April 3, 2008
By Darren Shimp
As spring practice gets underway Friday (April 4) for the Eastern Washington University football team, there will be still be one Wulff prowling the drills at the Sports and Recreation Center practice fields in Cheney, Wash. -- just not a coach.
Gone is former head coach Paul Wulff, who now roams the sidelines for the crimson and gray of Washington State University about 90 miles south of Cheney in Pullman, Wash. That still leaves one Wulff ready for one more year in red and white -- returning starting center Charlie Wulff.
Charlie Wulff is a redshirt senior and outdoorsman from Woodland, Calif., located about 20 miles northwest of Sacramento, Calif. He was raised with football in his blood, as the current WSU football head coach is Charlie's uncle and is also originally from Woodland.
Wulff is the lone returning starter on the offensive line, but will miss spring practices because of a collarbone injury. But with new head football coach Beau Baldwin already having ties to the Eagle football staff, Wulff doesn't think the transition will be too tough for his teammates and the new starters that will join him on the offensive line.
"I really don't feel like anything has changed a lot or affected the team as much as you'd think it would," said Wulff, who has 20 career starts on his EWU resume. "The whole team is good at dealing with adversity."
Despite that loss of four senior offensive linemen from EWU's run to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, the Eagles are primed for another outstanding year in 2008. Wulff has been in Cheney four years, including his redshirt year of 2004, and Eastern has earned three FCS playoff berths in that span.
Eastern offensive line coach Aaron Best thinks the Eagles will be able to pick up where they left off with Wulff at the helm.
"You can't coach experience and that's one thing he has," said Best, who returned to EWU after spending one season coaching in the Canadian Football League.
Besides playing football, Charlie also grew up in the outdoors, hunting and fishing. That's a huge part of his unique but genuine personality.
"He is a different bird -- he'll tell you that," said Best. "He's a great kid who will do no harm. He is one of a kind. He would probably smile if you called him a redneck."
Best said his center wears his true love on his sleeve, and that the interdisciplinary studies major can be seen walking through campus in customary Carhartt workwear and trucker caps.
"He got the genes in terms of the football portion of things - but he's a rare commodity in terms of the way he is wired, yet functions so well on the field," said Best. "You'd never know he was a football player (off the field), wearing hunting and fishing gear and not Eastern sweats, his letterman's jacket and those types of things."
When told of the razzing and input Best had to offer, Wulff took the high road. "I don't think I'm odd," said Wulff.
Odd or not, Wulff's politeness and soft-spoken demeanor is as unmistakable as his Eastern football cap, polo shirt and jeans.
"I am kind of quiet around new people," said Wulff, who set to graduate after next winter quarter. "But I do get loud once I get to know everyone."
However, his tone turns to a hush while in the great outdoors, exploring with his Eagle teammates past and present.
A "sliver of land" close to town that Wulff and his friends call "the dove spot," has been a playground for Eagles past and present as they try their hand in hunting and fishing. The players have included former offensive lineman Rocky Hanni, junior wide receiver Brynsen Brown and senior quarterback Alex Smart, who Wulff considers to be one of his best friends.
Considered to be an outstanding outdoorsman by his offensive line coach, it was suggested that if you could turn hunting into a football game, Wulff would probably be a first round draft pick. And if a combine to evaluate hunting and fishing skills existed (similar to that of the NFL), he would very much measure up as an outstanding gamesman.
"He's the ring leader when it comes to setting those trips up," said Best. "But he doesn't fret to do it on his own either. If he's got ammunition, he's going to find a gun and he's going to find a way to get something that's chirping."
Aside from the obvious family connections that brought him to Eastern Washington, it was more than just uncle Paul that guided him to Cheney.
"There was a lot of incentive in me coming up here," said Wulff, "such as the change of environment compared to back home. That and (after sending tapes) coach Best called and said, `Yeah, we want to get you on up here.'"
Listed at 6-foot, 270 pounds, Best has only one doubt about Wulff.
"If he tells you he's six-foot, he's lying to you. He ain't six-foot," said Best. "Not that it's a mark on a player, but if you're vertically challenged, you have got to be better in another way. He's one of the nastier kids that I've run into, which is a good thing in my terminology.
"He sticks up for his teammates sometimes too much," Best continued. "He'll do things (and I'll say), `Chuck, if they're having a one-on-one, it's an A and B conversation, C your butt out of it. You know what I'm saying?' But he always wants to get his nose in it. That's his way of saying `Hey, I've got your back. I'm here for you.' - in a different manner."
Wulff will have to keep his focus for the gridiron off the field for the next few months, as he recovers from a collarbone injury. The injury has limited him to stationary bike and leg work until he is 100 percent.
However, he plans to be ready to go for fall camp and August 30, when the Eagles travel to Lubbock, Texas, to face Texas Tech. And Best fully expects to have a Wulff running the show when the new season begins -- from the center spot and not the sideline, that is.
"I don't believe a guy that gets injured loses his starting spot," said Best. "It's his spot to lose, unless I'm told otherwise by a higher authority."
Wulff is unsure of his specific plans after school, since his family is back in California and most of his friends are still in the Eastern Washington area. He said he might end up lingering in Cheney after his interdisciplinary studies are complete.
"I may try to pick up another degree in something else (at Eastern) - maybe biology or engineering," said Wulff.
Even without a Wulff prowling the sidelines or a Wulff at center, the Wulff era at EWU may last a bit longer after all.