July 20, 2007

Eastern Football Shirts Get National TV Exposure

July 20, 2007

A simple trade made last summer in Finland has turned out to be a pretty good swap for Eastern Washington University and the Eagle football team.

A pro football teammate of former Eagle Jake Young has worn three different EWU football shirts in recent weeks on the hit CBS television reality show "Big Brother 8." Young, who now lives in Nampa, Idaho, after last playing for EWU's Big Sky Conference championship teams in 2004 and 2005, was simply shocked when he saw his former practice shirt on TV in early July.

"That sucker has my shirt on!," he yelled at his TV.

Nicholas Starcevic -- or Nick as he's know on the show -- is the contestant spreading Eastern to a world-wide audience.

"Isn't that great?," Young said of the exposure EWU and the football team has received. "I knew he was going to be on TV, but I didn't know what show he was going to be on. Now I know where my clothes went -- he has three of my shirts."

Eastern's athletic logo on a helmet and "Eastern Washington" is prominent on one of the shirts, and Big Sky Conference Champions is on the back of another. The back of the third shirt includes the face of Young's former EWU teammate, quarterback Erik Meyer. That shirt commemorates the record-breaking season Meyer had in 2005 when he won the Walter Payton Award.

"We keep getting calls and e-mails from people saying they saw the shirt and wondered what former player of ours is on the show," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "I wish it was a former player because I would be sending him more shirts and gear than he knows what to do with."

But just how did Starcevic end up with the shirts? At first, many people thought Nick played football at Eastern, but that was quickly dispelled when it was revealed that he was from Kimball, Minn., and played at Minnesota-Crookston. Listed by the show as a former professional football player, Nick's only professional experience came in the European Federation of American Football (EFAF) while playing for the Seinajoki Crocodiles in Finland.

His teammate in 2006 just happened to be Young, and they were two of the three Americans allowed to play on each team in that league. During their successful 11-2 season during the spring and summer months, Young and Starcevic became close friends. Before they departed back to their lives in the United States, they made a couple of trades.

"I have some of his gear and he has some of mine," Young said. "He's one of my best buddies. We had a good time together in Europe."

Young last talked to him this spring, but Starcevic couldn't say much. "But he told me something big was going to happen. He couldn't tell me anything because he said he had to take a lie detector test."

"I had the FBI or an agency like that contact me," Young said of what happened next. "I thought he was in trouble. It was a heckuva background check. Next thing I know, I see him on TV. I said, `oh my gosh!'"

The eighth season of the show (hence the "8" in the title) began July 5 and airs Tuesdays (9 p.m.), Thursdays (8 p.m.) and Sundays (8 p.m.) on CBS. The reality show includes 14 houseguests trying to avoid being "evicted." So far, two contestants have been eliminated in the 14-week-long show that will end with a single, surviving houseguest as the winner. Nick is among the 12 remaining houseguests, giving EWU hope for more exposure in coming episodes.

"He's not allowed to talk," Young said of the sequestered nature of the show. "His dad called me and said he's stuck in that house for 14 weeks straight. I watch that show all the time."

Starcevic was a defensive back and linebacker for the Crocodiles, who finished second in the Maple League and fourth overall in the Euro League in 2006. Young played linebacker, quarterback and wide receiver -- "a little bit of everything," he said.

The third American on the squad was Maurice Drayton from The Citadel. Nick has been wearing a Citadel shirt on the show as well.

Young, who helped Kamiah (Idaho) High School win a State title as a senior in 2000, was impressed by the level of football played in Finland. But to see Nick listed as a pro football player in the show's biographical information elicited a chuckle out of Young.

"I laugh every time I see that," said Young. "But it was definitely pro football -- we got paid for it -- but it was really more like semi-pro football. It was probably comparable to (NCAA) Division II Football."

A backup throughout his career, Young played 23 games at Eastern and finished with 51 tackles, a sack and an interception he returned 46 yards. Eastern won Big Sky titles and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in both 2004 and 2005, but playing in Finland with Starcevic was yet another football experience Young will never forget.

He remembers a trip to Russia for a game in which he was selected the team's MVP in the victory. On that same trip, despite warnings to not drink the water, Starcevic didn't follow the directive and spent several days -- including during the game -- throwing up with the stomach flu.

"We had some wild times, definitely," Young said. "He was very goofy and one of the funniest people I've ever talked to. But he is also very smart and very athletic. He fits right in (on TV)."

Eastern's current TV exposure is similar to the exposure the school luckily received back in 1992. The Eagles were on a charter flight to play at Northern Iowa in the playoffs, and that same plane was scheduled to later pick-up president-elect Bill Clinton. That gave athletics marketing director Lee Yerty an idea.

Yerty, a former football teammate of Wulff's at Washington State University, gave a flight attendant an EWU hat and asked her to give it to Clinton. She did, and Clinton wore the hat soon after that during an appearance on a beach. Video and still photographs were shown nationwide, including a prominent photo in USA Today of Clinton wearing the hat.

Now, 15 years later, Eastern is enjoying good fortune again.

Young was a walk-on at Eastern, earned a partial scholarship for his junior season and was on full scholarship as a senior. Now, thanks to a trade in Finland, he has more than re-paid his debt to EWU.

"We owed Jake then, and we owe him now," said Wulff. "I guess Jake is a marketing genius for trading those shirts. It's fun to watch and see if Nick will wear our shirts on the show."

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