2008 Spring Football Outlook
March 27, 2008
There is more than meets the eye.
Keeping its "eye on the prize" is important, but not the most important element of preparation for the Eastern Washington University football program as the highly-anticipated 2008 season approaches.
With a large group of players returning, Eastern is hoping to continue the momentum from the 2007 season when the Eagles returned to the top of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision scene with a 9-4 finish after a dismal 3-8 record the year before. Eastern advanced to the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons and closed the year ranked eighth in the final Sports Network poll of the year.
An impressive 44-15 first-round victory over previously unbeaten McNeese State in the FCS Playoffs cost EWU its head coach as Paul Wulff departed to become head coach at Washington State University. But the Eagles have plenty to look forward to -- and work ahead of them -- under new head coach Beau Baldwin.
"I think you want to keep your eye on the prize and the ultimate prize is to win a national championship. But it's still a process," said Baldwin, who spent the 2003-2006 seasons as EWU's offensive coordinator before becoming head coach at Central Washington for one season.
"I'm very confident that our players are going to come back hungry," he continued. "They aren't settling for what they already accomplished -- we won't let that happen. We're looking to come back and work even harder. We want to do even more and get over another hump."
The Eagles return 47 letter winners from last year's team, including 22 on offense and 22 on defense as well as three specialists. A total of 15 starters are back, featuring six on offense, seven on defense and the team's kicker and punter.
"It definitely excites me -- I don't want to mess them up," said Baldwin when he was named head coach on Jan. 4, 2008. "They are great athletes and a great team. They are players with great character and I know that. I saw that in '06 -- it was a struggle but it's not like you couldn't see the character that was there. I saw the makeup of that group of players."
In all, Baldwin has 29 players returning with starting experience and a total of 284 starts between them. That list is led by senior All-America defensive end Greg Peach (29 career starts), with the offensive leaders including junior quarterback Matt Nichols and junior All-America wide receiver Aaron Boyce (23 career starts each). Nichols was last year's Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP after throwing for a school-record 34 touchdowns in 2007 a year after throwing for a school-record 17 interceptions in 2006.
"I didn't get to be a part of their off-season, but there is no doubt that those games they won last year were won between January and August," Baldwin said of last year's turnaround. "That's the same approach I've always believed in. It doesn't matter if you are successful or not, you are going to get better or worse each day. I know how hard those players worked. The fun part is the season, but you win or lose those games in the off-season."
Besides Nichols, Boyce and Peach -- all first team All-Big Sky Conference selections -- seven other Eagles return after earning all-league honors in 2007. Senior defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon earned second team All-Big Sky honors and also earned All-America accolades as an honorable mention selection.
Returning All-Big Sky honorable mention selections included junior wide receiver Brynsen Brown, senior running back Dale Morris, senior defensive tackle Shawn Powell, senior defensive end Jason Belford, junior linebacker Makai Borden and senior special teams standout Adam Macomber.
Among the 16 letter winners lost were 12 seniors who combined for 246 starts in their careers. Six of those 12 players were four-year letter winners, including offensive linemen Matt Alfred, Rocky Hanni, Zach Wasielewski and Chris Carlsen. That quartet combined for 146 starts in their careers, with individual totals of 46, 45, 35 and 20, respectively.
The other two four-year letter winners were cornerback Ira Jarmon (24 career starts) and tight end Tom McAndrews (11 career starts). The senior class also included the team's top four tacklers from 2007 -- linebacker Jared Kuhl (96), safety Bryan Jarrett (91), Jarmon (77) and rover Anthony Dotson (76).
Eastern's offense has limited starting experience along the offensive line, but the Eagles are stocked at the skill positions.
Nichols leads the way after finishing the 2007 season ranked in the top eight in three statistical categories in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He was eighth in FCS in passing efficiency rating (156.5), fifth in passing offense (288.0) and fifth in total offense (318.2) to lead the Big Sky in all three categories.
Nichols completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards, a school-record 34 touchdowns and had just nine interceptions in 2007 after having 17 interceptions (equaling a school record) and eight touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Nichols also broke the school's single season rushing record for quarterbacks as he finished with 392 yards.
Nichols' passing yardage total is the second-most in school history -- easily the most-ever for an EWU sophomore (Erik Meyer had 2,301 as a sophomore in 2003). He ranked just behind the quarterback he replaced -- Meyer, the 2005 winner of the Walter Payton Award -- who set school records in 2005 with 4,003 passing yards, a 333.6 average per game and 4,224 total yards.
