First-Ever Trip to Grand Forks Next Challenge for No. 6 Eagles
After successful Big Sky debut in first home game in nearly a month, EWU knows playing indoors at North Dakota won’t be at all like last year’s surprisingly easy 55-17 win in first-ever meeting against Big Sky newcomer
#6 Eastern Washington Univ. “Eagles”
University of North Dakota
Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 • 12:35 p.m.
Alerus Center (12,283) • Grand Forks, N.D.
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington ‘96)
School Record: 47-21/31-10 Big Sky Conference (6th Season)
Career Record: 57-24 (7th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 in 2009, 13-2 in 2010, 6-5 in 2011, 11-3 in 2012)
2013: 3-2/1-0 Big Sky
2012: 11-3/7-1 Big Sky Conference (co-champ; FCS Playoffs semifinals)
Last Game: #6 EWU 41, Weber State 19 (Oct. 5 in Cheney, Wash.)
TV: Televised in Eastern Washington by SWX - SWX Digital 6.2 in Spokane, 25.3 in the Tri-Cities & 23.3 in the Yakima area; Comcast 115; Davis Cable 514/81.2/12; Time Warner 306; Charter 287, Cable One 466; Northland Cable 115 (produced by the Midco Sports Network)
Radio: 700-AM ESPN in Spokane. Larry Weir returns for his 23rd season calling the play-by-play, with analysis handled by Paul Sorensen and sideline commentary by Keith Osso. Osso will also serve as host of the Washington Trust Bank Tailgate Show, starting 1 1/2 hours prior to kickoff.
Internet Radio: www.700espn.com or www.tunein.com\
Radio iPhone App: Search for “700 ESPN” and download app. An app is also available for tunein radio.
Live Stats: http://www.undsports.com/liveStats/liveStats.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=13500
Weekly Coaches Show: Mondays 6 p.m. at “Epic” at Northern Quest Resort & Casino (formerly the “Q”) . . . 700-AM ESPN, www.700espn.com & via iphone app. (search for “Spokane Radio” and download app).
Watch Parties: Consult EWU social media outlets for details the Friday before games. Those who may carry EWU games include “Epic” at Northern Quest Casino and Resort in Airway Heights, the Swinging Doors in North Spokane and at Eagles Pub in Cheney.
The Eagles will have to wait a week to return to their comfort zone at Roos Field, but at least that’s better than the month EWU had to go without a game at “The Inferno.”
The sixth-ranked Eastern Washington University football team heads to Grand Forks, N.D. for the first time in school history this Saturday (Oct. 12) when the Eagles play North Dakota in a Big Sky Conference game. Kickoff indoors in the 12,283-seat Alerus Center is 12:35 p.m. Pacific time in a game produced by the Midco Sports Network and televised live in the Eastern Washington region by SWX.
A year ago, in the first-ever meeting between the two schools, the Eagles handed the Big Sky newcomer a 55-17 pasting. The 38-point margin was Eastern’s best against a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision opponent in eight years, as the Eagles scored 34 first-half points en route to the rout.
But EWU head coach Beau Baldwin knows last year’s game was an anomaly in the Big Sky Conference. His team is currently 1-0 in the league and 3-2 overall after last week’s 41-19 home win over Weber State, and UND is now 1-1 in the Big Sky and 2-3 on the season after edging Idaho State 28-25.
“The conference is tough from top to bottom,” Baldwin said. “If you get yourself to 1-0 you are really in (a good position). It is a long haul anyway you look at it, but to get it to 1-0 is huge.”
North Dakota opened the year with a 59-point victory at home over Valparaiso (69-10), but also fell at home to a trio of nationally-ranked FCS opponents – South Dakota State (35-28), Montana (55-17) and Montana State (63-20).
“They only have one less victory than us,” said Baldwin, who made the trip to Grand Forks previously as a coach at Central Washington. “At this point in the season, we are all just battling in the Big Sky Conference. We are all still in the hunt for the Big Sky title and they are right there in that hunt as well. They’ve lost to some really good football teams and they play better at home. There is a sense of pride in that dome and it’s a special arena. It’s not an easy place to go play.”
