EWU Opens at Oregon State Thursday

Aug. 24, 2006

For new starters and old starters alike, it's time for a game.

The Eastern Washington University football team, with key newcomers in key positions, plays at Oregon State Thursday (Aug. 31) in the first of two difficult tests versus NCAA Division I-A opponents to open the 2006 season. Kickoff is 7:10 p.m. at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., in a game televised live regionally on Fox Sports Net and broadcast via radio on the recently-expanded Eagle Radio Network.

This is the second meeting between EWU and OSU, with the Beavers edging the Eagles 21-19 on Sept. 2, 2000. That game was the head coaching debut of Eastern head coach Paul Wulff, who went head-to-head in that game against Dennis Erickson. Wulff was a center for Erickson at Washington State in 1987.

The near-miss by the Eagles was a wake-up call for OSU, which finished 11-1, beat Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl and was ranked fourth nationally. Eastern finished the season 6-5 and 5-3 in the Big Sky in the second year of what has now become seven-straight winning seasons.

"We are familiar with them, but only our coaches know what it's like to play there," said Wulff of having played OSU previously. "This a different year, but I do feel like we are prepared to go play a ball game. We're going to go down to play good football and we are going to put a plan together to win. I feel good about competing and having an opportunity to win a ball game."

Following this week's game against the Beavers, Eastern plays at West Virginia on Sept. 9 in a difficult match-up against the fifth-ranked Mountaineers. West Virginia was 11-1 last year and defeated Georgia 38-35 in the Nokia Sugar Bowl after winning the Big East Conference title with a perfect 7-0 record.

"We really need our players to just continue to be consistent in our execution -- it has very little to do with our opponent," Wulff said. "It has everything to do with what we are trying to do and executing the things we want to do. It is not that complicated. We want to play a lot of players and when they have their opportunity to play we want them to execute."

Oregon State is coming off a 5-6 finish that included a 3-5 mark in the Pacific 10 Conference. Along the way, the Beavers knocked off regional foes Portland State 41-14, Boise State 30-27, Washington State 44-33 and Washington 18-10.

Eastern, meanwhile, is coming off back-to-back seasons in which it won a share of the Big Sky Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. Eastern returns 41 letter winners, including 19 on offense, 20 on defense, its kicker and its punter. In all, 14 starters are back, with experience heaviest at safety and along the offensive and defensive lines.

But replacing the incredible contributions of eight amazingly productive seniors will prove to be difficult indeed. Eastern lost the 2005 Walter Payton Award winner and Big Sky Offensive MVP (quarterback Erik Meyer), the Big Sky Defensive MVP (middle linebacker Joey Cwik), a two-time All-America receiver (Eric Kimble), three other wide receivers and a pair of starting cornerbacks.

Wulff will replace Meyer with junior Chris Peerboom and freshman redshirt Matt Nichols. They will split playing time early in the season to see which quarterback leads the offense the best. Replacing the play-making abilities of Kimble will be equally difficult.

"They are two of the best players to ever play in this conference," said Wulff. "But in the game of football there are 11 players on the field, and we feel like we have a program that can be extremely successful with whatever 11 players we put out there. That's not going to change."

Among the players returning are 11 players who earned All-Big Sky Conference accolades in 2005. First team selections included safety Bryan Jarrett and offensive guard Matt Alfred, who also earned a pair of All-America accolades as well.

Second team choices returning include former OSU running back Ryan Cole, who rushed for 879 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Eagles last year. Safety Brandon Keeler, tight end and Tim Calhoun, defensive lineman Harrison Nikolao were also second team picks, but Nikolao has moved over to a starting offensive guard position for his senior season.

Honorable mention All-Big Sky picks a year ago included Rocky Hanni (offensive guard), Nick Denbeigh (outside linebacker), David Eneberg (inside linebacker), Sheldon Weddle (kicker) and Shea Emry (special teams). As a freshman in 2004, Hanni was honored as an All-American after earning Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year honors -- the only offensive lineman in the history of the award to win that honor. He has moved to tackle this season.

Although Eastern has some large holes to fill, just five players -- two on defense and three on offense -- are expected to make their starting debuts this week against Oregon State. None of them are linemen.

"Our goals are to win the conference championship, get to the playoffs and make a run for the national championship," added Wulff. "Our seniors sure as heck want to push it as long and far as we can take it. We expect that and our players know what it takes to get there. Anything other than that is contrary to what our goals are."

"Is it going to happen? . . . you never know. But it is a realistic goal for us."

Wulff on Focus During Pre-Season Games: "We want to do everything we can to get our players more experienced than they are now. Even our veterans need that experience because there isn't a player that can't get better than they already are today. Our goal is to give players a lot of opportunity to play so that we are a much better football team in our fourth game than we are in our first."

Wulff on Oregon State: "They are experienced on offense, so we know they are going to be very physical on offense. That is going to be very challenging. Defensively we know their secondary is experienced and their defensive ends are back. We know they have great team speed, but we just need to go in and execute and do the things we need to do."

Only Five Players To Make Starting Debuts Versus OSU: Just five players -- two on defense and three on offense -- are expected to make their starting debuts this week against Oregon State. None of them are linemen.

Sophomore Shea Emry is expected to start at middle linebacker where he replaces 2005 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Joey Cwik, who started 40 games and never missed a game in his EWU career. The other debut on defense will be made by junior Ira Jarmon at cornerback. Emry is a 2004 graduate of Vancouver College Prep in Vancouver, B.C., and Jarmon is a 2003 graduate of Clover Park High School in Lakewood, Wash.

On offense, quarterback Chris Peerboom fills the starting position held for 35 games the past three seasons by 2005 Walter Payton Award winner Erik Meyer. Freshman redshirts Aaron Boyce and Tony Davis are expected to make their starting debuts at wide receiver. Peerboom is a 2003 graduate of Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore., Boyce graduated in 2005 from Kentwood HS in Kent, Wash., and Davis is a 2005 graduate of Capital HS in Olympia, Wash.

In all, the Eagles open 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.

Last year, 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.

Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2006 season:

Defense (103 starts by 13 players): Nick Denbeigh 24, Brandon Keeler 24, David Eneberg 15, Bryan Jarrett 8, Gene Piffero 5, Greg Peach 5, Gregor Smith 4, Charles Searcy 4, Keith Grennan 4, DeNique Ford 3, Lance Witherspoon 3, George Lane 2, Jason Belford 2.

Offense (122 starts by 12 players): Harrison Nikolao 24 (includes 23 on defense), Rocky Hanni 23, Matt Alfred 22, Tim Calhoun 14, Zach Wasielewski 12, Ryan Cole 10, Chris Carlsen 10, Tyler Coleman 3, Dezmon Cole 1, Toke Kefu 1, Tom McAndrews 1, Dale Morris 1.

Peerboom and Nichols to Share Quarterback Duties: Much like they did in the 2001 season, the Eagles will utilize two quarterbacks during the pre-season in hopes of finding a full-time starter. Junior Chris Peerboom will start against Oregon State, but freshman redshirt Matt Nichols will get his share of snaps.

"I think we have done as much as we can do at this point in practice," said Wulff on the quarterback situation. "Now it is really evaluating their performance in the game and going from there. Once they play in the game they are going to get better too. It is just going to be a work in progress and hopefully improvement in process. As long as we do that and keep getting those guys better each week then we will get better as a football team."

"Both of them got a lot better through spring and through fall camp and it is time for them to play a ball game so we can kind of take that next step," he added. "They have done a nice job to get themselves better. It really isn't about out-doing the other person -- it is about themselves getting better as individuals."

Eastern utilized two quarterbacks at the start of the 2003 season when Erik Meyer and Skyler Allen were battling for the job. They shared possessions and each started one game before Meyer, then a sophomore, won the job and started his last 34 games for the Eagles (35 total). He concluded his record-breaking career by winning the 2005 Walter Payton Award as the top quarterback in NCAA Division I-AA.