Nichols will be backed up by senior Alex Smart, who completed 7-of-13 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns in 2007.
Boyce is among the three returning starters at wide receiver, with three other returning letter winners back. He had 85 catches for 1,308 yards and 10 touchdown receptions to rank 14th in FCS in receptions (6.5 per game) and sixth in receiving yards (100.6).
His catch total ranked second all-time at EWU and his yardage total was fourth. Boyce had a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6 and was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week. Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17.
Brown also returns after catching 52 passes for 755 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore. Tony Davis, despite missing four games because of a shoulder injury suffered on a touchdown catch, finished with 35 catches for 498 yards and four scores. He also rushed 16 times for 88 yards.
At the halfway point of their careers, the trio of Boyce, Brown and Davis has already combined for 290 catches for 4,100 yards and 26 touchdowns in 68 games worth of experience (55 starts).
Other returning letter winners at wide receiver include Ashton Gant, Nicholas Ramos and Jeffrey Solomon. Gant had one catch last season as a redshirt freshman and Ramos had three and a touchdown as a sophomore. Solomon redshirted in 2007, but as a true freshman in 2007 he had seven catches for 87 yards and a score.
Morris is one of four returning seniors at running back, and all four have starting experience. Morris, whose brother Maurice plays for the Seattle Seahawks, rushed for 930 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior in 2007. He had 512 yards and eight touchdowns in Eastern's last six games, and also finished the season with 11 catches for 77 yards and a score.
Also back is Alexis Alexander, who saw action at tailback a year ago after starting as EWU's fullback. He had 267 rushing yards and five touchdowns, and also caught five passes for 61 more yards and a score. He has started a total of nine games in his career.
A.J. Jimerson added 260 yards and a touchdown while getting two starts at fullback and also seeing action at tailback. He received much of his playing time after Toke Kefu suffered a season-ending hand injury and redshirted. Kefu had 55 yards rushing before his injury and enters 2008 with 835 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in his career.
At tight end, returning letter winners include Nathan Overbay and Matt Martin. Overbay caught 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore, while Martin added seven catches for 43 yards and two scores as a redshirt freshman.
Along the offensive line, senior Charlie Wulff -- the nephew of former EWU head coach Paul Wulff -- is the lone returning starter. He has 20 career starts, but Eastern does return three other players with starting experience.
Junior Chris Thomas started seven games at tackle and sophomore Brice Leahy started one. In addition, Julian Stewart is back after being ruled academically ineligible and not playing in 2007. He started four games as a sophomore the year before, including the last three of the season to enter 2007 as the projected starting left tackle.
Four senior starters return to Eastern's defensive line, which helped the Eagles rank 38th in FCS in rushing defense (144.1). All four earned All-Big Sky Conference honors.
Peach finished with 63 tackles, including 11 sacks to rank as the fifth-best performance in school history and 11th in FCS (0.85 per game). He will enter his senior season with 17 1/2 sacks that rank ninth in school history.
Witherspoon ended the 2007 season with 44 tackles, a sack and 12 total tackles for loss. Belford had 53 tackles with seven sacks and a total of 13 1/2 tackles for loss. Shawn Powell added 44 tackles, one sack and 4 1/2 tackles for loss.
Also back on the defensive line are junior Josh Jacobson, sophomore Tyler Jolley, junior Jacob Kragt and sophomore Lorenzo Lomack. All but Lomack have started before, and as a group, the defensive line has 79 total starts and 18 total letters worth of experience.
Kragt finished the 2007 season with 24 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks, Jacobson had 15 tackles and a sack, Jolley had 11 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks, and Lomack had seven tackles.
At linebacker, Borden missed Eastern's quarterfinal FCS playoff game with a stress fracture in his foot, but finished the season with 52 tackles. He also had 5 1/2 total tackles for loss, two interceptions, three passes broken up, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
Three other letter winners return at linebacker, including Marcus Walker, J.C. Sherritt and Ryan Buenaflor. Walker started three games and finished with 47 tackles, a sack and a pass broken up. Sherritt added 32 tackles with an interception and pass broken up, and Buenaflor chipped in a pair of tackles.
Eastern has 10 returning letter winners in the secondary, but that includes two safeties who sat out with injuries last season. Gregor Smith may play as a senior, provided the NCAA approves his appeal for a sixth year after missing 11 of 36 EWU games in his career with injuries. A second team All-Big Sky special teams selection as a freshman in 2004, Eastern is 15-10 in the 25 games he has played.
