 and finished seventh. The Bobcats were No. 1 in the FCS until losing to Montana on the final weekend of the regular season. Portland State was 6-5 and was ranked 25th in FCS before losing its finale.
In the past 16 years (1996-2011), the Eagles have won 61 percent (116-73) of their games overall and 63 percent (78-45) in Big Sky Conference play. Included are four Big Sky titles and four runner-up finishes, as well as 14 winning seasons, six NCAA Championship Subdivision Playoff berths and the 2010 FCS title.
Eastern, 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky Conference, has now had 12 out of its last 13 seasons conclude with a victory in the team’s final game of the regular season. The Eagles have won 13 of its last 14 regular season games in November.
En route to a thrilling, 53-51 overtime win over Cal Poly in the second-to-last game of the season, Eastern won its eighth game in the past two years when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter. The Eagles blew a 28-14 third-quarter lead, rallied to send the game into overtime with a game-tying drive with 1:51 left, then scored on four-straight plays (two touchdowns and two conversions) in the second and third overtimes to pull out the victory. A collective 19-7 in 2010 and 2011, EWU is 3-0 in overtime the past two seasons.
“It felt like a playoff game – it was a blast,” said Baldwin. “That’s why you coach – for moments like these. It’s fun to see your players step up and make plays on both sides of the ball. I’m just so proud of the players for competing at the end of the year and still fighting. That just shows their character.”
Before a disappointing 43-26 home loss to Portland State on Oct. 29 which ultimately eliminated EWU from postseason contention, the Eagles had won four-straight games after a 0-4 start. But Eastern couldn’t survive its injury woes, as PSU out-gained Eastern 338 to minus-1 in rushing yards to spoil a 440-yard passing performance by Eagle senior Bo Levi Mitchell.
A total of 14 starters – seven on each side of the ball – suffered injuries that kept them out of the lineup, including seven players lost for the season (wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, wide receiver Tyler Hart, guard Ashton Miller, guard Steven Forgette, guard Jase Butorac, strong safety Matt Johnson, linebacker Zach Johnson). In fact, only one offensive lineman – senior tackle Gabriel Jackson – started all 11 Eastern games, as a total of 10 players started along the offensive line.
Eastern started 46 different players in the 2011 season – 24 on offense and 22 on defense – with only five players (Jackson, Mitchell, wide receiver Nicholas Edwards, defensive tackle Charles Moetului and defensive end Paul Ena) starting all 11 games. A total of 21 players made starting debuts during the season.
By contrast, 40 different players started in EWU’s 15 games in 2010’s national title run, including three who made their lone starts on Senior Day. Eastern had 10 players start all 15 games a year ago, and five more started 14.
Mitchell won the Walter Payton Award presented by The Sports Network to the top player in FCS. In 2011, the senior led the FCS in four categories, including passing yards (4,009) and touchdown passes (33) on his way to breaking four school records. He broke EWU’s record for single season passing yards with 4,009, which ranks 17th in FCS history and fifth in Big Sky Conference history.
Also earning All-America honors in 2011 on offense were Edwards and his fellow wide receiver Greg Herd, as well as center Chris Powers. They helped Eastern lead FCS in passing yards per game (368.5) and rank seventh overall in total offense (447.4).
Edwards finished the season ranked first in FCS in TD catches (19), fourth in receptions per game (8.64 with a total of 95) and fourth in receiving yards per game (113.6, total of 1,250). He broke the school record for season receptions (95) and touchdown receptions (19), with both marks ranking in the top 20 in FCS history and in the top three all-time in the league.
Also earning All-America accolades were kicker Mike Jarrett and defensive tackle Renard Williams, and punter Jake Miller was a freshman All-American. Safety Jeff Minnerly won a pair of national and regional academic honors as well, and Jarrett was also was honored nationally.
In 2010, Eastern beat Weber State 35-24 in Ogden in the first of 11-straight victories on Eastern’s way to the NCAA Division I Championship. The Eagles finished the season 13-2 after defeating Delaware 20-19 in the national championship game.
Eastern returned 15 starters from the championship team that finished with a school-record 13 wins and just two losses. Twelve Eagle players garnered preseason honors entering 2011, including seven who received All-America honors at the NCAA FCS level. Those players included Mitchell, Kaufman, Powers and Jackson on offense, and the Johnson twins and Williams on defense. Only Mitchell and Jackson remained injury free, with the Johnson twins and Kaufman lost for the season with injuries.
At the beginning of the year, Mitchell was one of 20 players on the voting list for the Walter Payton Award, which is given annual by The Sports Network to top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Mitchell eventually won the Payton Award on its 25th anniversary at The Sports Network National Awards Banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, on the eve of the NCAA Division I Championship Game.
At the beginning of the season, Kaufman was on the watch list for the Payton Award, and Matt Johnson and Williams were on the list for the Buck Buchanan Award, presented to the top defensive player in FCS. Miller and running back Jordan Talley were on the watch list for the inaugural Jerry Rice Award given to the top freshman in FCS, and Miller ended up on the voting list. In 2010, linebacker J.C. Sherritt won the Buchanan Award, which was also won by defensive end Greg Peach in 2008. Quarterback Erik Meyer won the Payton in 2005.