More About OSU: The Beavers return 16 starters, including kicker Alexis Serna who won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top placekicker. He made 23-of-28 field goals with a long of 47, made all 32 of his extra-point attempts and scored a total of 101 points.

All five of the team's starting offensive linemen are back, as well as quarterback Matt Moore and running back Yvenson Bernard. Moore completed 59 percent of his passes last year for 2,711 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bernard rushed for 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns.

On defense, the starting secondary returns intact, as well as two linemen and a linebacker. Senior strong safety Sabby Piscitelli had 53 tackles last year with four interceptions and eight passes broken up.

The Beavers are coached by Mike Riley, who is 28-30 in five seasons at Oregon State. He was 8-14 in the 1997 and 1998 seasons before taking over as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers for three seasons. He returned to OSU in 2003 and guided the Beavers to bowl games in 2003 and 2004. He earned his master's degree from Spokane's Whitworth College where he served as a graduate assistant football coach in 1976.

Eagles Return to Roots in Oregon: A trio of Eagles prominent on offense will be returning to the State of Oregon this week for Eastern's game versus Oregon State. Quarterback Chris Peerboom graduated from Portland's Jesuit High School in 2003; wide receiver Tyler Coleman graduated from Eugene's Marist High School in 2004; and running back Ryan Cole played at Oregon State in 2003 and 2004. Backup running back Dale Morris, a 2004 graduate of Marist and the brother of Seattle Seahawk Maurice Morris, will not play because of a foot injury that could keep him out of action for a month or more.

Peerboom was 21-3 as a starter at Jesuit, including a 9-2 record as senior when his team advanced to the second round of the State 4A Playoffs. In that 42-35 loss to Central Catholic, he completed 18-of-36 passes for 360 yards and four touchdowns as he lost for the first time in three thrilling games against current Oregon State quarterback Ryan Gunderson. In a regular season game his senior season, Peerboom rallied Jesuit from 16 points down with four minutes left for a 61-59 win in double-overtime. In the first meeting when both players were juniors, Jesuit prevailed 29-28 on a two-point conversion with five seconds left. Peerboom was a backup as a sophomore, but did see some action as an injury replacement. In the first start of his career that year, he had two touchdown passes to Mike Hass, who is now with the New Orleans Saints after a stellar career at OSU.

Cole rushed for 292 yards in 25 games as a Beaver. Cole was OSU's second-leading rusher as a sophomore in 2004 with 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He finished with 104 yards rushing and scored on a 79-yard run in OSU's 38-19 victory over Washington State on Oct. 23, 2004. He also caught 10 passes for 77 yards as a sophomore. As a freshman, he rushed 15 times for 82 yards and caught two passes for 13 yards, and also played fullback for the Beavers.

Eagles Versus I-A Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of NCAA Division II (the Eagles became a I-AA team in 1983), Eastern is now 7-12 all-time versus I-A teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus I-A foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games versus NCAA Division I-A 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 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

Rule Change Means Quicker Games: In a rules change designed to speed up play -- but as a result will provide for less plays in the game -- the game clock will be started sooner in several situations. In most circumstances the clock will start on a change of possession on the ready-for-play signal instead of when the ball is snapped. It will also start when the ball is kicked on free kicks (kickoffs), where previously it started when the ball was touched in play.

Term I-AA Eliminated in December: At the conclusion of this season, the term I-AA will no longer be used by the NCAA in distinguishing teams in I-AA Football. The NCAA Board of Directors approved on Aug. 3 two new labels for NCAA Division I football. Schools in I-A will now be referred to as the "Football Bowl Subdivision" and I-AA will change to "NCAA Football Championship Subdivision." The Collegiate Commissioners Association helped develop the new labels.

The new term is designed to distinguish Division I institutions for purposes of governing football, the only sport for which such a distinction is necessary. Members felt the old nomenclature inaccurately tiered Division I institutions in all sports, not just football, and produced instances in which media outlets and other entities incorrectly cited institutions as being Division I-AA in basketball or baseball, for example.

"All Division I institutions, regardless of whether they sponsor football, are in fact and should be referred to as Division I members," said Board Chair and University of Connecticut President Philip Austin. "The only reasons for labeling are the need to distinguish the two football subdivisions for the purpose of governing the sport and to maintain separate statistics. The Board is stressing that the nomenclature reflect the totality of the Division I membership whenever possible and that the subdivision labels be used sparingly. Still, there are instances in which we need to use them, and we feel the new labels are more accurate."


PAUL WULLF QUOTES

On Oregon State Game in 2000: "We didn't know exactly what to expect to be honest. We knew they were a talented football team, and we wanted to go into that game not giving them chances to beat us. We wanted to be conservative, play good football and not be too complicated. We wanted to have a chance and we did. It was a lot of fun, because they had a lot of coaches I played for or with and knew well. We played well, which was good, but I was a little disappointed we didn't come out of there with a win because we had a chance."

On Plays He Remembers Most from OSU Game in 2000: "There were a lot of them, but the big play I remember most was an interception by Ole Olesen in the end zone that he returned 90 yards. That was a moment I remember, and I remember some hard hitting. I remember seeing Oregon State's body language as the game went along -- they were frustrated. It was a lot tougher than they anticipated."

On Following OSU Game With West Virginia: "The good thing is that we play Thursday night and then play 10 days later at West Virginia. It gives us a little time in between ballgames. Our philosophy is to do everything we can to win the ballgame. We'll put a game plan together and our players are going to go execute it. We won't make it any bigger or deeper than that. The following week after West Virginia we play Central Washington and we'll coach that the same way. Obviously we'll try to tweak things week-to-week and try to improve on the things we're not doing very well."

On Oregon Players Playing in Home State: "Those players I know are excited to play the game, and I think they'll do a great job. They are good players and are kids that have wanted to be at Eastern Washington. We've expanded our recruiting a little bit to get into Oregon, Idaho, Canada and California a little bit more than we have. It is good to have those players around so that when we play away games they have some family and friends at the games."

On Playing I-A Opponents: "All of the coaches in our conference take pride in playing I-A programs. At the end of the game those opposing players and coaches realize we are well-coached and play good football. Generally we garner a lot more respect after we played them than entering the ballgame. At the same time you want to take care of your team first and get better."

On Needing Improvement from Running Game: "We have to. Between Ryan and the rest of our running back corp, we have to have those guys really perform well for us. The running game really has a chance to be our strength, at least for the first few weeks as we develop and allow those younger, inexperienced players to mature a little bit."

On Inexperienced Players: "It's one of those situations where it's going to be baptism by fire, and we'll just have to find out. I think our players will go in, play well, compete and learn a lot. We are going to make plays and we're going to make mistakes too. But I'm excited, and in the big picture, those games will help us once we get into conference play."

On Secondary: "I think our safety position is the best it's ever been at this university. We have some great players there. We feel very comfortable with one cornerback and need to develop one more, but I think our safeties are outstanding."

On Big Sky Race: "This is going to be a year where some teams are going to emerge halfway to three-quarters through the season. I'll be honest, I think it can be any one of eight teams -- I don't think anybody knows. Teams change throughout the season."

On Legacy Left by Erik Meyer and Eric Kimble: "They provided a different level of play in terms of performance, excitement and higher expectations. They left a mark that will never be taken away. The provided expectations and competitiveness that other players can look up to. They can see what it takes to be a great player and what it takes to be a trendsetter. Those guys were."

On Offensive Line: "I think there is potential to be really good, but to be honest, they have yet to prove that they are really good. It's all based on speculation and returning veterans with experience. They have not gelled and they have not had the opportunity to really do great things yet. And this season we need them to and we are really hoping they develop into a fine unit. Ultimately we need them to help us win ballgames."

