Eastern middle linebacker has played alongside Eagle greats such as J.C. Sherritt and Zach Johnson, but has been creating his own legacy along the way
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
As long as you do your job and try your best you will have success -- sometimes even more than you may have expected.
Senior linebacker Tyler Washburn didn’t come to Eastern Washington University with goals of reaching milestones or racking up statistics on the football field, but he did come here to work hard and play football. It wasn’t until just a week ago that he had noticed his name in the Eastern record book for career tackles.
Washburn, who has started in 30 of the 45 games he’s played, currently ranks 17th in career tackles with 229. He is just seven tackles from the No. 14 position, and could wind up in the top 10 before his career concludes.
Washburn is part of a trio of Eagle senior linebackers who have combined for 122 games of experience in their careers, with a collective total of 644 tackles. Zach Johnson has 274 tackles, Washburn has 229 and Grant Williams has 141. Johnson ranks ninth on EWU’s career leaders list with 274 tackles.
In 2010, Washburn played alongside J.C. Sherritt, who holds Eagle records for tackles in a game (24), season (176) and all-time (432). Sherritt, Johnson and Washburn played important roles in Eastern reaching and winning the 2010 NCAA Division I Championships, although Washburn missed the majority of the title game with a knee injury.
Heading into this Saturday’s (Nov. 3) home game versus Cal Poly – followed by Senior Day on Nov. 10 against UC Davis – Washburn is fourth on the team with 50 tackles and has a team-leading two fumble recoveries. Last year in EWU’s triple-overtime victory against the triple-option running attack of Cal Poly, Washburn had 12 tackles.
I’m sure you don’t focus on records, but did you know you are now 17th all time in tackles for the Eagles? What does this mean to you to be on this list?
“I did see a record watch list. Of course I don’t think about it during games, but yes, I noticed it. It’s a big thing to be on that list considering some of the company I’m with. J. C. Sherritt and Zach Johnson are on that list, so it’s a big deal for me to be with them in the record books.”
You’ve played alongside All-America linebackers J.C. Sherritt and Zach Johnson. What have you learned from them that helped you improve as a player?
“Being around those guys -- J.C. in 2010 and we’re lucky to have Zach back -- has been a huge deal for me. J.C has incredible instincts. If you watch him play, sometimes you don’t know where the ball is going but he always does. I try to watch and learn from him when watching some of the older video. Zach is incredibly athletic in space and I try to use some of his moves too.”
Last year you had 12 tackles against Cal Poly in the thrilling triple-overtime victory. What do you remember most from that game?
“I remember it being physical and long -- it was a grind. I was still battling a knee injury and not feeling totally confident in it. I remember feeling very beat up after the game. It was an ugly win, but a win is a win and we were happy about that. The hotel where we stayed in California was really nice so I remember that too.”
They ran the ball very effectively against the defense. What can you and the linebackers do differently this time around to shut down their running game?
“Last year we were very depleted and had almost no one subbing in. We are healthier this year, but we also just have to run faster. Last year we were slow. I feel like we are in way better shape this year and we’re not short on guys. We will be better off this year than last year.”
Senior Day is just a week and half away. How have you grown with all your senior teammates?
“We’re a very close group. We know each other like the back of our own hand. I think it helps us in those close games where we need to stick together like a brotherhood.”
Linebackers Zach Johnson and Grant Williams are also in their final season. What is your relationship like with them after playing alongside them the last few years?
“It feels great and I know I can count on those guys. They’re older, they’re experienced and they know what they are doing. I never feel like I have to do too much because I can trust them to take care of their assignments.”
What went wrong in last week’s loss at Southern Utah, and what does the team need to fix to get back on track?
“I just felt like we were off-balance. Watching the film it didn’t feel like we were the same defense. I know they put 30 points on us and that is too much. Our offense should be able to score 27 and we should be able to shut them down. We were up at the start of the fourth quarter and couldn’t stop them. If I could I would take the blame on only myself, but we need to step it up as a defense so that we can give our offense confidence.”
What is your favorite part of playing middle linebacker?
“Middle linebacker is great. I’m not a really bossy person, but I kind of like directing traffic and seeing the whole play develop. I like seeing everything and just running sideline to sideline and making plays.”
In the 2010 championship run you made a lot of big plays, including a 15 yard fumble return for a touchdown in the semifinals. But then you ended up sitting out most of the championship game with an injury. How hard was it to not be part of the action in the biggest game of your career, and how much of a motivation is it for you to get back to that stage?
“I tore my ACL in practice down at Texas getting ready for the championship game and I remember being on the sidelines -- it was a really emotional time for me. I think it is definitely one of the driving reasons why I want to get back to Texas. It’s one of the reasons I’m not satisfied, and I hope the other players aren’t satisfied with just making the playoffs or winning the Big Sky championship. Obviously, we take it one game at a time, but we dream of getting back there. I’m especially hungry because I didn’t get my chance that year.”
With the regular season winding down, you have a very solid conference record of 5-1. But what would you say is one of the weaknesses that this team is trying to fix before the playoff run?
“All of the guys are with me on this, and even Coach Baldwin has said, ‘we haven’t played our best football yet.’ We’re trying to peak at the right time. Record aside, we aren’t looking back -- we are staying focused on the next game. One thing I can say we need to improve is our turnover margin, both avoiding them and forcing them. Historically the team that wins that battle usually wins the game.”
What are you planning to do once you are finished at Eastern?
“Once I’m finished I’ll just get right into the job hunt. I might move back to Seattle because I liked it there. Basically I’m going to take my communications degree and try to find work. Hopefully I can find something in advertising, or if not, then something where I can write. The biggest thing is I want something with creativity.”
What would you like to say to all the Eagle fans reading this?
“The biggest thing I have to say is for them to show up on Saturday and enjoy the show. The more people show up the better chance we have of winning.”