Baldwin hopes his team can perform as well as the Grizzlies and Bobcats did in Grand Forks before the Eagles return home to face Southern Utah on Oct. 19 in EWU’s 87th-annual Homecoming game. The seventh-largest crowd in Roos Field history – 9,734 – attended the Weber State win in EWU’s first home appearance since Sept. 7.
“You could feel (the crowd’s presence),” said Baldwin. “I thank the students for that. I appreciate all the support they give, and them coming out. We saw them an hour before the game in their seats, and it was great to see.”
This week, the Eagles remain sixth in The Sports Network FCS top-25 poll. The Eagles are seeking a seventh league title, with previous titles in 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2012.
After this week’s game, the Eagles face 4-2 Southern Utah and 4-1 Montana before taking on a pair of nationally-ranked foes in November. Eastern’s resume this season has included a 49-46 victory at Pac-12 Conference member Oregon State, and narrow road losses to Toledo (33-21) and Sam Houston State (49-34).
“This was definitely the toughest preseason schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here in terms of the first four games,” said Baldwin, who is in his 10th year overall at Eastern. “But I invite it – I love it. It’s helped us be battle-tested because we’ve been in some serious wars.
“It’s tough and it’s a challenge,” he added. “We were put on a stage on the road against one of the top teams at our level and now we have move forward in a very tough conference.”
Official Social Media Sites
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EWU Football Web Page - http://goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/index
EWU Football News & Notes - http://www.goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/2013-14/news
Link to Football Ticket & RV Parking Information: http://www.goeags.com/tickets
Big Sky Conference Football - http://www.bigskyconf.com/index.aspx?tab=football&path=football
Spokane Spokesman-Review EWU Football Page - http://www.spokesman.com/eagles
700 ESPN – http://700espn.com
The Sports Network (FCS Football) - http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page=cfoot2/indexpic.htm
NCAA FCS Football - http://www.ncaafootball.com/DivisionIFCS.aspx
NCAA Statistics (2013) - http://stats.ncaa.org/rankings?sport_code=MFB&division=12
NCAA Statistics (2012) - http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/mainpage.jsp?year=2012
College Sporting News - http://www.collegesportingnews.com
College Sports Journal - http://www.college-sports-journal.com
College Football Performance Awards – http://www.collegefootballperformance.com
College Sports Madness - http://www.collegesportsmadness.com/fcs-football
* This week’s contest at North Dakota is Eastern’s 200th Big Sky Conference game since joining the league in 1987. As the Big Sky celebrates its 50th anniversary this season, the Eagles are in their 26th year as a member and have a current record of 114-85 (.573). Later this season, the Eagles could win their 500th game all-time. Now in its 105th year of football, Eastern is 495-401-23 (.551) in 919 games.
* Ranked for the 21st-consecutive time, Eastern remains sixth this week in The Sports Network Top 25 FCS Poll released Monday (Oct. 7). Eastern is behind top-ranked North Dakota State, SHSU, Towson, Northern Iowa and Eastern Illinois. Other Big Sky schools in this week’s rankings include Montana State (#7), Montana (#11) and Northern Arizona (#19). Eastern is eighth in the FCS Coaches Poll.
* In last year’s meeting versus North Dakota, a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Shaquille Hill sparked Eastern to a 34-point first-half outburst in a 55-17 win on Oct. 6 at Roos Field. Eastern’s 38-point winning margin was its best since a 52-13 win over Montana-Western on Aug. 31, 2007, and the largest versus a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision opponent since a 51-7 win over Weber State on Oct. 23, 2004. The 55 points the Eagles scored were their most since a 56-30 win at Sacramento State in 2009. Eastern won the total offense battle 458-325, but that didn’t matter as much as EWU’s short TD drives of 24 and 57 yards to open a 34-17 lead at halftime, despite having one yard less on offense than UND. Eastern had a 236-102 advantage in offense in the second half. The Eagles rushed for 290 yards, with starter Quincy Forte finishing with 72 yards and Demitrius Bronson coming off the bench to register his first 100-yard outing as an Eagle with 118 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Quarterback Vernon Adams had an efficient and productive outing, completing 12-of-15 passes for 151 yards and four touchdowns in his third career start. His passing efficiency rating was an off-the-charts 252.6.
* Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams, who was added to the Walter Payton Award Watch List on Oct. 1, was one of five National All-Stars selected by College Sporting News after accounting for five TD in EWU’s 41-19 win over Weber State. He had 260 yards of total offense, completing 16-of-23 passes for 194 yards and 4 TD, and rushing for another 66 yards and a score. Adams continues to rank in the top four in FCS in four separate categories this week. He is second in points responsible for with an average of 26.8 per game (total of 134 with 19 TD passes, three rushing touchdowns and one two-point conversion). He is second in passing efficiency (189.8), fourth in total offense (367.8) and seventh in passing yards (316.8 per game).
* Redshirt freshman receiver Cooper Kupp is seventh in FCS with seven touchdown receptions. Senior receiver Ashton Clark is 24th in receiving yards per game (89.2) and 54th in receptions (5.2 per game).
* As a team, EWU is fifth in FCS in total offense (517.6 per game), fifth in passing (332.6), 44th in rushing (185.0), 15th in scoring (37.6) and second in passing efficiency (185.1). Defensively, EWU is 79th in total defense (415.8), 92nd in rushing (203.4), 57th in passing (212.4) and 82nd in scoring (32.2). In addition, the Eagles are the fourth-most efficient team in red zone offense (94.1 scoring percentage), and are 19th in both third-down conversions (47.4 percent) and fourth-down conversions (71.4 percent).
* Out of 122 FCS schools, North Dakota is 110th in turnover margin with an average of -1.4 per game (six takeaways, 13 giveaways including eight interceptions). It is 55th in total offense (391.8), 27th in passing offense (264.6), 92nd in rushing offense (127.2) and 38th in scoring offense (32.4). Defensively, UND is 93rd in total defense (442.4), 83rd in rushing (190.0), 90th in passing (252.4) and 105th in scoring (37.6). North Dakota ranks in the top 10 in FCS in red zone offense (fourth, .941 scoring percentage) and net punting (ninth, 39.65). UND has returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns this season.
* Eastern’s defense will hope for a repeat performance against one of the Big Sky’s premier players in UND wide receiver Greg Hardin. He enters Saturday’s game ranked third in FCS in all-purpose yards per game (221.6), eighth in reception yards per game (108.4) and 13th in kickoff return average (29.4 with two touchdowns). He has a total of 25 catches for 542 yards and three touchdowns this season. A year against EWU, Hardin managed only four catches for 32 yards and a long of 15, and had 78 yards on four kickoff returns with a long of 23.
* Junior running back Mario Brown had 10 carries for 98 yards (9.8 per carry) and two receptions for 20 yards and a touchdown against Weber State. A junior who redshirted last season, Brown had the two longest rushes of his career – 37 and 28 – that led to Eagle touchdowns. He had a 6-yard TD catch that gave EWU a 41-12 lead late in the third quarter. His 98 yards was the third-best of his career, ranking only behind the 104 he had versus Villanova in the semifinals of the 2010 FCS Playoffs and the 100 yards he finished with versus Idaho State late in the 2011 season.
* Redshirt freshman Miquiyah Zamora had five total tackles (1 1/2 for loss) and his first career interception against Weber State in the first start of his career. His pick led to a second-quarter TD and a 20-6 EWU lead. The Wildcats managed only 249 yards versus the Eagles – 109 rushing and 140 passing -- against an Eagle defense that allowed 1,086 yards in its last two games. Eastern had a 165-14 advantage in the third quarter as the EWU turned a 15-point halftime lead into a 29-point bulge entering the final quarter.
* Punt returner Ashton Clark had his most productive day in three seasons as EWU’s punt returner, returning four punts for 43 yards with a long of 19 against Weber State. The senior also had an 18-yard return that gave EWU the ball at its own 47 in the first quarter and led to an EWU TD.
* Redshirt freshman Cooper Kupp led the Eagles with five catches for 87 yards and a pair of first-quarter touchdowns against Weber State. He has seven TD catches (seventh in FCS) on just 20 catches this season – a TD for every 2.9 catches so far this year. He is averaging 20.9 yards per catch (20-418). Kupp had five catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns in his debut as an Eagle against Oregon State on Aug. 31. He spent part of the summer in 2013 working at the Manning Passing Academy as a college counselor/coach. While in high school he previously attended the camp, which is run by Archie Manning, the father of NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning. Archie is a former New Orleans Saints teammate of Cooper’s grandfather, Jake Kupp.
