No. 14 Eagles Host Former Rival Western Washington

Sept. 15, 2008

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First-year head coach Beau Baldwin captured his team’s mood best following Eastern Washington University’s narrow football loss to Colorado on Sept. 6.

"I’m tired of getting congratulated for a loss," he said a few days after the Eagles lost 31-24 to the heavily-favored Buffaloes after leading by a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining.

After a bye week, this Saturday (Sept. 20) the Eagles try for their first victory of the 2008 season when former rival Western Washington visits Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff is 6:05 p.m. Pacific time.

After opening the season with a respectable 49-24 loss at 12th-ranked Texas Tech, Eastern played its second-straight NCAA Football Bowl Division foe a week later in Boulder, Colo. As disappointing of a loss as it might have been for the Eagles, it only re-affirmed what Baldwin knew heading into the season -- that he has a team that has great things ahead of it despite the 0-2 start. And he has a team that is hungry for a win.

"I believed that before we played these two games," he stated. "I feel good about the leadership on this team and the experience coming back. Everything that this team brings gives me the opinion that there are good things ahead. We still have to prove it on the field -- nothing is given to us until we prove it on the field. Right now there is no more talk -- we have to go get a win."

Eastern, a member of the Big Sky Conference, will enter this week’s game ranked 14th in this week’s Sports Network NCAA Football Subdivision rankings. Western, a member of NCAA Division II and former rival of EWU when both teams played in the NAIA ranks, is 1-1. This will be the 63rd meeting between the Vikings and Eagles, with Eastern holding a 37-25 advantage.

"We need to respect our opponent and come out with energy," said Baldwin, a former Central Washington University player and coach who has faced Western many times. "You aren’t going to have quite the same energy as you would with 50,000 fans on the road. It’s going to be a different situation and we have to make sure we are not any less emotionally charged than we were in the first two games. You have to respect your opponent whoever that might be and you have to bring it. I really feel confident in our guys -- we have great leadership that will get that done. But it’s something you worry about. But being 0-2, we have no reason to be anything but really, really hungry."

The Vikings are coming off a 38-14 win over Humboldt State in which the Vikings scored the final 16 points of the game. Western had a 333-227 advantage in total offense, including 200-53 in the second half. Quarterback Adam Perry completed 17-of-27 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

Western opened its season with a 36-27 Great Northwest Athletic Conference loss to Western Oregon -- a game the Vikings led 27-23 late in the third quarter. Perry completed 23-of-38 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns in that game.

Western was 2-10 last year and 1-7 in the North Central Conference. The Vikings opened the 2007 season 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 and a 24-7 loss to then-19th ranked Central Washington. Baldwin was head coach at CWU in 2007, leading the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Playoffs.

"They’ll play hard," said Baldwin, who was an assistant at Eastern in 2006 when Central Washington handed the Eagles a 21-14 setback in Cheney. "Every time you play a Division II team, they come in with an attitude and an energy. That’s especially true with an in-state team, because the players know each other. Some might feel slighted because they weren’t recruited by a Big Sky school and they want to prove themselves. It’s going to be a challenge -- we just have to be ready to go."

The Eagles had plenty of individual performances to be proud of in their first two games.

Of note, junior quarterback Matt Nichols had a pair of 300-yard passing performances, and junior receiver Tony Davis has already caught 22 passes after a shoulder injury held him to 35 all of the 2007 season. After two games, Nichols leads the Big Sky and ranks third in FCS in total offense per game (318.0). Davis is second nationally in receptions per game (11.0) behind Idaho State’s Eddie Thompson (13.5).

In addition, kicker Felipe Macias already has field goals of 55 and 52 yards to his credit -- the only player to have made a 50-yarder in the first two weeks of the season. Through week three, he still has the two longest field goals in FCS and is the only player with two of 50-plus yards.

Defensively, senior cornerback Ryan Kelley is tied for first in the Big Sky in tackles with 17 (average of 8.5 per game). Twins Matt Johnson and Zach Johnson, a pair of freshman redshirts, have combined for 33 tackles thus far, with Matt also tied for first in the Big Sky (8.5 per game) and Zach ranking third (8.0). Senior defensive end Jason Belford had a pair of sacks against Colorado to currently rank sixth in FCS and third in the Big Sky (1.0 per game).

"I know we didn’t make a couple of plays at the end, but we found a way to keep competing for 60 minutes, Baldwin added of the openers. "I give a lot of credit to our players. A lot of them played a lot of snaps in those two weeks against upper level opponents. I was impressed by that, but I’m also frustrated that we are 0-2."