The other safety who didn't play last season is Jesse Hoffman, who moved to the secondary after seeing significant action as a running back in 2006 as a true freshman.
As a result of injuries to Smith and Hoffman, Kevin Hatch started all 13 Eastern games at free safety. He finished with 75 tackles, four interceptions, six passes broken up and three fumble recoveries.
Ryan Kelley, a junior college transfer in 2007, ended up starting the last five games of the season at cornerback. He finished with 36 tackles, a pair of interceptions and five passes broken up. Junior Lonnie Hosley, the player Kelley replaced in the lineup, started eight games and finished with 26 tackles, three interceptions and six passes broken up.
Other returning letter winners in the secondary include Dante Calcote, Will Edge, Brett Igbinoba, Kyle Wilkins and Macomber. Edge led that group with 18 tackles in 2007, followed by Macomber with 17, Wilkins with eight, Igbinoba with nine and Calcote with four.
Senior punter Fritz Brayton is back after ranking 47th in FCS (39.8 per punt). Senior kicker Felipe Macias also returns after ranking 64th nationally in scoring (6.9) and 58th in field goals (0.85, total of 11). Helping both players considerably is returning senior long-snapper Mark Lathim.
Eastern's return units also appear to be strong with the return of Ramos (27.8 per kickoff return in 2007), Brown (16.9 per kickoff return in 2007), Davis (21.3 per kickoff return and 9.0 per punt return in his career) and Solomon (19.5 per kickoff return and 5.6 per punt return in 2006).
2008 PRE-SEASON NOTES
"100 For 100": As Eastern Washington University embarks upon its 100th year of football in the 2008 season, the EWU athletic department is in the process of selecting the top 100 players in school history. Those players will be recognized and honored this fall at a game yet to be determined.
Current plans call for an announcement this spring of upwards of 85 players who will automatically be named to the team on the basis of being a past All-American (first, second or third team) or All-West Coast performer. Additional members of all-time teams selected by former head coaches William "Red" Reese (his team was selected in 1947) and Dick Zornes (his team was selected in 1999) will also be named to the squad.
Remaining positions may be filled via voting conducted on EWU's web site at WWW.GOEAGS.COM. Members of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame selection committee will also receive a vote toward the selection. Nominees will be limited to players who earned All-Big Sky Conference, All-Evergreen Conference, All-District or All-Washington Intercollegiate Conference (Winco) honors, as well as others who played when EWU was not affiliated with a league.
Eastern Opens at Texas Tech and Colorado: Eastern Washington University's attempt at returning to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2008 will go through Lubbock, Texas, and Boulder, Colo.
The Eagles will open the season against Big 12 Conference members Texas Tech and Colorado as part of EWU's 11-game schedule that includes a non-conference game versus former rival Western Washington.
Eastern, which finished 9-4 last season and advanced to the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons, opens its season Aug. 30 at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were also 9-4, finishing the season ranked 22nd in FBS by Associated Press while Eastern closed the year ranked eighth in the Sports Network FCS rankings.
The Eagles follow that with a game Sept. 6 at Colorado before hosting Western Washington at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., on Sept. 20 after a bye week.
Big Sky Conference play begins at home on Sept. 27 against Idaho State, followed by a road game on Oct. 4 at Portland State. The 10-time defending league champion Montana Grizzlies visit Cheney on Oct. 11, followed by EWU's road game at Montana State on Oct. 18 and a bye week on Oct. 25.
Eastern plays four league games in November, including home contests versus Sacramento State (Nov. 1) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 15), and road contests at Northern Colorado (Nov. 8) and Weber State (Nov. 22).
Texas Tech and Colorado are members of the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision and Western Washington is a NCAA Division II school. Eastern is 7-15 all-time versus FBS teams, but has never played Colorado or Texas Tech. Eastern, a former rival of Western Washington when both schools were members of the NAIA, is 38-25 all-time against the Vikings. The two schools have met just once since 1978, with Eastern winning 48-10 in 1998.
Texas Tech was 9-4 last season and 4-4 in the Big 12 Conference, and defeated Virginia 31-28 in the Gator Bowl. The Red Raiders feature the top passing offense in FBS, averaging 470.3 yards per game last season to lead FBS and 529.6 yards of total offense to rank second nationally. The Red Raiders attempted an average of nearly 60 passes and just 19 rushes per game, compared to the 35 passes and 40 rushes Eastern attempted in 2007.
Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell will return for Texas Tech after leading FBS in total offense (431.9) and ranking sixth in passing efficiency (157.3). He passed for 5,705 yards and 58 touchdowns in 2007, including 407 yards on 44-of-69 passing versus Virginia. He had 646 passing yards against Oklahoma State.
Colorado isn't as prolific as Texas Tech, but the Buffaloes improved by four victories under second-year head coach Dan Hawkins. Colorado was 6-7 last season, including a 4-4 record in the Big 12. The Buffaloes, who defeated Texas Tech 31-26 on Oct. 27, closed the season with a 30-24 loss to Alabama in the Independence Bowl.
Colorado also returns its starting quarterback, Cody Hawkins, who happens to be the son of the head coach. He completed 56 percent of his passes as a redshirt freshman in 2007 for 2,693 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The Eagles will be just the second NCAA Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent for the Buffaloes, who were upset by Montana State 19-10 on Sept. 2, 2006. Colorado finished 2-10 in 2006 in its first season under Hawkins.
Western Washington was 2-10 last year and 1-7 in the North Central Conference. The Vikings opened the season on Sept. 1 with a 28-21 win at UC Davis, a team Eastern defeated 41-31 two weeks later. Western lost eight of its final nine games, including a 63-42 loss at home to FCS powerhouse North Dakota.
Running back Craig Garner returns after rushing for 989 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games for the Vikings. He ranked 25th in NCAA Division II in rushing (109.9 per game) and was 20th in all-purpose yards (157.0).
Eastern's four Big Sky opponents at home had a collective 23-22 record overall and 18-14 league mark in 2007, led by Montana's 11-1 record overall and perfect 8-0 record in the BSC. Eastern's 2008 road opponents were 15-30 overall and 12-20 in the conference.
Eagles Versus Football Bowl Subdivision Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eastern is now 7-15 all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus FBS foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games versus FBS members since 1983.
Year - Opponent - Result
1983 - Cal State-Long Beach - W, 20-17
1985 - at Cal State-Long Beach - W, 30-23
1986 - at Cal State-Long Beach - L, 34-35
1990 - at #10 Houston - L, 21-84
1994 - at Utah State - W, 49-31
1996 - at Boise State - W, 27-21
1996 - at Idaho - L, 27-37
1997 - Idaho - W, 24-21
1998 - at Idaho - L, 14-31
1999 - Idaho - L, 21-48
1999 - at Boise State - L, 7-41
2000 - at Oregon State - L, 19-21
2000 - at Boise State - L, 23-41
2001 - at Connecticut - W, 35-17
2002 - at Arizona State - L, 2-38
2003 - at San Diego State - L, 9-19
2003 - at Idaho - W, 8-5
2004 - at Air Force - L, 20-42
2005 - at San Jose State - L, 21-35
2006 - at Oregon State - L, 17-56
2006 - at #6 West Virginia - L, 3-52
2007 - at Brigham Young - L, 7-42
2008 - at Texas Tech
2008 - at Colorado
EWU Plays in Front of Largest Crowds in School History in 2006 and 2007: Eastern's 2007 game at sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium broke the year-old record for largest crowd the Eagles have ever played in front of. Strong winds, rain, snow and temperatures ranging from 37-45 degrees didn't keep many fans at home as the announced crowd of 64,522 was even larger than the stadium's listed capacity of 64,045.
Eastern's 2006 game versus West Virginia at sold-out Milan Puskar Stadium was attended by 59,504 fans -- the largest crowd by nearly 20,000 fans the Eagles have ever played against. The previous record was 39,581 set at Arizona State in 2002. Eastern's game at Oregon State in 2006 is now the fourth-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 14 crowds in excess of 20,000 the Eagles have ever played against.
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
64,522 - at Brigham Young - Oct. 20, 2007 - L, 7-42
59,504 - at West Virginia - Sept. 9, 2006 - L, 3-52
39,581 - at Arizona State - Aug. 31, 2002 - L, 2-38
38,071 - at Oregon State - Aug. 31, 2006 - L, 17-56
34,389 - at Air Force - Sept. 11, 2004 - L, 20-42
30,782 - at Oregon State - Sept. 2, 2000 - L, 19-21
27,323 - at U.S. International - Oct. 28, 1967 - W, 44-19
25,493 - at Boise State - Oct. 14, 2000 - L, 23-41
23,739 - at Montana - Oct. 15, 2005 - W, 34-20
23,329 - at Montana - Nov. 15, 2003 - L, 10-41
23,226 - at Montana - Oct. 6, 2007 - L, 23-24
21,981 - at Boise State - Oct. 9, 1999 - L, 7-41
21.487 - at Boise State - Sept. 21, 1991 - L, 17-31
21,145 - at San Diego State - Aug. 30, 2003 - L, 9-19
Coaching Staff Changes: New Eastern head football coach Beau Baldwin filled his coaching staff with some familiar names, including five coaches with previous EWU coaching experience and three from his former school, Central Washington University.