* EWU’s starting linebackers combined for only 15 tackles and the starting secondary had 29 in a 49-34 loss on Sept. 28 when the then No. 2 Eagles fell to No. 4 Sam Houston State. Against Weber State a week later, the linebackers had 22 and the secondary finished with 16.
* The Eagles have scored 40 percent of their points in the first quarter this season, with fast starts in all five games yielding a total of 75 tallies in the first period. Eastern has scored 44, 35 and 34 points in quarters two through four, respectively. Eastern has outscored opponents 119-73 in the first half and have had leads at intermission in all of its wins. Eastern is 0-2 when it trails at halftime and has been out-scored 98-69 after intermission. Eastern was outscored 36-21 in the third quarter until the Weber State game when the Eagles out-gained the Wildcats 165-14 en route to a 14-0 advantage on the scoreboard.
* The Eagles are now an incredible 37-of-42 since 2011 kicking field goals after senior Kevin Miller made all three of his attempts from 33, 23 and 36 yards against Oregon State on Aug. 31. Miller, a kickoff specialist in his first three years in the Eagle program (2009, 2010, 2012), is now 6-of-7 in his career (1-of-1 in 2012, 2-of-3 in 2010). Last season, senior Jimmy Pavel was selected to six all-America teams after making 17-of-19 field goals (0-of-1 in 2011); the year before that, senior Mike Jarrett was an impressive 16-of-18.
* The Eagles have already won a nailbiter in 2013, and have now won 12 games since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter. Besides a 49-46 victory over 25th-ranked Oregon State in 2013, Eastern won three in 2012 (Montana, Montana State, UC Davis), two in 2011 and six in the 2010 national title season.
* Eastern’s 49-46 victory at No. 25 Oregon State on Aug. 31, 2013, was just the fourth time since the division was created in 1978 that a FCS (formerly known as I-AA) team defeated a ranked FBS opponent. The other times that feat occurred came in 1983 (Cincinnati def. #20 Penn State 14-3), 2007 (Appalachian State def. #5 Michigan 34-32) and 2010 (James Madison def. #13 Virginia Tech 21-16).
* Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and several other Eagles helped at the Russell Wilson Passing Academy in Spokane this past summer. Adams and Wilson – the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks -- are similar in stature and ability, and will continue to draw comparisons as Adams’ career progresses. Adams, in fact, is now wearing jersey No. 3 for the Eagles – the same number Wilson wears -- after donning No. 16 as a redshirt freshman last season. The switch is unrelated to Wilson -- Adams wore No. 3 in high school and asked for that number after it became available when wide receiver Greg Herd graduated.
* Team co-captains for the 2013 season include a quartet of seniors from high schools in the state of Washington -- center Ashton Miller, senior wide receiver Ashton Clark, senior safety Allen Brown and junior linebacker Ronnie Hamilton. The players were selected by a vote of their teammates.
* A total of 15 Eastern players were honored on preseason All-America lists, All-Big Sky Conference teams and positional rankings released this summer by NCAA Football Championships Subdivision media outlets. Preseason All-America accolades were received by cornerback T.J. Lee III, offensive lineman Steven Forgette and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, who was also named to the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award presented by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in FCS.
* Eastern, which ranked fourth in the final regular season Sports Network Top-25 poll and was seeded second in the playoffs, finished the 2012 season 11-3. It was the fourth 10+ win in school history (joining the 2010, 1997 and 1967 squads), and came on the heels of EWU’s sixth Big Sky Conference Championship in football. Eastern entered the 2013 season ranked fourth in The Sports Network preseason Top-25 poll, and was ranked third by the coaches.
* The Eagles are one of just five schools in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision to advance to the playoffs six times in the last nine seasons (2004-2012), and EWU hopes to add to that this year. Eastern’s 2012 season ended with a 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State in the semifinals, denying the Eagles a repeat trip to Texas to play for the NCAA Division I title they won in 2010.
* Among the returning letterwinners are seven starters on offense and 5 1/2 on defense, as well as the school’s punter and kickoff specialist. Three All-Americans (linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, cornerback T.J. Lee, offensive guard Steven Forgette) and three others who earned Freshman All-America accolades (quarterback Vernon Adams, safety Jordan Tonani and return specialist Shaquille Hill) are among the returning players. Tonani, a seven game starter in 2012, will miss the 2013 season because of hip surgery.
* Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin is back for his sixth season at the helm after being selected as one of 20 coaches on the voting list for the 2012 Eddie Robinson Award, given to the national coach of the year in FCS. He finished fifth in the voting, and was also the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year for the first time. Baldwin has now been a part of four Big Sky Conference championships as either an Eastern assistant coach (2004, 2005) or head coach (2010, 2012). In addition, he has been a part of five FCS Playoff berths – two as an assistant (2004, 2005) and three in four seasons as head coach (2009, 2010, 2012). In receiving the Big Sky Coach of the Year honor for the first time, Baldwin is the fourth coach in school history to win the award. His predecessor, Paul Wulff, won in 2001, 2004 and 2005. Current Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer won in 1997 and Dick Zornes was Eastern’s first in 1992. The Eagles won league titles and advanced to the playoffs in all of those years except for 2001. Baldwin coached in his 100th Eastern game when the Eagles rallied to beat Montana 32-26 earlier in the 2012 season. He is now 47-21 in five-plus seasons as a head coach (2008-13), and was 25-22 as EWU assistant coach for four seasons (2003-06), for a collective total of 72-43. His .756 winning percentage in Big Sky Conference games (31-10) is the best-ever by an Eastern head coach and currently ranks seventh in the 50-year history of the Big Sky Conference. His .691 percentage overall is 12th in league history.
* Ronnie Hamlin’s long hair has been a trademark of his, and a friendly wager between teammates lasted three years. During the 2010 season, Hamlin and safety Jeff Minnerly 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. Minnerly eventually cut his hair on Dec. 17, 2012 -- just two days after his career and the 2012 season concluded -- and donated the hair to Locks of Love.
* The top plays and honors of sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams have been encapsulated in a new web site located at www.BigPlayVA.com. Featured are some of the top plays by Adams, including his incredible scramble and touchdown throw against Sacramento State on Oct. 20, 2012, which was one of eight finalists for the GEICO Play of the Year. His game-winning touchdown run against Oregon State on Aug. 31, 2013, is also on the site. He had a school-record of 518 yards of total offense in the 49-46 upset over the Beavers in only the fourth-ever win by a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision school over a ranked member of the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. The many accolades Adams won as a result of the OSU victory are also featured, as well as an interview on the Jim Rome Show. His complete bio, statistics and information on EWU tickets and the Gateway Project are also prominent.
Quoting Coach Baldwin
On Defense: “I was really proud of the way our defense responded from a ballgame in which we didn’t put the product on the field against Sam Houston State that we wanted to. Our players channeled their energy in the right direction to improve, and worked to be good in some areas we were average. It was monster to have three three-and-outs to start the game and three more to begin the second half. Those early three-and-outs and the dominance that our defense showed – especially in the third quarter – really helped put away that game. I was proud with the way they flew around and played hard and fast. If they made a mistake, they came back the next play firing.”
On Running Game: “I just think that we just have to keep feeding it (to the running backs). I was really happy with our balance in Sam Houston and I wanted to make sure I stayed with that balance (against Weber State). Toledo is the one game that I go back to as a coach and wish I had balanced it out more in the second and third quarter (with the passing and running game). I want to continue to keep that balance, and the more balance we have the better chance we have for big plays.”
On North Dakota Offense: “They have a freshman quarterback with a lot of ability, and he has a lot of great wide receivers to throw to. Offensively they have the ability to put up lots of points. We just have to do a good job stopping their offense, and that’s not going to be easy. Their receivers are a big-time strength for them. Hardin gets all the attention, but they have other players who can make some big plays.”
On North Dakota Defense: “Their front seven is very active and they disguise things well. They bring blitzes and keep you off-balance that way. So we have to be really good with our recognition and need to get into the right protections. In the secondary, that’s where they have some of their best team speed. They don’t have the biggest secondary, but they move well and they are not afraid of man-to-man situations. We have to be sharp in our execution and recognize what’s going on.”