On Opening League Play at Montana State: "It will be the second year in a row we've opened league play on the road. Playing at Montana State is a big game for us -- they are tough and that is a tough place to play. It will be a very challenging ballgame. Our first league game is a very critical game for us. If we lose it we still have a chance to win the conference. But it's always nice to get off on the right foot."

On Defense in the Big Sky: "We have some very good defenses this year. I think defense is going to be the strong point of this conference."

On Building Streak of Seven-Straight Winning Seasons: "It's what you work a lot of long hours for over the course of time to develop your program. By no means we where we want to be, but we have definitely made some steps and we are going in the right direction. We've made some strides and we need to keep moving forward."

On Rule Changes Regarding Game Clock for 2006: "They expect there will be anywhere from 20 to 25 less plays in a game, and that's a big impact. You have to be that much more efficient and maximize your plays. I think it will affect the game."

 

PRE-SEASON RANKINGS & INDIVIDUAL HONORS

Eagles Unranked in Pre-Season Poll: After spending the entire 2005 season and most of 2004 nationally-ranked, Eastern Washington starts the 2006 season out of the Sports Network NCAA Division I-AA Top 25 Poll. That snapped a string of 20-straight polls in which EWU was ranked by the media members and sports information directors who vote in the TSN poll.

However, the Eagles received enough votes to rank 26th. Eastern was ranked 23rd in the AGS (Any Given Saturday) pre-season poll and was also ranked 23rd in the pre-season by the Football Gazette. Eastern's 2006 opponents in the TSN pre-season poll include Montana (2nd) and Montana State (17th).

The Eagles finished 13th in the final Sports Network NCAA Division I-AA Poll of the 2005 season. Eastern entered 2005 ranked fourth nationally, but slipped to sixth after losing its season-opener at San Jose State. Eastern was fifth for two-straight weeks before a loss at Idaho State dropped it to 14th. Eastern spent one week at 15th before moving up to 12th prior to knocking off Montana, which catapulted the Eagles into sixth. But a 28-23 home loss to Weber State on Oct. 22 dropped the Eagles eight spots to 14th before jumping up to 11th a week later. A 40-35 loss at Cal Poly dropped Eastern to 21st -- the lowest ranking for the Eagles all season. Eastern moved to 19th after a 35-14 home win over 11th-ranked Montana State, then was 15th after closing the regular season with a win over UC Davis.

Eastern finished the 2004 season ranked a season-high seventh, thanks to a victory over No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. Eastern ranked in the top 25 seven times in the 2004 season, including the last six times the poll was released.

Coaches Pick Eagles Second: As expected, the Eastern Washington University football team has been picked to finish anywhere from second to fifth as the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches and media polls were released July 17 at the Big Sky Conference Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.

The Eagles, who shared Big Sky titles the last two years and advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs both seasons, were picked second by the coaches and fifth by the media. In 2005, Eastern was picked to win the title it eventually shared with Montana.

The uncertainty, however, is created by the fact the Eagles lost Payton Award-winning quarterback Erik Meyer, four receivers including record-breaking Eric Kimble, a pair of cornerbacks and middle linebacker Joey Cwik, who was the Big Sky's Defensive Player of the Year. But with 41 letter winners back -- including 10 who earned All-Big Sky Conference recognition a year ago -- the Eagles expect to contend for the title once again in 2006.

"I think this will be a year where we will surprise a lot of teams," said Eagle lineman Harrison Nikolao, who was Eastern's player representative at the Summer Kickoff. "Everyone has lost a lot of players throughout the conference. People look at us and see that we lost Erik Meyer, Eric Kimble and the core of our wide receivers. Teams are going to look at us as being suspect in certain things and weak in certain areas, which we are. But we're going to be stronger as a team this year than in the past three years."

The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Nikolao will be a key figure in that strength. He was a second team All-Big Sky defensive lineman last year, but has moved to an offensive guard position heading into his senior season. The 2002 graduate of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., has a team-high 24 games of starting experience as an Eagle, including a stint as a two-way player in 2004.

"We thrive on competing and that is not going to change," Nikolao added. "We are only going to improve. That's what Eastern Football is all about."

In the coaches poll, Montana was picked to win the title and received eight of the nine first-place votes. Montana State was picked third and plays the Eagles in the league opener for both teams on Sept. 23 in Bozeman, Mont. Portland State was picked fourth followed by Idaho State, Weber State, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and league newcomer Northern Colorado.

The media poll also had Montana on top, with the Grizzlies receiving 28 of 32 first-place votes. Montana, which plays at Eastern on Oct. 7, was followed by Montana State, Weber State, Portland State, Idaho State, Eastern, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Northern Colorado.

Alfred and Hanni Earn Pre-Season All-America Honors From The Sports Network and I-AA.Org: After two productive seasons as underclassmen, Eastern Washington University offensive linemen Matt Alfred and Rocky Hanni have been selected as pre-season All-Americans by The Sports Network and its NCAA Division I-AA executive director Matt Dougherty. Later, that same duo earned the same honor as first team All-America selections by I-AA.Org.

Alfred, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound guard from Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS '03), was selected to the first team. The 6-5, 290-pound Hanni earned honorable mention, and is from Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '03).

Alfred was a first team All-America and All-Big Sky pick in 2005 after helping the Eagles rank fourth nationally in total offense with an average of 477.8 yards per game. He has started as either a guard or tackle in Eastern's last 22 games the past two seasons as EWU has won a share of two Big Sky Conference titles, made two appearances in the I-AA Playoffs and has a 16-9 record.

As a freshman in 2004, Hanni was the first-ever offensive lineman to win Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors. The 6-5, 290-pound Hanni also earned All-America honors that season and has started all 23 games as an Eagle. He moved from tackle to guard as a sophomore, but is expected to return to tackle in 2006.

Football Gazette Honors Seven In-State Eagles: Seven Eastern Washington University football players -- all from the state of Washington -- have been selected to the Football Gazette preseason NCAA Division I-AA All-America team.

Matt Alfred, a junior from Gig Harbor, Wash., earned first team honors as an offensive guard. Running back Ryan Cole from Port Orchard, Wash., was a second team selection.

The remainder of players recognized received honorable mention. They included tight end Tim Calhoun from Zillah, Wash., offensive tackle Rocky Hanni from Sumner, Wash., linebacker David Eneberg from Mukilteo, Wash., defensive back Bryan Jarrett from Puyallup, Wash., and Brandon Keeler from Federal Way, Wash.

Trio of Eagles on Preseason All-Big Sky team: Eastern Washington senior tight end Tim Calhoun, junior offensive guard Matt Alfred and junior safety Bryan Jarrett have been selected to the preseason All-Big Sky Conference team as selected by members of the media.

All three players received All-Big Sky recognition a year ago when Calhoun was selected to the second team and Alfred and Jarrett were both first team selections. Alfred also earned All-America honors.

Calhoun is a 2002 graduate from Zillah, Wash., High School, and has caught 46 passes for 591 yards and five touchdowns in his career. He earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors as a true freshman before missing the 2003 and 2004 seasons because of injuries.

Alfred has started 22 career games as a guard and tackle, and is a 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor, Wash., High School. In each of the last two years, Eastern has ranked fourth in NCAA Division I-AA in offense with averages of nearly 500 yards per game. His younger brother Kenny is an offensive lineman at Washington State University.

Jarrett transferred to Eastern after playing one season at Western Washington University, and is a 2003 graduate of Puyallup, Wash., High School. He had 59 tackles, two passes broken up and an interception as an eight-game starter in his first season as an Eagle in 2005.

Those players helped lead the Eagles to a second-straight league title and NCAA Division I-AA Playoff berth in 2005.