 

-- Ahead For the Eagles -- Following Saturday’s game, Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play at home versus Idaho State on Sept. 27. The game will start at 12:37 p.m. Pacific time and is televised regionally on Altitude Sports and Entertainment (DirecTV 681/682; Dish Network 410) and is Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame/"100 for 100" Day at Woodward Field.

The Bengals are coached by John Zamberlin, who Baldwin served as an assistant coach under for six seasons (1997-2002) at Central Washington University.

Besides Idaho State, Eastern plays league home games in 2008 versus Montana (Oct. 11), Sacramento State (Nov. 1) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 15). 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.

 

-- Eastern Has 45-35 Advantage in Five Quarters versus Texas Tech and Colorado -- The Eagles opened the season with a 49-24 loss at 12th-ranked Texas Tech when EWU battled back from a 21-0 deficit. Eastern then took a 21-7 lead into the second half against Colorado, meaning the Eagles had a 45-35 advantage against the upper division foes in a five-quarter span. In those two games, Eastern’s starters were on the field for all but the final possession against TTU.

"Our team believed they could win and we obviously proved we could have won that game," said Baldwin of the 31-24 Colorado loss, in which Eastern took a 24-17 lead with 3:52 to play. "We feel like we let one slip away. We have to come back and learn from it because the reality is that we’re 0-2. We don’t like that taste and we don’t like that feel, so we have to change that fast."

"We have a good team and we were executing," added Baldwin, whose team had only a field goal in the second half against the Buffaloes and gave up two touchdowns in the final 2:05. "I don’t think Colorado wasn’t ready or not taking us serious -- we were just making plays in the first half.

"No matter who we are playing, we have to find a way to make plays in the fourth quarter. There are no excuses to it -- we just have to find a way to make a few more plays in the fourth quarter and finish the ballgame."

After falling behind 21-0 to TTU, the Eagles won the second quarter 17-7 and stayed within striking distance of the Red Raiders for most of the second half. Eastern finished with 364 yards of total offense against the Red Raiders, including 341 through the air as Eastern tied a school record with 38 pass completions. Eastern out-gained Texas Tech in the second quarter 134-107. After falling behind by three touchdowns, Eastern was only outscored 28-24 the rest of the game.

However, Eastern had three turnovers, including an interception on the first offensive play of the game after the ball went through an Eastern receiver’s hands. That helped the Red Raiders open their early 21-0 lead. Defensively, Eastern surrendered 639 yards to TTU, including 536 through the air against a program that led FBS in passing offense and ranked second in total offense in 2007.

"We left it out of the field for the last two weeks against some big-time opponents," added Baldwin. "It’s tough and it’s hard on their bodies and hard mentally. They are worn out a little bit. The bye came at a good time for us. We just need to re-charge ourselves for Western Washington and then get ready for the league after that."

Eastern is now 7-17 all-time versus FBS opponents, but hasn’t won its last seven meetings since beating Idaho 8-5 in 2003. Eastern also lost in 2007 to Brigham Young 42-7, and the year before that in losses to Oregon State (56-17) and sixth-ranked West Virginia (52-3). Several current Eagles played in those FBS games in 2006 and 2007, including Matt Nichols, who made his starting debut against West Virginia.

 

-- Nichols Has Seventh and Eighth 300-Yard Passing Games -- Junior quarterback Matt Nichols had the seventh 300-yard passing game in his career when he completed 36-of-61 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown against Texas Tech on Aug. 30. Currently on the 2008 Walter Payton Award Watch List, his completions and attempts in that game both ranked as the second-most in school history.

He had his eighth 300-yard passing game when he finished with 303 at Colorado on Sept. 6 in his 26th game as an Eagle.

On EWU’s career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top five in all categories, including third in passing yards (6,131), average yards per game (235.8) and total offense (6,636). He is also fifth in efficiency rating (134.3), fifth in touchdown passes (44), third in completions (491) and fifth in attempts (811).

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.

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)

335 - 36x61, 1td - Texas Tech - 8/30/08 (#38 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

303 - 32x51, 1td - Colorado - 9/6/08

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

322 - 335 passing, -13 rushing - Texas Tech - 8/30/08

314 - 303 passing, 11 rushing - Colorado - 9/6/08

 

-- Matt Nichols on 2008 Eagles After First Two Games -- "I think this team’s so special. It’s a real family experience. We have a team bond other teams don’t have. We’re truly a family. These first two games don’t mean anything, they don’t count towards our conference. We can still go 9-2 and have home-field advantage in the playoffs."