On North Dakota Special Teams: “It’s a weapon for them. They’ve created big plays and that’s something I want to see our special teams units continue to work towards. It’s going to be a challenge, and if it’s a battle on the road, having one team dominate special teams can be a difference in the game. We have to be on point and understand how athletic their returners are and how well they run their schemes. They have proven it on the field – they have shown they can make plays in those units.”
On Needing to Improve: “You have to build off every game whether it’s a win or loss. When you play a great team on the road like Sam Houston State, it shows you some areas you need to improve on – and that’s what it should show us. As players and coaches we need to look at this as an opportunity to improve if we are going to go on the road against great teams and have success.”
On Being Fourth FCS School to Defeat a Ranked FBS Team: “It’s big and shines a light on our program, even more than before. I’m not going to undersell it – it’s huge for the program and what it does in recruiting and the image of who we are.”
On Victory Over No. 25 Oregon State: “I’m proud of our players. We’ve come up short before in games like this, but I’m proud when I see them out there fighting, not getting wide-eyed and attacking the situation. When things don’t go right, we want them to be ready to respond. And our team did that against a very good Oregon State football team. Winning the ballgame is huge, but I was just proud of how our team handled every situation that came up in the game.”
On Coaching Eagle Players: “The best part about coaching to me is working with 18 to 23-year-old student-athletes and getting a chance to make an impact in their lives. We get to watch them grow, and it’s fun to be a part of that process. The culture and attitude that has been built over the years has grown to a new level. We’ve had great players and leaders here before, but this group has learned from past teams and players on how to prepare in the offseason and what to do in the summer. The makeup and mental attitude of our players has grown. If you have that, you have a chance to be successful and the more enjoyable it is to coach.”
Defense (182 starts by 16 players): Allen Brown 31, Ronnie Hamlin 27, T.J. Lee 25, Ronald Baines 19, Andru Pulu 18, Anthony Larry 13, Cody McCarthy 10, J.C. Agen 8, Jordan Tonani 7, Evan Day 8, Will Katoa 7, Tevin McDonald 5, Miquiyah Zamora 1, Dylan Zylstra 1, Miles Weatheroy 1, Christian Hudnell 1.
Offense (229 starts by 24 players): Steven Forgette 36, Brandon Murphy 28, Zack Gehring 25, Ashton Miller 20, Clay DeBord 18, Vernon Adams 14, Ashton Clark 10, Demitrius Bronson 9, Jordan Talley 9, Quincy Forte 9, Drew Reynolds 8, Ryan Seto 7, Mario Brown 5, Cooper Kupp 5, Cory Mitchell 4, Jake Withnell 4, Shaquille Hill 3, Cassidy Curtis 3, Cody Humphrey 2, Daniel Johnson 2, Jase Butorac 2, Jake Rodgers 2, Jabari Wilson 2, Zach Wimberly 1, T.J. Boatright 1.
* Only four positions had players making their first starts as Eagles against Oregon State, and two were manned by former starters in the Pac-12 Conference. Redshirt freshman Cooper Kupp started at wide receiver and redshirt freshman Jabari Wilson started at running back. Jake Rodgers, a 12-game starter at Washington State last season, started at right tackle in his Eagle starting debut. The other Eagle starting debut was by safety Tevin McDonald, who started 24 games the past two seasons at UCLA. Sophomore wide receiver Shaquille Hill made the first start of his career in EWU’s second game of the season against Western Oregon, and offensive tackle Cassidy Curtis and fullback/tight end Zach Wimberly made their first starts at Toledo. Linebacker Miquiyah Zamora made the first start of his career against Weber State and responded with five tackles (1 1/2 for loss) and had his first career interception, which led to an EWU touchdown.