Baldwin, who was named as EWU's head coach on Jan. 4, said coaching carryovers from EWU's staff from last year will include Joe Wade, Chris Hansen, Jeff Schmedding and Chris Peterson, while Aaron Best returns after one year away. The new additions from CWU include John Graham, Ryan Sawyer, Torey Hunter and Nat Conley.
Wade will take over as offensive coordinator and will also coach quarterbacks. Hansen, a cornerbacks coach last year, will coach tight ends and handle administrative duties such as recruiting and helping with coordination of summer camps. Schmedding will move from safeties to linebackers and Peterson will move from running backs to wide receivers. Schmedding and Peterson will co-coordinate special teams.
Best, a former EWU All-America center who spent the 2007 season as an assistant coach with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League, will return for his eighth season as an EWU offensive line coach.
Graham will be the team's defensive coordinator after spending the last 13 seasons at Central. Sawyer will coach the defensive line, Hunter will direct EWU defensive backs and Conley will coach running backs.
Besides Hansen taking over coordination of recruiting, other administrative duties will be handled by Best (academics), Peterson (camps), Hunter (travel), Schmedding (video) and Wade (pro football liaison).
Nichols Ranks in Top Eight Nationally in Three Passing Categories: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols has now had six 300-yard passing games in his 24-game career, including five in the 2007 season. He has seven performances with at least 300 yards of total offense.
Nichols finished his 2007 season ranked in the top eight in three statistical categories in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He was eighth in FCS in passing efficiency rating (156.5), fifth in passing offense (288.0) and fifth in total offense (318.2) to lead the Big Sky in all three categories.
Nichols passed for 3,744 yards, 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2007 after having 17 interceptions (equaling a school record) and eight touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Among the five school records he set in 2007, he broke the school record of 31 touchdown passes set by Erik Meyer in 2004.
Nichols also broke the school's single season rushing record for quarterbacks as he finished with 392 to break the record of 275 set by Mark Laitala in 1978. Meyer holds the career record with 681, and Nichols already has 507 in his career.
The other records he broke were the school's single season completions record (280) and single game marks for touchdown passes (six versus Montana Western) and completions (37 at Montana).
Nichols' passing yardage total is the second-most in school history -- easily the most-ever for an EWU sophomore (Meyer had 2,301 as a sophomore in 2003). His average of 288.0 yards per game was fourth and his 4,136 yards of total offense were second. He ranked just behind the quarterback he replaced -- Meyer, the 2005 winner of the Walter Payton Award -- who set school records in 2005 with 4,003 passing yards, a 333.6 average per game and 4,224 total yards.
On EWU's career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top five in all categories, including third in average yards per game (228.9) and efficiency rating (138.9). His 42 touchdowns are already fifth and his 5,493 passing yards are already fourth.
Nichols had just nine interceptions in 440 attempts in 2007 after throwing a school-record 17 interceptions a year earlier. His ratio as a sophomore was an interception every 15.2 attempts and in 2007 it was one for every 48.9 attempts. His passing efficiency of 156.5 was much-improved from his 109.0 rating as a freshman.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- third best in school history -- in Eastern's disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. He came close to that with 34 completions in 44 attempts for 434 yards -- sixth-best all-time at EWU -- in a playoff win over McNeese State on Nov. 24. He completed 19-of-30 passes against Portland State, and his 363 yards in that game now ranks as the 25th best in school history. His previous career high was 329 as a freshman against Sacramento State.