Eagles Announce Spring Award Winners: At Eastern's Red-White Spring Football game, head coach Paul Wulff announced that junior guard Matt Alfred and senior linebacker David Eneberg will serve as co-captains in the 2006 season. Alfred is a 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor, Wash., High School, and Eneberg graduated in 2002 from Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Wash.

Also at the game, Wulff handed out strength and conditioning awards to Alfred, running back Ryan Cole, cornerback Adam Macomber and defensive end Jason Belford. Selected as most improved were cornerback Anthony Dotson and offensive guard Julian Stewart. Winning the "Iron Eagle" awards for academic and athletic achievement during the year were tight end Tom McAndrews and defensive back Bryan Jarrett.

 

SCRIMMAGE SUMMARIES

Backups Get Chance to Shine in Scrimmage: The road ahead is rough, so rest and getting a look at his depth were on the list of priorities for head coach Paul Wulff as his Eastern Washington University football team concluded its second week of pre-season practices with a 42-play scrimmage Aug. 23.

Most of EWU's starters were held out, leading to big performances from relative unknowns such as Dezmon Cole, A.J. Jimerson, Shane Eller, Lorenzo Lomack, Jacob Kragt, Josh Jacobson, Lonnie Hosley and E.J. Whitley. The defense had the upper hand, holding Eagle offensive units to 196 yards of total offense and just one score.

"We wanted to see what individuals are going to be ready to play and help us," said Wulff. "We are going to have a lot of players play in our first game. It was important that some of these players got a lot of reps today."

The offense passed for 131 yards and rushed for another 65, but that included minus 36 yards on seven quick-whistle sacks recorded by the defense. Jimerson's 1-yard scoring run was the lone score in eight offensive possessions, and that came after a 64-yard catch and run by Eller from freshman redshirt quarterback Matt Nichols.

"As a unit I don't know if they functioned real well because there were individual breakdowns at times," said Wulff. "There are players who aren't ready to play and some that are ready to play, and that is what we kind of get to see when we watch the video."

Lomack, a true freshman from San Diego, Calif., led the defense with 2 1/2 sacks. Kragt, a redshirt freshman from Ritzville, Wash., added two sacks and had three total tackles. Jacobson, also a redshirt freshman, had a sack and batted down a pass.

Hosley, a redshirt freshman, had an interception and three total tackles. Whitley, a junior college transfer, had a team-high five tackles.

"I thought there were some nice things on defense," praised Wullf. "I didn't see a lot of blown assignments and our tackling looked fairly crisp. Those are things we have to look at to see if individuals are ready to play. Our backups will play in the first game and they deserve that, so that is what this final evaluation is all about."

Cole, a sophomore who redshirted last season, led the offense with 62 yards rushing on eight carries, including a 22-yard run in which he leveled an Eagle defender. Jimerson added 19 yards on seven carries and caught three passes for 24 yards.

Eastern remains well-stocked at running back with the emergence of true freshman Jesse Hoffman. Hoffman sat out the scrimmage, but has worked his way up the depth chart after a foot injury to backup Dale Morris has sidelined him for about a month or more. Senior Ryan Cole, who previously played at Oregon State, is the starter.

"We lost Dale Morris to a foot injury and we really had high aspirations for what he was going to do this year," said Wulff. "He may be out the whole year or he may be out for just four weeks -- we don't know. We have starter Ryan Cole back, and true freshman Jesse Hoffman has had a very good camp and is going to have an opportunity to play. We are going to go from there with the other players and what we may end up doing at that spot. We do feel good about the talent at that position."

Starting quarterback Chris Peerboom directed the offense on three possessions and finished 7-of-12 for 64 yards. He directed the offense on drives of 40 and 67 yards, but couldn't generate any points thanks to a bad snap on the first possession and his interception into the end zone on the second.

Nichols, who will also see action at quarterback at OSU, attempted just two passes in two opportunities directing the offense. His perfectly-placed pass on a post pattern to Eller was his lone completion.

After a day off, Wulff's team will begin preparations for Oregon State on Aug. 25. He won't know until next Thursday exactly how well pre-season practices have gone for his team.

"Sometimes I think so and other times I don't know," he admitted. "I think as a coach you always have those questions and I think the only way you can answer that is to go play a game. So we need to go play this ballgame and evaluate our film and our performance after the game."

Touchdowns: A.J. Jimerson 1 run (Sheldon Weddle kick). Rushing: Dezmon Cole 8-62, A.J. Jimerson 7-19, Toke Kefu 1-4, J.C. Sherritt 1-minus-2, Chris Peerboom 3-minus-5, Matt Nichols 1-minus-5, Alex Smart 4-minus-8, Total 26-65 (includes seven sacks for minus 36 yards). Passing: Matt Nichols 1-2-0-64, Chris Peerboom 7-12-1-64, Alex Smart 1-2-0-3, Totals 9-16-1-131. Receiving: A.J. Jimerson 3-24, Brynsen Brown 1-6, Shane Eller 2-74, Nicholas Ramos 2-18, Nathan Overbay 1-9, Total 9-131. Interceptions: Lonnie Hosley. Leading Tacklers: E.J. Whitley 5, Aaron Cartwright 4, Lorenzo Lomack 4, Tyler Jolley 4. Sacks: Lorenzo Lomack 2 1/2, Jacob Kragt 2, Josh Jacobson, Shawn Powell, Graham Dorland 1/2. Passes Broken Up: Josh Jacobson 1.

Eagles Pass for 303 Yards and Three Touchdowns in Scrimmage: Passing for 303 yards and rushing for another 104, Eastern Washington University wrapped up its first week of pre-season football practices with a 79-play scrimmage Aug. 17 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.

About half the scrimmage was situational with no movement of chains. The Eagles passed 39 times for 303 yards and rushed another 40 times for 104 yards.

"It was a solid scrimmage for our 13th practice," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "I think there were some good things done on both sides of the ball. But obviously we are not where we want to be yet."

When scoring was allowed, redshirt freshman Matt Nichols had a pair of touchdown passes to go along with his 209 yards of passing. Reserve Alex Smart also had a scoring toss.

"Half of it was scripted so our quarterbacks weren't allowed to throw the ball down the field," Wulff explained. "So we just wanted to get some situational things done. There was a little sluggishness especially early in our passing game and once we kind of got going you could see it picked up a little bit."

Nichols and starter Chris Peerboom both had long touchdown passes called back because of probable sacks. Each also had an interception.

Nichols was 12-of-19, and had touchdown passes of 9 yards to Tyler Coleman and 35 to Nicholas Ramos. He also had a 75-yarder to Shane Eller called back.

Peerboom completed 5-of-12 passes for 41 yards, but had two sure completions dropped and had a 68-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Boyce called back. Smart's touchdown was an 18-yard completion to true freshman Jeffrey Solomon, who finished with three catches for 42 yards.

"I think there is a flow and a natural feel of moving the ball and moving the chains," said Wulff. "Again, I think on defense we made some nice plays in the secondary and offensively our timing is just not there yet. I think the combination of the two does make results show -- we didn't throw the ball as well as we usually do but we will."

Redshirt freshman Tony Davis was the leading receiver with four grabs for 56 yards. True freshman Jesse Hoffman had an impressive Eagle debut as the combination running back/wide receiver rushed eight times for a team-high 32 yards and caught two passes for 20 yards.

"Jesse Hoffman had an opportunity to play some running back today and he made some plays," said Wulff.

Defensively, interceptions were recorded by linebacker Shea Emry and Anthony Dotson. Local product Brett Igbinoba from Cheney, Wash., High School had a team-high seven tackles and also broke-up a pass. Also finishing with six tackles each were Emry, Marcus Walker, Brandon Keeler and Brady Smith.