After missing the last three games, starting offensive tackle Jake Rodgers (knee sprain) and running back Jabari Wilson (shoulder) are both listed as questionable this week. Both were injured against Western Oregon on Sept. 7. Jordan Pulu (knee), who played last year as a true freshman and has a redshirt season available, had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 29 and made his season debut against Weber State. Offensive lineman Drew Reynolds (knee) also made his season debut against WSU after missing EWU’s first five games. Running back Demitrius Bronson (high ankle sprain) suited up versus Toledo, but sat out for the third-straight game. He carried five times and scored twice in his season debut against Sam Houston State on Sept. 28. Running back Quincy Forte (hamstring) missed the Oregon State game, but returned to rush for 99 yards against Western Oregon. Senior tight end Cody Humphrey suffered a dislocated patella in practice on Aug. 21 and required surgery, and is out for the season. As a result, defensive lineman Zach Wimberly was moved to tight end, and Ryan Seto will play as both a wide receiver and tight end. Before the season began, freshman All-America safety and Ferris HS graduate Jordan Tonani began surgical treatment for a hip ailment that will cost him the 2013 season. Tonani’s painful hip injury is called hip joint acetabular impingement, and the ailment requires surgery to both hips with six months of rehabilitation required for each. His first surgery on his left hip took place on July 29, and also included a labral tear that was repaired. He had the second surgery on his right hip on Sept. 16. He would have competed for a starting position at safety, but should return fully healthy in spring 2014.
* Currently on the 2013 Buck Buchanan Watch List, senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin earned All-America honors in 2012 from Phil Steele Publications (fourth team) and was a first team All-Big Sky Conference selection. He had 136 tackles in 2012 to rank fifth in school history, and his average of 9.71 per game ranked 31st in FCS and fourth in the Big Sky. Hamlin has 259 tackles already in his 30-game EWU career (27 starts) to rank 11th in school history. Despite being listed as a senior, Hamlin will eventually apply to the NCAA to receive his sixth year. After redshirting the 2009 season because of the bum knee, the injury also kept him from playing during Eastern’s national championship season in 2010. If he does get the extra year back, he could challenge the school record of 432 tackles set by 2010 Buck Buchanan Award winner J.C. Sherritt.
* Junior cornerback T.J. Lee earned All-America honors in 2012 from The Sports Network (second team), and was also honored on the College Sporting News “Fabulous 50” All-America squad. Lee now has 180 tackles, three interceptions, 16 passes broken up and 3 1/2 sacks in his 39-game career (25 starts). He is just 20 tackles from becoming the 34th Eagle in school history to finish with 200 career tackles. He needs just two passes broken up to rank on EWU’s top 10 list in that category (currently 12th). He piled up some impressive statistics in 2012, ranking third on the team with 90 tackles and finishing with 11 passes broken up to rank 10th in school history. His average of 6.4 tackles per game ranked 29th in the Big Sky and his total of 11 passes broken up were second. The two-time first team All-Big Sky selection also had 2 1/2 sacks, nine total tackles for loss, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. As a sophomore in 2011, Lee was a first team All-Big Sky selection, finishing the season with 48 tackles, a pair of interceptions and one pass broken up.
* Senior offensive guard Steven Forgette earned honorable mention All-America honors in 2012 from the College Sports Journal and second team All-Big Sky accolades. He was also named to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team. Despite missing most of the 2011 season because of an injury, Forgette’s 36 career starts are the most among all Eastern players. The only game he didn’t start in his 37-game career was to allow a senior to start on Senior Day in 2010. Forgette helped EWU rank seventh in the FCS in 2012 in passing yards per game (318.9), 14th overall in total offense (442.0) and 17th in scoring (33.7). He started all 14 Eastern games at left offensive guard a year after breaking his fibula against Montana (9/17/11) and missing the rest of the season. He earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors as a redshirt freshman in 2010 when the Eagles won the NCAA Division I title.
* Vernon Adams currently has a career passing efficiency rating of 172.7 which ranks as the school record (62 percent, 3,545 yards, 39 TD, 13 INT). A starter in 14 of the 17 games he has played in his career, Adams has a career average of 208.5 passing yards per game to currently fifth all-time at EWU and his 39 TD passes are already seventh. Adams was selected as the Freshman of the Year on the College Sporting News “Fabulous 50” All-America team in 2012, and was also on the College Sports Journal Freshman All-America squad. Adams was also 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). 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.
* The Eagles finished seventh in FCS in passing offense (318.9 per game) in 2012, as returning starter Vernon Adams combined with Kyle Padron 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. Padron started 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 (12/8/12) in the quarterfinals and Adams against Sam Houston State (12/15/12) 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.