Below is a complete list of his 300-yard outings:
300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols
451 - 37x59, 2td - Montana - 10/6/07 (#3 in school history)
434 - 34x44, 2td - McNeese State - 11/24/07 (#6 in school history)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#25 in school history)
329 - 21x42, 1td - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
328 - 20x29, 3td - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
316 - 17x22, 5td - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
300-Yard Total Offense Games for Nichols
478 - 451 passing, 27 rushing - Montana - 10/6/07
459 - 434 passing. 25 rushing - McNeese State - 11/24/07
370 - 363 passing, 7 rushing - Portland State - 9/29/07
359 - 256 passing, 103 rushing - Weber State - 11/17/07
359 - 329 passing, 30 rushing - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
364 - 316 passing, 48 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
355 - 328 passing, 27 rushing - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
Boyce in Top 14 Nationally in Receptions and Yards: With one of the most productive receiving seasons in school history, sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce had 85 catches for 1,308 yards and 10 scores in 2007. In Football Championship Subdivision statistics, Boyce was 14th in receptions (6.5 per game) and sixth in receiving yards (100.6).
His catch total ranked second all-time at EWU and his yardage total was fourth. His catch total ranks only behind the 87 catches Eric Kimble had in 12 games in 2005. Boyce's yardage total ranks behind the 1,453 yards Kimble had in 13 games in 2004, the 1,419 Kimble had in 2005 and the 1,376 Jeff Ogden had in 14 games in 1997.
Boyce had a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6 and was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week. Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. He finished the 24-23 loss to top-ranked Montana with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history.
Boyce played just one year of high school football, but was a standout on the basketball court. As a junior, he teamed with former Eastern standout and current Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey to lead Kentwood to the 2004 State 4A Championship.
Boyce, whose top yardage performance as a freshman in 2006 was 96 yards, had six 100-yard receiving performances in 2007. His teammates added five more 100-yard performances (plus one of 99) to give EWU a total of 11 in the 2007 season. Here is a complete list:
100-Yard Receiving Games for Aaron Boyce
232 (17 catches, 1 TD) - Montana - 10/6/07 (#2 in school history)
186 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Sacramento State - 10/27/07 (#10 in school history)
135 (9 catches, 1 TD) - Brigham Young - 10/20/07
126 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Montana State - 10/13/07
119 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - UC Davis - 9/15/07
Other 100-Yard Receiving Games for Returning EWU Players
150 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - Idaho State - 9/22/07
139 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Portland State - 9/29/07
138 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Northern Arizona - 10/28/06
131 (8 catches, 1 TD) - Tony Davis - McNeese State - 11/24/07
112 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - Central Washington - 9/16/06
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - UC Davis - 9/15/07
104 (7 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - McNeese State - 11/24/07
104 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Sacramento State - 9/3/06
99 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Weber State - 11/17/07
Other EWU Statistical Leaders: Eastern Washington averaged a league-leading 462.3 yards of offense after 13 games, good for fifth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern was also 18th in scoring offense (33.6), eighth in passing offense (295.4) and 50th in rushing offense (166.8). Eastern was also 10th in passing efficiency (155.6) with a school-record 36 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. The Eagles, behind a veteran offensive line that included four senior starters, allowed 25 quarterback sacks to rank 62nd nationally (1.9 sacks per game), down from third after the Idaho State game when EWU had allowed just one in its first three games.
Defensively, Eastern was 80th in total defense (390.7), 30th in scoring defense (22.2), 38th in rushing defense (144.1), 104th in passing defense (246.6) and 24th in passing efficiency defense (112.3).
Through its first four games of the season, the Eagles had a plus 2.5 margin per game to rank first in turnover margin among the 116 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern finished 20th with 21 turnovers (11 interceptions and 10 fumbles) while opponents had 33 (22 interceptions and 11 fumbles). Eastern ranked third in interceptions (total of 22), with 12 different players picking off passes. In 2006, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers and had 24 themselves.
Junior Dale Morris, who had 512 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in Eastern's last six games, was 71st in rushing (71.5 per game). He finished just 70 yards from the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Punter Fritz Brayton ranked 47th nationally (39.8 per punt) and kicker Felipe Macias was 64th in scoring (6.9) and 58th in field goals (0.85, total of 11). Junior defensive end Greg Peach was 11th in sacks (0.85 per game, total of 11).
Smith missed the 2007 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder that had already kept the 2003 graduate of nearby Lakeside High School (Nine Mile Falls, Wash.) out of 11 of 36 EWU games in his career. A second team All-Big Sky special teams selection as a freshman in 2004, Eastern is 15-10 in the 25 games he has played. In the 11 games he has missed, Eastern is 4-7. He will apply for a sixth year of eligibility as an injury hardship after undergoing further surgery on Oct. 31, 2007.