Registering quick-whistle sacks were Greg Peach, Keith Grennan, Jacob Kragt, Lance Witherspoon and Aaron Cartright. Grennan also blocked a field goal attempt and Peach batted down two passes.

Makai Borden added two passes broken up and five tackles. Also breaking up passes were Kevin Hatch and Robert Pearson.

"It was nice to see the defense tackle fairly well and on offense there were some plays made," praised Wulff. "But we are still struggling with the timing of our receivers and quarterbacks, so the only way we are going to get that is by practicing. There are flashes but we just need to become a heck of a lot more consistent."

"For a first scrimmage I think it was pretty good," he added. "The blocking was fairly solid and I thought the tackling was pretty darn solid. Again it is not where we need to be but I do think it is something we can definitely build from. And if we can build from this, I am going to be pretty happy when we get going."

Touchdowns: Tyler Coleman 9 pass from Matt Nichols; Jeffrey Solomon 18 pass from Alex Smart; Nicholas Ramos 35 pass from Matt Nichols. Field Goals: Sheldon Weddle - 37/Good, 38/No Good, 36-No Good, 31-Good; Brett Bergstrom - 37/Blocked, 38/No Good, 36-Good, 31-Good. Rushing: Jesse Hoffman 8-32, A.J. Jimerson 7-31, Ryan Cole 4-21, Dale Morris 5-13, Toke Kefu 8-10, Dezmon Cole 5-0, Chris Peerboom 2-0, Matt Nichols 1-minus-3, Total 40-104. Passing: Matt Nichols 12-19-1-209, Chris Peerboom 5-12-1-41, Alex Smart 4-5-0-41, Keith Green 1-1-0-12, Jason Harris 0-2-0-0, Totals 22-39-2-303. Receiving: Tony Davis 4-56, Jeffrey Solomon 3-42, Brynsen Brown 2-38, Tom McAndrews 2-28, Shane Eller 2-24, Jesse Hoffman 2-20, Branden Nicholson 2-12, Nicholas Ramos 1-35, Toke Kefu 1-18, Trevor Gunderson 1-11, Charles Searcy 1-10, Tyler Coleman 1-9, Total 22-303. Interceptions: Anthony Dotson, Shea Emry. Leading Tacklers: Brett Igbinoba 7, Shea Emry 6, Brady Smith 6, Marcus Walker 6, Brandon Keeler 6, DeNique Ford 5, Makai Borden 5. Sacks: Aaron Cartwright 1, Greg Peach, Keith Grennan, Jacob Kragt, Lance Witherspoon. Passes Broken Up: Greg Peach 2, Makai Borden 2, Kevin Hatch, Robert Pearson, Brett Igbinoba.

Defense Dominates Red-White Game: At least on this day, the Eastern Washington University defense ruled.

The Eagle football team wrapped up four weeks of spring practice May 6 with the annual Red-White Game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., and the "Red" came away with a 3-0 victory over the "White."

The red featured the team's starting defense, and it limited the No. 1 offense to just 73 yards on 25 plays (2.9 per play). But several injured players were held out of the game and more passes were thrown than usual."

"We had a lot of kids not participate on both sides of the ball today," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "I thought that was kind of a good thing because it gave some of our young guys more reps and opportunities to play."

The No. 2 offense drove the ball at times against the No. 2 defense, and combined with the starting offense to gain 222 yards on 69 plays (3.2 per play). Quarterback Matt Nichols, one of three players competing for the starting position, split time with both squads and was 13-of-24 for 139 yards and directed the lone scoring drive.

"The offense wasn't very sharp today," admitted Wulff. "Defensively we played pretty solid, we tackled well and we didn't give up a lot of big plays."

The defense registered six quick-whistle sacks, and also broke-up seven passes. Freshman linebacker Makai Borden finished with five tackles and a pair of passes broken up. The defense allowed just 51 yards on the ground, and when including the six sacks, surrendered just 23 net rushing yards on 26 carries. The offense passed 43 times.

"We intentionally didn't run the ball a lot today," explained Wulff. "We tried to throw it a lot and give some of our guys the chance to throw some passes. The defense was able to play some more cover-two defense and work on some more things against the pass. Our play selection wasn't really as much game-simulated as we would normally run."

The quarterbacks combined for 23-of-43 passing for 199 yards and no touchdowns with a strong wind blowing at Woodward Field. Junior Chris Peerboom, the only quarterback with game experience, was 6-of-14 for 32 yards.

Brynsen Brown caught three passes for 44 yards. Returning starter Ryan Cole led Eagle running backs with 27 yards on three carries.

"Anthony Dotson had a great spring for us on defense as well as Shea Emry, George Lane, and Shawn Powell, who made the transition from tight end to defensive end," added Wulff. "Offensively Ryan Cole did great and Brynsen Brown really improved."

Scoring Plays: FG Sheldon Weddle 40. Total Offense: 69 plays, 222 yards (includes 6 sacks for minus 28 yards). Rushing: Ryan Cole 3-27, A.J. Jimerson 3-12, Dezmon Cole 8-5, Alexis Alexander 1-0, Josh Powell 1-0, Matt Nichols 6-minus-9, Chris Peerboom 4-minus-12, Totals 26-23. Passing: Matt Nichols 13-24-139, Chris Peerboom 6-14-32, Josh Powell 4-5-28, Totals 23-43-199. Receiving: Sam Togar 6-58, Brynsen Brown 3-44, Nicholas Ramos 3-30, Shane Eller 2-23, Tony Davis 2-12, Dezmon Cole 2-12, Tyler Coleman 2-4, Alexis Alexander 1-10, Ryan Cole 1-5, A.J. Jimerson 1-1, Totals 23-199. Leading Tacklers: Makai Borden 5, Kevin Hatch 4, Bryan Jarrett 3, Adam Macomber 3, Derek Brown 3. Sacks: Brett Bergstrom 1, Shea Emry 1, Jason Belford 1, Shawn Powell 1, Greg Peach 1, Jacob Kragt 1. Interceptions: None. Passes Broken Up: Makai Borden 2, Bryan Jarrett 1, Kevin Hatch 1, Joe Alford 1, Shea Emry 1, Lance Withersoon 1.

 

 

2006 SEASON OUTLOOK

The Eastern Washington University football team is out to prove there is life after the memorable "Meyer-Kimble-Vijil-McIntyre-Sanders-Cwik-Trufant-Hendrix" era.

On paper, the Eagles look good with 41 returning letter winners and just 21 lost, but replacing the incredible contributions of eight amazingly productive seniors will prove to be difficult indeed. Eastern loses the Walter Payton Award winner and Big Sky Offensive MVP (quarterback Erik Meyer), the Big Sky Defensive MVP (middle linebacker Joey Cwik), four wide receivers and a pair of cornerbacks.

"The players already in the program really need to step up," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, whose rebuilding effort is a daunting one. "We have areas with voids, and now it's up to the players in those positions to step up. They need to make plays and carry their load and their responsibility. It's up to them."

But the contributions of those eight seniors won't be easily replaced. They helped lead Eastern to back-to-back Big Sky Conference co-championships and NCAA Division I-AA Playoff berths both seasons.

Meyer, with a completion percentage of .657, 10,261 yards, 84 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions in 42 career games, broke the I-AA record for efficiency rating (166.5) by quarterbacks with at least career 400 completions. Cwik never missed a game in his four years as an Eagle and finished with 331 tackles in his 47-game career (40 as a starter) to rank fourth in school history.

Receivers Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Craig McIntyre and Richmond Sanders finished their careers with a combined 156 games of experience (74 starts), with totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns. Cornerbacks Isaiah Trufant and Jesse Hendrix combined for 16 interceptions, 65 passes broken up and 287 total tackles in their Eagle careers. That duo had a combined 85 games of experience, including 69 career starts.

