Shaquille Hill and Jordan Tonani join Vernon Adams on FCS All-Freshman Team

Trio of Eagles honored on squad of 63 players chosen by the College Sports Journal

A trio of Eastern Washington University football players – safety Jordan Tonani, return specialist Shaquille Hill, and quarterback Vernon Adams – have been selected to the College Sports Journal NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-Freshman team.

All three were in Eastern’s 2011 recruiting class and redshirted that fall before making their Eagle debuts in 2012. Tonani is a graduate of nearby Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., and Hill and Adams are both from California. Hill is from Stockton and attended Brookside Christian High School, and Adams is from Pasadena and graduated from Alemany HS.

All three players contributed significantly to EWU’s 11-3 record overall, Big Sky Conference Championship and the school’s march to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.

Tonani started seven games as an injury replacement for senior safety and fellow Ferris grad Jeff Minnerly. Tonani finished the year sixth on the team with 68 tackles and also had a team-leading three interceptions with five passes broken up and a fumble recovery. He was selected as a honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection.

Hill also earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors, and finished ranked third in the Big Sky and 17th in FCS with a 26.8 average per kickoff return. He had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota on Sept. 6, and a non-scoring 93-yard return in the FCS Playoffs versus Illinois State.

Adams, who was recently named the FCS Freshman of the Year by College Sporting News, started nine games for the Eagles and helped direct the team to an 8-1 record in those starts. He ranked fourth in FCS in passing efficiency (160.80) in 2012, and was the only freshman in the top 24 of the rankings. His efficiency rating also ranked fourth all-time in school history. In nine games as a starter and three as a sub, he completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,961 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Interestingly, that freshman trio were Eastern’s three nominees for ROOT Sports Players of the Week following EWU’s 55-17 romp past North Dakota. Hill earned won the Special Teams Player of the Week honor because of his 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Tonani had 11 tackles in his first career start against UND to earn the nomination, and Adams completed 12-of-15 passes for 151 yards and four touchdowns, and also rushed for 38 yards in his third career start.

The 63 freshmen selected by College Sports Journal are representative of the 63 scholarships allowed to teams that compete in FCS. The All-Freshman team was selected by a blue ribbon panel of FCS experts put together by College Sports Journal executive editor David Coulson and CSJ publisher and managing editor Chuck Burton. The College Sports Journal will announce its first All-America team, including offensive and defensive players of the year, coach of the year, lineman of the year and special teams player of the year on Thursday.


More on Hill . . .

Redshirt freshman Shaquille Hill, who had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota on Sept. 6, finished ranked 17th in FCS with an average of 26.8 yards per kickoff return. He finished the 2012 season ranked on three of EWU’s single season bests lists, including kickoff returns (third, 34), kickoff return yards (second, 912) and kickoff return average (10th, 26.8).

He would have had another TD in the FCS Playoffs against Illinois State, but the video replay official determined he dropped the ball a yard shy of the end zone and it became a non-scoring 93-yard return. He earned honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference honors. As a team, Eastern was 14th in FCS with a 23.5 average, as Cory Mitchell added a non-scoring 67-yard return in the Illinois State game. Against North Dakota, Hill’s return sparked EWU to a 34-point first-half outburst in a 55-17 Big Sky win to help earn him ROOT Sports Special Teams Player of the Week as selected by the Big Sky Conference. He was also the National Kickoff Returner of  the Week in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision by College Football Performance Awards. Hill’s touchdown return – Eastern’s first since 2010 – gave EWU a 20-10 lead. After a North Dakota TD with 1:29 left in the first half cut the lead to 27-17, Hill struck again with a 41-yard kickoff return to set-up a Vernon Adams-to-Greg Herd TD pass with 13 ticks of the clock left.

It was the second week in a row that Hill was nominated after he recovered an onside kick with 2:19 left to play, which led to the winning score for Eastern in its 32-26 come-from-behind win over Montana on Sept. 29. After that touchdown with 53 seconds to play, Hill had the tackle on the ensuing kickoff return at the Montana 18-yard line. That became a key stop, as the Grizzlies drove 62 yards on five plays, but ran out of time to complete its own rally. Hill also had the first kickoff returns of his Eastern career, returning four for 84 yards and a touchdown.


More on Tonani . . .

A part of Eastern’s Ferris High School connection in the secondary, redshirt freshman Jordan Tonani made his mark as an injury replacement for safety Jeff Minnerly, who suffered a broken collarbone against Montana on Sept. 29.

An honorable mention All-Big Sky pick, Tonani finished with seven tackles, his third interception of the season and a pass broken up in EWU’s come-from-behind 31-28 victory over UC Davis on Nov. 10. One game earlier, he had a pick and eight tackles versus Cal Poly, earning College Sports Madness Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week accolades.