Morris, the brother of Seattle Seahawks running back Maurice Morris, missed 12 of a possible 23 games in his first two seasons as an Eagle with a knee injury as well as a painful Lisfranc foot sprain. However, he was at full strength again in 2007 after bio-mechanics rehabilitation to help the foot become flexible again and distribute weight evenly to the metatarsals. He finished the season with 930 yards rushing, including 512 yards and eight touchdowns in Eastern's last six games. He also had 11 catches for 77 yards and a score.
Kefu Takes Advantage of New Rule: Thanks to a revised NCAA rule, running back Toke Kefu is able to return for the 2008 season. Kefu was injured in Eastern's fourth game of the 2007 season versus Portland State, and in any other year previous to that he would have played one too many games to be eligible for an automatic injury hardship. However, NCAA rules were revised in 2007 and enabled football players to play in as many as four games and be able to get the year back.
Wide Receiver Quartet Ahead of Previous Quartet: Eastern's receiving corp in 2007 included a senior and four sophomores who learned their trade via trial by fire. Three of the sophomores - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006. Jeffrey Solomon added seven catches for 87 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman but redshirted in 2007 because of a back injury.
Davis, Brown and Boyce followed their promising freshman seasons by combining for 172 catches for 2,561 yards and 18 scores in 2007. In their careers, that trio has already combined for 290 catches for 4,100 yards and 26 touchdowns in 68 games worth of experience (55 starts).
Including Solomon, those four young players are reminders of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. 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). But after their first two seasons as Eagles, that quartet had just 121 catches, for 1,774 yards and 17 touchdowns -- less than half of the production that Davis, Brown and Boyce already have.
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.
Starting Experience Leads to Wins: Returning starts -- and the experience that goes along with them -- can sometimes be a good gauge of how many wins can be expected on the field.
If everybody returns as expected, the Eagles will enter the 2008 season with 29 players returning with starting experience totaling 284 starts. Broken down, Eastern will return 143 starts on defense (14 players) and 141 on offense (15 players) for a total of 284 starts returning. That would represent the most starts the Eagles have had returning since at least the 2001 season.
Eastern entered the 2007 season with 31 players returning with starting experience and a total of 245 starts. Of the total, just 80 were on the defensive side and 165 were by offensive players. By contrast, the Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them. Five players entered with between 22 and 24 starts each.
The Eagles entered the 2005 season with 23 players with starting experience (280 total starts). Just five players made their starting debuts for the Eagles in the season opener, but 13 made starting debuts after that because of a large amount of injuries the Eagles suffered.
The Eagles opened the 2004 season with 29 players with starting experience (271 starts), and in 2003 they had 28 players with starting experience (168 starts). However, Eastern had just 17 players with a combined 108 starts between them entering the 2002 season.
In both the 2003 and 2004 season openers, the Eagles had six new starters in the lineup. In 2002, 13 players made starting debuts in Eastern's 38-2 loss at Arizona State.
Below is a breakdown by year of the returning starters Eastern has had and the record the Eagles ended up with.
Year - Players With Starting Experience - Total Starts - New Starters in Opener - Record
2008 - 29 - 284 - ? - ?
2007 - 31 - 245 - 6 - 9-4 (total of 11 new starters used during the year)
2006 - 25 - 225 - 5 - 3-8 (total of 21 new starters used during the year)
2005 - 23 - 280 - 5 - 7-5 (total of 18 new starters used during the year)
2004 - 29 - 271 - 6 - 9-4
2003 - 28 - 168 - 6 - 6-5
2002 - 17 - 108 - 13 - 6-5
Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players entering the 2008 season:
Defense (143 starts by 14 players): Greg Peach 29, Jason Belford 25, Lance Witherspoon 18, Makai Borden 13, Kevin Hatch 13, Shawn Powell 12, Lonnie Hosley 8, Gregor Smith 7, Marcus Walker 5, Ryan Kelley 5, Josh Jacobson 5, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Tyler Jolley 1.
Offense (141 starts by 15 players): Aaron Boyce 23, Matt Nichols 23, Charlie Wulff 20, Brynsen Brown 20, Tony Davis 12, Dale Morris 12, Alexis Alexander 9, Chris Thomas 7, Julian Stewart 4, Toke Kefu 3, A.J. Jimerson 2, Nathan Overbay 2, Matt Martin 2, Brice Leahy 1, Jeffrey Solomon 1.
A Former Minor League Baseball Player, Alexander Sees Action at Running Back: As a fullback new to the EWU program in 2006, Alexis Alexander earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was honored as the team's Offensive Player of the Year. He also saw action at running back in the 2007 season, and had 122 yards and a touchdown against UC Davis on Sept. 15. However, he missed EWU's last five games after suffering an abdominal injury that was later diagnosed as a hernia.