But 41 returning letter winners - including six starters on each side of the ball plus the team's kicker and punter - has Wulff excited about the possibilities. Only 21 letter winners were lost.

"There is no question that this is a team that has the potential to surprise some people and do some good things down the road," he said. "But we have a lot of work in front of us. We're going to take it step by step."

Despite the loss of talent in key skill positions, Wulff is hoping the return of experienced offensive and defensive linemen will help make up for it. The Eagles gave up 53 sacks and averaged just 136.2 rushing yards last season, but a year earlier a more experienced unit allowed only 36 sacks and averaged 184.4 rushing yards.

Defensively, Eastern had only 18 sacks and allowed 160.2 rushing yards per game. But again, an experienced unit in 2004 had eight more sacks and allowed only 137.0 rushing yards per game.

"If you're strong in your offensive and defensive lines, then you always have the chance to compete," explained Wulff. "With that being said, we have a chance. We have enough experienced and talented players back, and we have some players in key roles that will have to be playmakers for us."

Eastern's accomplishments and victories in 2005 will be remembered most because of a rash of injuries the team had to overcome. A total of 20 Eagles - including 15 who started at various times during the season - missed games and practice time because of injuries suffered since the start of the season. In all, the injuries caused those 20 players to miss 90 total games and 55 total starts.

"I guess the positive part of having a lot of injuries is the opportunity for youth to be able to play and get some experience," he said. "That should help us out. The key now is for this football team to mature a little bit. Our offensive and defensive lines were so youthful last year that we got nicked up. If you have to play young linemen, so many times they don't have the mental capability or are not physically strong enough to handle an 11- or 12-game season. We're hoping this year, with added strength and size, that we can avoid that immaturity."

Regardless, Eastern continues to have lofty expectations as they attempt to continue a streak of seven-straight winning seasons, win a third-straight league title and make a third-straight appearance in the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. Eastern, which has now made five total appearances in the playoffs, had never made back-to-back playoff appearances nor won back-to-back titles in 22 seasons as a member of I-AA (19 as a member of the Big Sky).

OFFENSE: Sometimes, the obvious is obvious.

Not including incoming freshmen, Eastern will look to a pair of quarterbacks to replace Meyer, and a young yet talented group of receivers ready to replace the four standout receivers the Eagles lost to graduation.

"Obviously, there's the obvious," said Wulff. "We have some openings at the receiver positions and the quarterback spot, so we'll see what emerges there. There are a lot of players who will have the opportunity to fill those roles."

Junior Chris Peerboom has the inside edge for the quarterback position based on experience in the program, but didn't get much of an opportunity to play behind Meyer the past two seasons. He played in only three games in 2005 after suffering a hand injury in the first game of the season that kept him from practicing for nearly two months. He completed just 2-of-13 passes for 22 yards and four interceptions, but the year before was 9-of-21 for 66 yards and two interceptions in seven games.

"He's the frontrunner based on experience, being in the program and knowing our offense," said Wulff. "He has done some very good things in practice, but he has yet to be able to do those things in a ballgame."

Matt Nichols will push for the starting spot after redshirting as a freshman last season. He is from Cottonwood, Calif., and graduated in 2005 from West Valley High School.

"Our quarterback situation is about taking care of the football, getting first downs and scoring points," explained Wulff. "It's an easy thing to say but not an easy thing to do. It's a generic way to put it, but we have to determine who is going to move the chains the best, who is going to score points and who is going to take care of the football. It's his job to take charge and run the huddle. It's on him to do that, but at the same time, he has 10 other guys who need to do their part. When everyone is doing their part, you are going to have success."

Eastern's receiving corp includes junior Tyler Coleman, who caught 22 passes for 330 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore, and caught five passes for 48 yards and a score as a freshman in 2004. Charles Searcy, a Eagle cornerback in 2005, will move to offense after playing both positions in junior college.

"Tyler Coleman has a good amount of experience, and we feel good about him," said Wulff. "Charles Searcy was also a receiver in junior college, and receiver is probably a more natural position for him. He gives us a veteran threat with some speed. It's a position he's more comfortable with."

A trio of 2005 redshirts should also challenge for positions. Aaron Boyce is a big target at 6-foot-2 and earned EWU Offensive Scout Team Player of the Week honors twice in 2005. Tony Davis was the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year, and Brynsen Brown also figures to get an opportunity to play.

"We are also excited about the potential of Aaron Boyce and Tony Davis, a pair of redshirts who have the potential to be fine players," explained Wulff. "They still have a lot of work in front of them and a lot to prove. They have a challenge because of their youth and understanding the demand of what is going to be put on them every day in practice."

Eastern also has talent at tight end that should help from both a pass receiving and blocking standpoint. Senior Tim Calhoun returns after earning second team All-Big Sky honors in 2005 and honorable mention as a true freshman in 2002. The two seasons in between were miserable as he was plagued by injuries. He caught 15 passes for 213 yards last year and had 31 catches for 378 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman.

Junior Tom McAndrews is also back with 18 games of experience under his belt. He has caught six passes for 68 yards in his career, and in spring 2005 he was selected as the team's most improved player on offense. Freshman redshirt Nathan Overbay should also see plenty of action. Overbay, whose uncle Lyle Overbay now plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, caught 81 passes for 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior in high school in 2004.

The Eagles need their offensive line to be the strength of the team in 2006. The Eagles return a pair of All-Americans in juniors Matt Alfred (6-3, 300) and Rocky Hanni (6-5, 290), and two others who have significant starting experience. Those four players all started at least six games in 2005, and have a combined 67 starts between them. And all four of them were just second-year players in the Eagle program last season and return in 2006 as juniors.

Plus, All-Big Sky second team defensive lineman Harrison Nikolao will move full-time to the offensive line after seeing some action there as a sophomore in 2004. He has started 24 games on defense for EWU.

"Our offensive line has to get better," said Wulff. "There are some returning players there and some depth, but we'll see who emerges and see if we really make the progress we need to make in the offensive line. Throughout the year we weren't consistent enough and it wasn't up to the level we expect in our program at that position, including the tight end position."

Alfred, a sturdy 6-3, 300 pounds, was a first team All-America and All-Big Sky pick in 2005 after helping the Eagles rank fourth nationally in total offense with an average of 477.8 yards per game. He has started as either a guard or tackle in Eastern's last 22 games the past two seasons.

The group also includes Rocky Hanni, who as a freshman in 2004 was the first-ever offensive lineman to win Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors. The 6-5, 290-pound Hanni also earned All-America honors that season and has started all 23 games as an Eagle. He moved from tackle to guard as a sophomore, but is expected to return to tackle in 2006.

Chris Carlsen (6-2, 270) was a 10-game starter as a sophomore in 2005, including six games at center. Returning at tackle is 12-game starter Zach Wasielewski (6-3, 280).

Adding depth along the offensive line are returning letter winners Bryan Smith (6-3, 280), Julian Stewart (6-2, 285) and Charlie Wulff (6-0, 275), as well as five 2005 freshman redshirts.

The bottom line is finding a more productive offensive line, and one that can avoid allowing 53 sacks as it did in 12 games last season.

"We were very blessed to have a player like Erik who could escape a lot of pressure," said Wulff. "You aren't always going to have that. It comes back to our offensive line and running the football. We have to run the ball better than we have, and that will help our offensive line in our pass protection too. We have to get back to some of that."

Enter Nikolao, a physical presence at 6-2, 295 pounds. He has had 80 tackles with 7 1/2 sacks and a pair of pass deflections in his 36-game career thus far, but was able to make the move - probably to a guard position - because of depth along the EWU defensive line.

"It puts him in a more natural position," said Wulff. "His best chance to be a great football player is on the offensive side of the ball. Right now that might help our offense with the importance of running the football and the importance of solidifying our offensive line. He gives us some leadership and character there."