Mitchell and Eagle Passing Attack Lead NCAA Statistics
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell finished the 2011 regular season as the leading passer in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. The senior from Katy, Texas, averaged 364.5 yards per game to rank ahead of the 346.1 average of Jackson State’s Casey Therriault. As a team, the Eagles are first with an average of 368.5 per game, just ahead of Morehead State’s 358.2 average.
Mitchell was also first nationally in total offense (364.0) and 18th in passing efficiency (146.7), and his 33 touchdowns and 4,009 total yards also led the FCS. Receivers Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd ranked in the top 15 in FCS in both receptions per game and receiving yards. Edwards was fourth in catches (8.64 with a total of 95) and fourth in receiving yards per game (113.6), while Herd was 15th (6.09 with a total of 67) and 13th (92.9) in those two categories, respectively. Edwards also has a FCS-best 19 touchdown receptions, with the next-best mark 16. Injured receiver Brandon Kaufman did not play enough games to qualify, but in statistics released on Oct. 2, he was 11th in receiving (7.25 with 29 total) and 14th in receiving yards per game (93.3).
In addition, freshman punter Jake Miller did not meet the minimum of 3.6 punts per game to qualify, but if he did, he would have ranked third nationally with a 44.26 average per punt. He had 39 attempts and would have needed 40 to qualify. Kicker Mike Jarrett finished eighth in field goals (1.45 with a school-record total of 16) and Edwards was second in scoring (10.4 points per game).
Eastern, however, was just 112th out of 120 FCS teams in rushing offense (79.0). Eastern was sixth overall in total offense (447.4) and 22nd in scoring (32.4). Defensively, Eastern was 101st in FCS in total defense, allowing an average of 411.9 yards per game. Eastern was 43rd in passing defense (198.7), 110th in rushing defense (213.2) and 87th in scoring defense (30.2). Eastern was also 25th in net punting (36.3) and 31st nationally in sacks (2.4 per game).
With a 11-6 advantage in turnovers forced the last four games, the Eagles finished 65th in turnover margin (-0.18 per game, with a total of 18 turnovers and 16 forced) after ranking 17th in FCS in 2011 and sixth in 2009. Through its first five games of the 2011 season, EWU was 109th in turnover margin (-1.4 per game) after ranking a season-low 111th the week before.
Bo Levi Mitchell Wins Payton Award!
His debut year, a national championship. The next year, the Walter Payton Award.
Those are the crowning glories for Eastern Washington University quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who capped a sensational two-year career for the Eagles by being selected as the winner of the Walter Payton Award given to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Fathead.com sponsors the prestigious award, which was presented for the 25th time by The Sports Network at the annual FCS Awards Banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell edged out the other two finalists -- Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum and Indiana State running back Shakir Bell -- for the award. Mitchell received 57 first-place votes and 453 total to win by a comfortable margin. Lum and Bell each finished with 219 votes, with Lum receiving 16 first-place votes and Bell getting 10.
“It’s an honor even to be mentioned in the final three,” said Mitchell, who becomes the fourth Eastern player in the last seven seasons to win either the Payton Award or the Buck Buchanan Award (top defensive player in FCS). “But to win the award is a huge accomplishment not only for me but for Eastern and our community.”
Eastern’s Erik Meyer won the Payton Award in 2005, and Greg Peach (2008) and J.C. Sherritt (2010) have previously won the Buck Buchanan Award presented to the top defensive player in FCS. A total of seven players from the Big Sky Conference have now won the Payton Award.
After playing two seasons at Southern Methodist University, Mitchell transferred to Eastern in January 2010 and led the Eagles to the NCAA Division I title his first season. The native of Katy, Texas, was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in EWU’s 20-19 come-from-behind victory over Delaware in the title game.
In 2011, Mitchell led the FCS in four categories, including passing yards (4,009) and touchdown passes (33) on his way to breaking four school records. He broke EWU’s record for single season passing yards with 4,009, which ranks 17th in FCS history and fifth in Big Sky Conference history.
“He really had an amazing career here,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “It’s a compliment to his work ethic and his ability to pick-up a new system. He had the talent and basically just evolved within our system and kept getting better. Even though our record wasn’t what we wanted, he kept finding a way to improve and get better every week all the way until the end of the season. That says a lot about his mentality, his competitiveness and his overall drive.”
“I want to thank my parents for everything they’ve done for me throughout my entire life, and my brothers who have always led me along the way and have been role models,” praised Mitchell. “And I appreciate all the coaches along the way, including Coach (June) Jones and Coach (Dan) Morrison at SMU for everything they taught me. Coach (Zak) Hill and Coach Baldwin have transformed me and turned me into the player I am today. Those people are the reason I won this award.”
Baldwin said he fully expects the strong-armed Mitchell – nicknamed the “Gunslinger” – to have the opportunity to play professional football for a long time.
“I expect him to be in a camp somewhere,” Baldwin said. “In my opinion, he’s too good a football player and too good a quarterback to not have at least the opportunity to make a team and play football at the next level.”