* Despite standing just 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, senior safety Allen Brown finished second on the team with 91 tackles in 2012 to help him earn second team All-Big Sky honors. He was also second on the team with seven passes broken up to go along with a pair of forced fumbles. Brown has played in 44 games in his career (31 as a starter), with totals of 213 tackles, four interceptions and 13 passes broken up. He is the 34th Eagle in school history to finish with 200 career tackles, and currently ranks 25th. He needs five passes broken up to rank on EWU’s top 10 list in that category. He has 31 career starts, ranking first on the defense and second overall (Steven Forgette has 36). At the end of spring practices, Brown was the recipient on defense of the “Iron Eagle” Award for achievements in the off-season in strength and conditioning and the classroom. His average of 6.5 tackles per game in 2012 ranked 28th in the Big Sky. He was also second on the team with seven passes broken up to go along with a pair of forced fumbles.
* Returning players Ashton Miller and Jordan Talley were selected to the 2012 Capital One Academic All-District VIII squad, which is selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). They joined Eastern senior safety Jeff Minnerly, who “three-peated” on the squad. Miller, a senior offensive center, has a 3.67 GPA and is majoring in business administration. Talley is a sophomore linebacker who formerly played running back, and is a pre-medicine major with a 3.55 GPA. Eastern football players have now been honored 56 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and eight players have gone on to win 10 Academic All-America honors. 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.
* Redshirt freshman Shaquille Hill currently has the fifth-best career kickoff return average in school history (26.0) and is seventh in kickoff return yards (1,067). He was a member of the College Sports Journal Freshman All-America team and earned honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference honors in 2012. Hill, who had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota (10/6/12), finished ranked 17th in FCS with an average of 26.8 yards per kickoff return. On EWU’s single season leaders lists, he finished the 2012 season ranked in the top 10 in kickoff returns (third, 34), kickoff return yards (second, 912) and kickoff return average (10th, 26.8). As a backup wide receiver, he caught seven passes for 66 yards. Hill would have had another TD in the FCS Playoffs against Illinois State (12/8/12), 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 (12/8/12) game.
* The 43.1 career punting average of sophomore Jake Miller currently ranks as a school record, placing him ahead of the 42.3 average of Jesse Nicassio (2002-03). He has had 20 punts of 50 yards or more in his career, including a school-record 74-yarder. He owns seven of the top 34 punts in school history, with boots of 74, 59 (twice) and 57 (four times). Named to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team in 2012, Miller had a school-record 74-yard punt versus Washington State (9/8/12), breaking the previous record of 71 set in 2006 by Ryan Donckers. Miller’s average of 43.3 yards per punt in 2012 ranks third all-time in EWU history, just behind his No. 2 ranking with a 44.2 average in 2011 (the school record is 44.4). Of his 40 punts in 2012, six were for at least 50 yards and 15 were downed inside the opponent 20-yard line.
* Junior safety Tevin McDonald had 135 tackles in 27 career games (24 as a starter) at UCLA, plus four interceptions and 14 passes broken up. He is the son of six-time NFL All-Pro safety Tim McDonald, who is currently the defensive backs coach for the New York Jets where he coaches former Eagle Isaiah Trufant (2002-05). Tevin’s brother, Tim, Jr., (goes by T.J.), was a senior All-America safety at USC in 2012 and was drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft by St. Louis. Tevin was with Eastern during 2013 spring practices after getting dismissed from UCLA’s squad for violating team policy.
* Another talented transfer joining the Eagles in 2013 is offensive lineman Jake Rodgers, a 12-game starter at Washington State last fall. He started at right guard in the team’s season-opener at BYU, then started at left guard in WSU’s 24-20 win over Eastern Washington. He started a total of three games at right guard (BYU, UNLV, Colorado), one at left guard (EWU), five at right tackle (Oregon, Oregon State, California, Stanford, Utah) and the final three games of the season at left tackle (UCLA, Arizona State, Washington).
* Lost for the 2013 season with a painful hip injury that required surgery to both hips, Jordan Tonani had a sensational redshirt freshman season for the Eagles in 2012. As an injury replacement for senior safety Jeff Minnerly, Tonani earned a spot on the College Sports Journal Freshman All-America squad and was awarded with honorable mention All-Big Sky honors. He started seven games and 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. In one of many impressive performances during his debut season, Tonani’s 21-yard interception return for a touchdown with 11:15 to play became the winning points in a 27-24 victory over second-ranked Montana State (10/13/12). 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.