The biggest reason the Eagles hope for improved production at offensive line is to take advantage of a quartet of experienced running backs - including a pair who burst onto the scene in 2005. Senior Ryan Cole, who transferred last year from Oregon State, earned second team All-Big Sky honors after rushing for 879 yards and 14 touchdowns. Sophomore Dale Morris added 310 yards and a touchdown in nine games in his Eagle debut.

Also back are a pair of veterans in juniors Toke Kefu and Dezmon Cole. Kefu, who still has a redshirt year to use, rushed for 345 yards and four touchdowns in 2004 and added 154 yards last season. Dezmon Cole had 56 as a freshman in 2003, then had 311 and three touchdowns as a sophomore before redshirting in 2005.

Adding depth at running back is A.J. Jimerson, who played sparingly as a defensive back in 2005.

"I see great competition at running back," said Wulff. "We have four experienced players returning, and A.J. Jimerson is in the mix too. It will be interesting to see how that unfolds."

DEFENSE: A simple fundamental might be the key to the season for Eastern, which was respectable in allowing 363 yards and 23.4 points per game. But the Eagles gave up points and yards by the bunches in their four shootout losses against I-AA competition.

They lost those four games by a combined 17 points, including road losses at Northern Iowa (41-38), Cal Poly (40-35) and Idaho State (34-30). Eastern also suffered a 28-23 loss at home to Weber Sate on Oct. 22, and a 35-24 loss at I-A San Jose State to open the year.

"Improving our tackling is the biggest thing we need to do," said Wulff. "I don't know if it's anything about X's and O's as much as it was missed tackles in a couple of games that really cost us. Those are just fundamentals - there's nothing special. We just need to be more fundamentally sound on defense, particularly tackling."

Overall, Eastern's defense has plenty of experience returning, including eight returning letter winners on the defensive line, four at linebacker and eight in the secondary. The lone returning All-Big Sky Conference players are safety Bryan Jarrett (first team), Brandon Keeler (second team), rover Nick Denbeigh (honorable mention) and linebacker David Eneberg (honorable mention). Harrison Nikolao earned second team honors, but has moved to the offensive line.

"Our defensive line play is going to be awfully critical for us," said Wulff of the defensive keys. "We need some consistency and get our players to play well. In our secondary, our safety position has to perform better."

Jarrett finished his first season as an Eagle with 59 tackles, an interception and two passes broken up. Keeler, a first team All-Big Sky selection as a sophomore, had 62 tackles with an interception and two passes broken up.

In addition, Denbeigh finished with 66 tackles, an interception and six passes broken up from his rover position. Backup safety Gregor Smith played just seven games due to a knee injury, and finished with 31 tackles, an interception and two passes broken up. As a freshman in 2004, Smith earned second team All-Big Sky honors on special teams.

"We liked the play of Bryan Jarrett in his first year playing for us and he had an outstanding year," said Wulff. "But we really didn't get the play we needed at the other positions. Nick Denbeigh had a solid year, but losing Gregor Smith for much of the year hurt us. Brandon Keeler underachieved last year. Those are all guys that are back that need to step up and have great years for us."

Other returning letterwinners in the secondary include DeNique Ford, who finished with 58 tackles, an interception and six passes broken up as a backup safety and cornerback. He and Ira Jarmon (15 tackles, two passes broken up) are the leading candidates to fill Eastern's vacant cornerback positions.

"Denique played a tremendous amount for us, but he needs to be better," said Wulff. "Ira Jarmon is a return player who played a little bit. That position needs to be solidified with those guys and a few others."

Anthony Dotson (seven tackles, one pass broken up) is the other returning letterwinner in the secondary. Also in the secondary is Adam Macomber, who lettered as a true freshman at running back after walking on in the fall.

Three freshman redshirts are expected to add depth in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions, and also provide help on special teams. They include Robert Pearson, Kyle Wilkins and Aaron Cartwright.

At linebacker, Eneberg finished with 60 tackles in his first full season as a starter. Also seeing action in 2005 were Marcus Walker (15 tackles, one interception) and Shea Emry (12 tackles). Both were special teams standouts as well, with Emry earning honorable mention All-Big Sky honors. Freshman redshirt Makai Borden will also make his debut as a backup linebacker and special teams player.

The departure of Nikolao leaves the interior defensive line in the hands of a quartet of returning letter winners. Keith Grennan (28 tackles, three sacks) and George Lane (eight tackles) are seniors, while Lance Witherspoon (14 tackles) and Gene Piffero (14 tackles) are sophomores.

"Lance and Gene are two young defensive tackles who have a chance to come in and be awfully good football players," said Wulff. "We wanted to get them into the rotation as sophomores because we really didn't want be in the situation where our top three defensive tackles were all seniors. When you try to build a program and consistency, you want to have that balance of classes by position. Those two players allow us to do that with the return of Keith Grennan and George Lane. We have a nice balance there for growth in our program."

At defensive end, returning letter winners include sophomore Jason Belford (eight tackles, two sacks), who played in only three 2005 games because of a leg injury. As a result, Greg Peach (20 tackles, one sack) saw action in 12 games as a true freshman, including five as a starter.

Other defensive ends include former tight end Shawn Powell and Jacob Kragt. Kragt played in Eastern's first two games as a true freshman, but suffered a shoulder injury and was redshirted.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Back are kicker Sheldon Weddle and punter Ryan Donckers. As juniors, Weddle made 11-of-17 field goals and 46-of-47 extra points, and Donckers had a 39.0 average in 38 punts. Senior Brett Bergstrom will handle kickoffs again and may challenge for the placekicking job.

Charles Searcy returns after averaging 23.8 yards per kickoff return. But lost is talented punt returner Eric Kimble, who finished his career with a school-record 13.4 average per return.

Eastern allowed opponents to average 23.4 yards per kickoff return and 15.1 yards per punt return. Comparatively, Eastern averaged 20.6 yards per kickoff return and 9.8 per punt return.

"Special teams is a big concern," said Wulff. "We need to make sure we're aggressive and thorough on special teams and very solid there. We have a lot of young returning athletes who can fill that need. Special teams has to be a strength for us."

 

SERIES HISTORY & NOTES

Oregon State 21, Eastern Washington 19 (Sept. 2, 2000): Thanks to a superb effort by an experienced Eagle defense, Eastern Washington University came close to pulling off an upset before falling to Oregon State 21-19 on Sept. 2, 2000, at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore.

Huge underdogs entering the game, the Eagles held the Beavers scoreless for the first 25:37 of the game, and held the Beavers to 326 yards of total offense. Eastern, which had just 197 yards of total offense, rallied from eight- and nine-point deficits before falling by the slim, two-point margin.

The game marked the debut of new Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. Wulff played for Oregon State head coach Dennis Erickson at Washington State University in 1987.

The Eagles took a 3-0 lead in the second quarter on a 44-yard field goal by Troy Griggs, then pulled to within 7-6 in the third quarter on a 22-yard field goal by Griggs. The first field goal came after a fumble that was recovered by Jeff Allen, and the second came after an interception by Julian Williams.

In between those two field goals was a 38-yard attempt by Griggs that was blocked with 17 seconds left in the first half. That missed opportunity proved to be costly as the final score indicates.

The Eagles capitalized again late in the third quarter when Ole Olesen returned an OSU interception 90 yards to the Beaver 9-yard-line. Jesse Chatman scored from two yards out, but the two-point conversion attempt failed and the Eagles were behind 14-12.

Later, after Oregon State took a 21-12 lead, the Eagles drove 63 yards on five plays to score another touchdown with 3:16 to play on an 8-yard run by Fred Salanoa. Salanoa completed passes of 24 yards to Lance Ballew and 31 yards to Joe Levens on the drive.