Mitchell was named to seven All-America teams this past season, earning first team honors on six of them. He was the top quarterback on teams selected by The Sports Network, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp, Associated Press, Phil Steele Publications and Beyond Sports College Network. Also, Mitchell earned third team honors from collegesportsmadness.com, with The College Sporting News Fabulous Fifty All-America team yet to be announced.
“To win all the national honors and win a national championship has been amazing to me and is something I’ll remember all my life,” Mitchell said. “I’ve created relationships with players and coaches on this team that will last a lifetime.”
Mitchell also had the rare opportunity to play the 2011 season with his older brother Cory Mitchell, a freshman wide receiver who finished with 19 catches for 310 yards and a pair of scores.
“When I transferred, the idea was to just to play two more years of football and have fun with it,” Bo Levi explained. “Not only that, but I wanted the opportunity to play with my brother. It’s been an honor to play with this group of guys and create the family we have. It’s been huge to be able to take this school to its first national championship.”
Injuries and a difficult early-season schedule were the main factors in keeping the Eagles from repeating as national champions.
“With everybody we had coming back, we obviously had big goals in mind and winning the national championship again was No. 1,” he said. “With all the injuries we had, it became one of those situations where you just have to go out and play.”
A total of 14 starters – seven on each side of the ball -- suffered injuries that kept them out of the lineup – including seven players lost for the season. Eastern’s offensive line was the hardest hit, as a total of 10 players started along the offensive line.
“You never know who is going to block in front of you and you never know what opponent is going to be in your face,” said Mitchell. “We had a lot of new players in there, but (offensive line coach) Aaron Best knew what he was doing. It opened my eyes to better respect the game, and respect football players as a whole. You can never underestimate your teammates and what they can do for you. Obviously, those players stepped in and played great the entire year and are really the reason we won the games we did.”
A knee injury forced Powers to miss most of Eastern’s game versus Montana State on Sept. 24 and the three games after that, becoming the fifth Eastern starting offensive lineman to miss action because of injuries. Converted from tight end the previous Monday, Patrick Mealey took the place of Powers against MSU, and EWU would win the next three games with Mealey as a starter. Previously, the injured offensive linemen included a trio of guards who were the backups to Powers. And because of those injuries, former offensive lineman Brandon Murphy moved from defense to offense in the middle of the Montana game on Sept. 17.
“Nothing worse could happen,” said Mitchell. “We lost our starting center, our right guard and our left guard, and both of those players were our backup centers. It just got to a point where we had to go out and have fun, and I had to trust the guys in front of me. Thankfully, those guys helped us do that.”
“There were times where I would see players in positions I had never seen there before,” he added. “My hat is off to Pat Mealey for the great job he did this year – he was 3-0 as a starter. He’s not as big as Chris Powers, so it was like taking a snap from a wide receiver. Looking back on it, it was fun and a good time.”
Mike Jarrett Sets Four School Records, Including Career Kick Scoring Mark
Finishing his career with four school records, senior kicker Mike Jarrett broke Eastern’s career record for kick scoring by scoring nine points in EWU’s season-ending 45-14 win over Idaho State on Nov. 19. He made a 23-yard field goal on the final play of the second half to break the record of 231 held by Troy Griggs (1999-01), and he went on to finish with 236 in his career to rank 16th in Big Sky Conference history.
An impressive 16-of-18 kicking field goals in the 2011 season, Jarrett’s field goal also gave him sole possession of the single season school record for field goals. He closed the year ranked ninth in the NCAA Football Subdivision with an average of 1.45 makes per game, and his .889 percentage ranked third in FCS among kickers with at least eight attempts. He also finished his career with school records for career extra points made (143) and attempted (150).
No Big Sky record exists for field goal accuracy, but Jarrett’s mark of .889 (16-of-18) exceeds the percentage of all of the top 26 players in league history for single season points per game. The best among those 26 players was .875 (21-of-24) by Nevada’s Kevin McKelvie in 1990. Of the top 27 kickers on the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision list for single season field goals, only two performances were better than Jarrett’s .889 mark -- .963 (26-of-27) and .893 (25-of-28).
The previous school record for field goals of 15 was set by a quartet of players -- Brett Bergstrom (2006), Josh Atwood (1997), Alex Lacson (1991) and Jason Cromer (1990). Jarrett’s career point total ranks third overall in school history behind a running back (Jesse Chatman with 322 from 1999-01) and a wide receiver (Eric Kimble with a record 328 from 2002-05).
Earlier in the season, Jarrett made field goals of 28 and 41 yards in EWU’s come-from-behind 42-35 win in overtime over Sacramento State on Oct. 22 to earn Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
With a pair of field goals and six extra points – his second-straight game of scoring 12 points – Jarrett broke Eastern’s record for extra points and extra points attempted in EWU’s 48-27 win over Northern Colorado. He broke the previous records of 120 makes and 126 attempts set by Griggs. Jarrett finished his career with 31 field goals (third) on 47 attempts (fourth) in his career, and made 38-of-39 extra point attempts as a senior. His brother, Bryan, was an All-Big Sky Conference safety for the Eagles in 2005 and 2007 after transferring from Western Washington University.