On Oct. 13, with EWU clinging to a 20-17 lead over Montana State, Tonani stepped in front of a MSU receiver on an out route for an interception he returned 21 yards for a touchdown with 11:15 to play, becoming the winning points in a 27-24 victory over the second-ranked Bobcats. He also had eight tackles, and as a result, was selected as the College Sports Madness National FCS Defensive Player of the Week, as well as their same honor for the Big Sky Conference.

One game earlier in his first collegiate start, Tonani had a team-leading 11 tackles as the Eagles held North Dakota scoreless in the second half of a 55-17 win. Entering the game, UND had 37 plays of 20 or more yards on offense this season, and EWU’s goal was to hold North Dakota to three or less. The Eagles did better than that, holding UND to just one – a 24-yard pass play in the third quarter after EWU had already opened a 34-17 lead.

Interestingly, Tonani and Minnerly are from the same high school in Spokane, Wash. Tonani graduated from Ferris in 2011; Minnerly graduated in 2008, along with EWU backup safety McKenzie Murphy. Minnerly, who returned to start against UC Davis on Nov. 10, was also Eastern’s leading tackler in his first career start, finishing with eight tackles in a 49-24 loss at Nevada on Sept. 2, 2010.


More on Adams . . .

The Eagles finished second in the league and seventh in FCS in passing offense (318.9 per game), as quarterbacks Vernon Adams and Padron combined to lead EWU to the school record for passing yards. The Eagles finished with 4,469 yards, breaking the previous record of 4,102 yards in 2005. Both quarterbacks averaged at least 191.9 yards of total offense per game (Padron 229.8 and Adams 191.9).

Adams ranked fourth in FCS in passing efficiency (160.80), and was the only freshman in the top 24 of the rankings. His efficiency rating also ranked fourth all-time in school history. In nine games as a starter and three as a sub, he completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,961 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Most importantly, Eastern was 8-1 in the nine games he started. Padron started the other five games and played six others as a sub, and completed 59.1 percent of his passes for a team-leading 2,491 yards, 17 TDs and seven interceptions, and ranked 29th in FCS in passing yards per game (226.5).

In back-to-back games in the FCS Playoffs, each had a school-record six touchdown passes -- Padron versus Illinois State in the quarterfinals and Adams against Sam Houston State in the semifinals. Adams completed 14-of-26 passes for 364 yards – all after intermission --- as EWU scored 42 points in the second half to rally from a 35-0 halftime deficit and nearly pull off an improbable rally.

Besides being selected as the Freshman of the Year on the College Sporting News “Fabulous 50” All-America team, Adams was one of 20 players on the ballot for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the top freshman in FCS by The Sports Network (he finished sixth in the voting, which occurred prior to the playoffs). His incredible scramble and touchdown throw against Sacramento State on Oct. 20 was also one of eight finalists for the GEICO Play of the Year.

Adams made his first career start in EWU’s 32-26 victory at Weber State on Sept. 22, 2012, and used his arm and his feet to lead EWU to a 20-3 halftime lead. The redshirt freshman led Eastern to scores on four of five drives in the first half, including a 75-yard touchdown mark on his first drive as an Eagle. He finished the game 7-of-12 for 75 yards, and ran five times for 62 yards, but missed most of the second half with cramping. Of his five rushes, four were for first downs; of his seven completions, four more resulted in EWU first downs.

One game later in his home starting debut, Adams atoned for a fourth-quarter fumble and interception by throwing two touchdown passes in the in the final 2:19 as the No. 7 Eagles rallied for a 32-26 victory over 21st-ranked Montana at Roos Field. As a result, Adams was selected as the Sports Network co-Freshman of the Week in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, the College Sports Journal co-Freshman of the Week and the ROOT Sports Offensive Player of the Week awarded by the Big Sky Conference. Eastern put together an 82-yard scoring drive to pull within two points with 2:19 remaining on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Adams to Brandon Kaufman. After EWU successfully recovered an onside kick, Eastern scored again on a 20-yard TD pass from Adams to Ashton Clark with 53 seconds to play. Adams completed 25-of-41 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start for EWU, and also added a team-leading 54 yards rushing. He accounted for 407 of EWU’s 447 yards of total offense. In the final quarter alone, Adams was 13-of-21 for 171 yards and a pair of scores. Eastern scored the first time it had the ball on an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive, then led 14-7 in the second quarter on Kaufman’s 36-yard TD reception from Adams.

Later in the year, Adams repeated as ROOT Sports Offensive Player of the Week after accounting for 356 yards of offense in seventh-ranked EWU’s 34-17 win versus No. 16 Cal Poly on Nov. 3. Adams completed 19-of-29 passes for 288 yards and had three touchdown tosses, and also rushed for 68 yards against the Mustangs. Eastern’s scoring drives in the game were of 81, 66, 74, 69, 41 and 83 yards.



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