On the ensuing possession, Oregon State picked up a first down and was able to run out most of the remaining time on the clock before punting on the final play of the game.

Salanoa, playing behind an inexperienced and injury-plagued offensive line, completed 13-of-30 passes for 139 yards while getting sacked just once. He was the team's second-leading rusher with 23 net yards, ranking behind the 32 yards on 15 carries by Jesse Chatman. Tight end Lance Ballew caught a career-high six passes for 64 yards.

Ken Simonton accounted for most of Oregon State's offense by rushing 40 times for 200 yards. He scored all three of OSU's touchdowns as he broke school records for career rushing yards, touchdowns and points scored.

Wulff on Chance to Beat Oregon State: "The nice thing is we gave ourselves a chance to win. The coaches were prepared and the players were prepared. We gave ourselves a chance to win and our effort was just unbelievable. I told the team that I don't believe in moral victories, and I don't think that was one. I believe that they will watch the film and see that they made some mistakes, and they will kick themselves."

Wulff on Late Scoring Drive: "We got a little time and Fred was able to set his feet. He made two really nice throws, and we made a couple of good catches. I think Oregon State came out a little soft thinking we weren't going to respond like that. We did and kind of surprised them. The offense was really focused on that drive."

Eagles, Not Beavers, Capitalize on Turnovers: With both the Eagles and Beavers turning the ball over three times, Eastern was able to score each time after each Beaver miscue. The Eagles scored two field goals and a touchdown, while the Beavers failed to score after three EWU turnovers. On those three ensuing Beaver possessions -- including two that started inside Eastern's 20-yard-line, OSU had minus 23 yards on eight plays. Two of the possessions ended with punts, and the other ended on Ole Olesen's interception and 90-yard return.

Wulff on Offense Versus Oregon State: "We had opportunities, we just couldn't capitalize enough. They have a very good defense. We turned the ball over twice on offense in the red zone, which really gave them opportunities to score. But our defense came back both times and didn't allow them a point. "

 

OTHER NOTES & QUOTES

Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's 2005 appearance in the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs was the school's fifth berth in school history, and the first time the Eagles have made back-to-back appearances.

Eastern's 2004 appearance in the second round was the third time Eastern advanced past the first round. Eastern now has a 4-5 record in five playoff appearances after losing at Northern Iowa 41-38 in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU's first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.

Eastern hadn't appeared in the I-AA playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.

Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school's only other post-season experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.

Here is a complete list of EWU's playoff games:

2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)

2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)

2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)

1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)

1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)

1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)

1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)

1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)

1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)

Eagles in I-AA Statistics in 2005: After leading NCAA Division I-AA in offense much of the year, the Eagles finished fourth with an average of 477.8 yards per game.

Quarterback Erik Meyer was second in I-AA in individual total offense as the Payton Award candidate averaged 352.0 yards per game, just behind Grambling's Bruce Eugene at 367.0 per game. Meyer also finished fourth nationally in passing efficiency with a 169.3 rating, and his average of 333.6 passing yards per game was second. Meyer became just the 12th player in I-AA history to throw for at least 4,000 yards in a single season (he finished with 4,003).

Eastern finished second in I-AA in passing offense at 341.8, just behind Grambling (357.7). Eastern finished the season as the I-AA leader in total offense in both 1997 (505.6) and 2001 (514.5), and has now led the Big Sky Conference in total offense in four of the last five years.

Eastern was also 14th in scoring (35.0) and seventh in passing efficiency (161.4). The Eagles were 69th out of 116 I-AA teams in rushing (136.1 per game), up from 96th (104.0 per game) after three games.

Defensively, Eastern finished 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense (103.3) after entering the playoffs ranked fifth (97.3). The Eagles finished 62nd overall in defense (363.2), 60th in rushing defense (160.1) and 45th in scoring defense (23.4).

Eagle receiver Eric Kimble finished fifth in receiving yards (118.3) and fifth in receptions (7.3) per game. Raul Vijil was right behind Kimble, ranking 12th in receiving yards (90.0) and 16th in receptions (6.0). That duo ranked first and second in the Big Sky in both categories. Kimble also closed the year ranked 13th in all-purpose yards with an average of 142.2 per game.

Running back Ryan Cole was 31st in I-AA in scoring with an average of 7.2 points per game, and was also 71st in rushing (73.3). Sheldon Weddle was 25th in field goals (1.0 per game).

Defensively, cornerback Jesse Hendrix was 10th in passes defended with a total of 16 (1.33 per game), with 14 passes broken up and two interceptions.

Injury Epidemic in 2005: A total of 20 key players -- 15 of them starters at one time during the season -- lost playing time and practice time after being injured since the season started in September. In all, those 20 players missed a total of 90 games and a total 55 starts. Early in the year the injury rate was severe, with nine players suffering injuries in Eastern's first three games (three in each game) that kept them out of practice and games.

Here is a list of the injured players in 2005 that are on EWU's 2006 roster.

Name Played/Starts Games/Starts Missed

TOTALS (20 Players) 90/55

LB David Eneberg (ankle) 11/10 1/2 (UCD, UNI)

NG Harrison Nikolao (sternum) 12/10 0/2 (Sac, CP)

TE Tom McAndrews (knee) 7/1 5/0 (Sac, CP, MSU, UCD, UNI)

RB Dale Morris (knee) 9/1 3/0 (UM, WSU, Sac)

S Gregor Smith (knee) 7/4 5/8 (NAU, UM, WSU, Sac, CP)

DE Jason Belford (calf) 3/2 9/9 (lost for season after PSU game)

DT Keith Grennan (back) 10/4 2/0 (PSU, Sac)

DE Jacob Kragt (shoulder) 2/0 10/0 (redshirted)

QB Chris Peerboom (finger tendon) 3/0 8/0 (WOU, ISU, PSU, NAU, UM, WSU, Sac, CP)

-- Three players -- RB Dezmon Cole (hamstring), WR Branden Nicholson (broken femur) and WR Kyle Long sat out the season because of pre-season injuries. Cole redshirted.

Eagles Close, But Last Shutout Back in 1987: Eastern Washington hasn't recorded a shutout in their last 208 games dating back to a 3-0 win over Stephen F. Austin in 1987. But twice recently -- Nov. 19, 2005, at home against UC-Davis and Oct. 23, 2004, at Weber State, the Eagles have held their opponents without an offensive score. Versus UC Davis, the Aggies scored on a 50-yard interception return in the third quarter. Against Weber State, the Wildcats scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery with just 4:43 left to play.

Eastern has held opponents to single digits in 23 games since the last shutout, but haven't been able to shut them out. On Sept. 18, 2004 in a 39-8 victory, Eastern held Central Washington to eight points as the Wildcats scored with 4:52 left in the third quarter. Holding Idaho scoreless for the final 54:29 in an 8-5 victory in 2003 was about as close as Eastern has come to a shutout, as well as a 1994 game when Cal Poly scored with 21 seconds left in Eastern's 61-7 blowout win. The five points Idaho scored were the fewest Eastern has allowed since beating Idaho State 37-3 in 1992. The 13 combined points were the fewest in an EWU game since the 3-0 win over Stephen F. Austin.

A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry: In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years - including 2005 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 21-10-1. Eastern is 4-11-1 in Missoula, 5-9 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 10 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.

Seven 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 21 times in 32 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 653 yards of total offense in 1997 in a 40-35 win, and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 21 meetings the winning team has averaged 34.4 points. In six of those 21 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 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 NCAA Division I-AA record-tying winning streak 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 10 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 Fall Short of 1,000: Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has now had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 11 seasons from 1995-2004, including six different players. In 2005, the Eagles just missed having a running back finish with 1,000 as Ryan Cole finished with 879.

Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games in the 2004 season. 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 other 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)

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