 

-- Davis Has Second-Best Receiving Performance in School History -- Junior Tony Davis, who missed four games last season with a shoulder injury, led the Eagles with 13 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in Eastern’s 49-24 loss to Texas Tech on Aug. 30. His catch total equaled the second most in school history, ranking only behind the 17 teammate Aaron Boyce had in 2007 against Montana. Davis, a 2005 graduate of Capital High School in Olympia, Wash., now has four 100-yard receiving performances in his Eastern career. In 22 total games, he has receptions for 1,226 yards and seven touchdowns.

100-Yard Receiving Games for Davis

150 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - Idaho State - 9/22/07

131 (8 catches, 1 TD) - Tony Davis - McNeese State - 11/24/07

114 (13 catches, 1 TD) - Tony Davis - Texas Tech - 8/30/08

112 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - Central Washington - 9/16/06

 

-- Wide Receiver Trio Ahead of Previous Quartet -- Eastern’s receiving corp in 2008 includes three juniors – Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce – who have started since they were freshmen in 2006. In their careers, that trio has already combined for 335 catches for 4,513 yards and 28 touchdowns in 74 games worth of experience (60 starts). They combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006, then combined for 172 catches for 2,561 yards and 18 scores in 2007.

That trio is a reminder 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 had in their first two years.

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.

 

-- Twin Stat Line for Johnson Twins in Debut -- The stat lines were nearly the same for twin brothers Matt Johnson and Zach Johnson as both had impressive collegiate debuts in Eastern’s 49-24 loss at Texas Tech on Aug. 30. Both 2006 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School, Matt started at strong safety and Zach started at strong-side inside linebacker.

The Johnson brothers finished with a combined 18 tackles, including eight tackles and three passes broken up by Zach. Matt had a team-high 10 tackles and a game-changing interception in the second quarter. The Eagles trailed 21-0 when Matt intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards to the TTU 7-yard line. Two plays later, Alexis Alexander scored from one yard out to give EWU its first score.

"They are great players and have bought right in," said Baldwin of the twins. "They’re coachable, they can run, they can tackle -- they have all the tools to be great defensive players in this league. They left it on the field and went hard. There was no question that a lot of young players stepped up against Texas Tech."

 

-- Macias Follows 55-Yarder With 52-Yarder -- Senior kicker Felipe Macias booted a 55-yard field goal against Texas Tech on Aug. 30 to pull Eastern to within 28-17 at halftime. He then had a 52-yarder against Colorado, giving him the only 50-yard field goals in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision after the first two weeks of the season.

His kick versus TTU was the third-longest in school history behind boots of 57 and 56 yards. Brett Bergstrom kicked a 56-yarder in 2006 while the school record is a 57-yarder that Eric Stein had in 1987. However, both of those kicks came at much higher altitudes and thinner air. Bergstrom’s was in Greeley, Colo. (elevation 4,711), and Stein’s was in Bozeman, Mont. (4,872). Macias kicked his in high humidity in Lubbock, Texas (elevation 3,222), but did have the wind at his back.

His kick at Colorado, at an elevation of 5,387 feet, was the ninth-longest in school history. It gave the Eagles a 24-17 lead with 3:57 to play.

 

-- Baldwin Likes Team’s Character and Leadership -- With 15 starters and 43 total letter winners returning from last year’s squad, 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.

"I like the makeup of our team a lot," said Baldwin. "Not only do we have great talent, but we have great character and leadership. Those are things your team has to have if they don’t want to be just good but strive to be great. We are nowhere near that at this moment, but in my opinion we have the right makeup to be consistent throughout the year."

 

-- Five Players Make Starting Debuts -- Five players, including three on defense and two on offense, made their starting debuts at Texas Tech on Aug. 30.

The defensive debuts were made by weak-side outside linebacker J.C. Sherritt, strong-side inside linebacker Zach Johnson and strong safety Matt Johnson. Sherritt is a sophomore from Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06) and the Johnson twins are redshirt freshmen from Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS ’07). The Johnson twins were playing in their first collegiate football game.

On offense, both new starters were offensive guards. Ryan Forney, a junior from Silverdale, Wash. (Central Kitsap ’05) started at left guard and Bryan Smith, a senior from Enumclaw, Wash. (Enumclaw HS ’04) started on the right.

 

-- 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. In the last six years, EWU’s top three win-loss records (collective 25-13) were recorded by teams that returned at least 245 starts. The worst three records (collective 15-18) were by teams with 225 returning starts or fewer.

The Eagles entered the 2008 season with 26 players returning with starting experience totaling 272 starts. Broken down, Eastern returns 136 starts on both defense and offense (13 players each) for a total of 272 starts returning.