He started six games in 2006 at fullback, including the last five games of the season. He made his Eagle debut against Oregon State (8/31/06) when he played in his first football game in six years dating back to his senior season in high school in 2000.
He originally came to Eastern as a linebacker after transferring from Washington State University. He was a defensive scout team player in 2004 for the Cougars after going from receiver to defensive back to linebacker. He was an 18th-round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft. He hit .225 in 355 career at bats, with five home runs and 22 stolen bases. He spent the 2002 season with the Spokane Indians of the Class A Northwest League. Alexander graduated from Medical Lake HS in 2001.
Noteworthy Relatives: A quartet of Eagles have some noteworthy coaching relatives. Center Charlie Wulff is the nephew of former Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, who is now at Washington State. The father of linebacker Marcus Walker is former Washington State University assistant coach Mike Walker. Tight end Nathan Overbay is the nephew of Major League Baseball player Lyle Overbay of the Toronto Blue Jays.
And punter Fritz Brayton, a transfer from WSU has three notable relatives. His father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at WSU from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL.
A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry: In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years -- including 2007 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 23-10-1. Eastern is 4-12-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 12 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.
Eight recent games in the series that have been decided by margins of 10 points or less are the exclamation points in a rivalry that has seen the Grizzlies come out on top 23 times in 34 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, 564 in a 24-23 loss in 2007 and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 22 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.9 points. In six of those 22 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane's Albi Stadium in 2000.
As for suspense, that one's covered too. In 2007, Eastern kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:20 to play before top-ranked Montana kicked the game-winner with 26 seconds to play after converting a fourth-and-10 play. Eastern wide receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-best receiving effort in Big Sky Conference history with a school-record 17 catches to earn NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week honors from The Sports Network. His 232 receiving yards was the second-most in school history, and Eagle quarterback Matt Nichols passed for a career-high 451 yards to rank third all-time at EWU.
In 2004, Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana's record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the six matchups in the last 12 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally-ranked:
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34 at #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (overtime in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
Eagles Looking for 1,000: Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 13 seasons from 1995-2007, including six different players. Eastern had eight-straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher from 1995-2002.
The last time it happened came in 2004 when Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games. Because of a shoulder injury, he had just 16 yards in his last two regular season games, but had 257 yards in a pair of playoff games. The Eagles came up short in 2003 as Reggie Witherspoon finished with 766 after Washington's season came to a premature end with a knee injury in Eastern's second game of the season.
Joe Sewell started the string of 1,000-yard rushers with 1,025 in 1995, then had 1,094 in 1996. In 1997, Rex Prescott rushed for what was then a school-record 1,793 and Mike MacKenzie accumulated 1,058 in 1997 and 1,396 in 1998. Jovan Griffith finished with 1,275 in 1999, and Jesse Chatman had 1,188 in 2000 and a remarkable 2,096 in the 2001 season that surpassed Prescott's single season school record. The eighth-straight performance was by Griffith with 1,130 yards as he went over the 1,000-yard mark with a 199-yard performance in Eastern's season-ending 30-21 victory over No. 1 ranked Montana on Nov. 16, 2002. In Eastern's first 86 years of football, only three 1,000-yard performances have been recorded - 1,238 by Mel Stanton in 1965, 1,049 by Meriel Michelson in 1950 and 1,114 by Jamie Townsend in 1985.
Eagles 6-4 in Overtime Games: After defeating Montana State 51-44 in overtime on Nov. 13, 2004, Eastern Washington is now 6-4 in overtime games. The Eagles are 4-1 in single overtime games, 1-3 in double overtime, and 1-0 in triple overtime contests. Here is the complete list of EWU overtime games:
2004 - at Montana State - W, 51-44 (one overtime)
2003 - at Idaho State - L, 52-55 (two overtimes)
2001 - at Sacramento State - W, 42-35 (one overtime)
2001 - at Montana - L, 26-29 (two overtimes)
2000 - at Weber State - W, 27-24 (one overtime)
1998 - Portland State - L, 27-30 (one overtime)
1994 - Montana State - W, 34-31 (three overtimes)
1991 - at Idaho - W, 34-31 (two overtimes)
1990 - Montana State - L, 25-28 (two overtimes)
1990 - at Idaho State - W, 33-26 (one overtime)