By contrast, 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. The Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them.

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 - 26 - 272 - 5 - ?

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 current number of career starts by Eastern players on the 2008 roster -- Defense (158 starts by 16 players) -- Greg Peach 31, Jason Belford 27, Lance Witherspoon 20, Makai Borden 15, Kevin Hatch 15, Shawn Powell 12, Lonnie Hosley 10, Ryan Kelley 7, Marcus Walker 5, Josh Jacobson 5, Tyler Jolley 3, Matt Johnson 2, Zach Johnson 2, J.C. Sherritt 2, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1.

Offense (158 starts by 15 players) -- Aaron Boyce 24, Matt Nichols 25, Charlie Wulff 22, Brynsen Brown 22, Tony Davis 14, Dale Morris 14, Alexis Alexander 9, Chris Thomas 9, Nathan Overbay 4, Toke Kefu 3, A.J. Jimerson 3, Matt Martin 2, Brice Leahy 3, Bryan Smith 2, Ryan Forney 2.

 

-- Injury Report -- Senior starting nose tackle Shawn Powell suffered a knee injury before practices even began and is out for the season. Another starter out this week with a broken fibula is freshman redshirt cornerback Taiwan Jones, who may return to play in EWU’s Big Sky Conference opener against Idaho State.

Eastern came out of its two openers fairly healthy. The only player to leave the Texas Tech game with an injury was Alexis Alexander, who sat out the Colorado game and is expected to be ready to play versus Western. Linebacker J.C. Sherrit left the Colorado game with a sprained ankle, but is expected to play this week.

Interestingly, injuries to Alexander and Sherritt both occurred on touchdowns. Last year, Tony Davis injured his shoulder on a touchdown reception versus Portland State and missed four games.

 

Beau Baldwin QUOTES

-- On Narrow Loss to Colorado -- "It’s a sting, especially when you have to come back and watch the video. When you watch it you realize the things that might have been a little different could have helped us come out on top. But that’s part of it. We need to learn from it and move forward."

-- On Starters Playing All Eight Quarters in Openers -- "Our players are in great shape -- maybe even better shape than I might have thought. And they play with tremendous heart, so we have a group of players who dig deep. Despite the circumstances they found a way to do that, particularly in coming back from the Texas Tech game to do it again against Colorado. We were a little short in the end, but it’s still something we can build from and come out with a lot of positive things."

-- On Two Weeks Before Western Game -- "We want to correct some little things, but more than anything we want to challenge them from a conditioning standpoint. We’ll stay away from a lot of banging during the bye week. I’m pretty confident in our players, particularly the veterans, that understand what it’s like to hit and tackle in a game. We want them in a position headed into Western where their shoulders are rested up and they feel fresh again."

-- On Defensive Positives -- "The defensive line has stood out like we expected them to, maybe even more than we expected. They’ve provided a lot of push and pressure on the opposing team. We haven’t had a lot of sacks, but their quarterbacks have been hurried. Overall from a defensive standpoint, we’ve flown around and guys are playing fast. We’re playing at a level where we didn’t feel out of place against Big 12 teams."

-- On Offensive Positives: "Like the defense, our offense was flying around and didn’t feel out of place. Against Colorado we played a lot better at receiver and made a lot of plays, and that started with our first series. We started the game a lot faster on offense, which was huge. And the offensive line overall has done a great job with pass protection after two games, especially with as much as we’ve thrown against two Big 12 teams. But we have to become more balanced, and I wish we could have squirted a couple of more runs against Colorado. At the same time, if we keep working on it, it will come."

-- On Battling Back Versus Texas Tech -- "You go down 21-0 to any team -- let alone Texas Tech -- and it’s going to be hard to try to fight back from that. But our guys did. They fought back and made a few plays. We kept believing and that was the key thing. I’m not into moral victories, but I was very proud of the way our guys left it on the field."

-- On Second Half Versus TTU -- "We had basically won the second quarter 17-7, and there was no reason why we couldn’t win the third quarter 17-7 or something along those lines. We wanted to keep building momentum -- we had it in the second quarter and I told our team to do everything they could to keep that momentum. We knew Texas Tech was too well-coached and had too many good football players not to come out angry after halftime. It was going to be a tough fight, no question. But we kept fighting in that third quarter, and because of a few plays here and there it just slipped away from us in the end."

-- On Red Raider Defense -- "Texas Tech has a really good scheme with really good players. Their secondary is extremely athletic and its tough to get open against them. We saw that on film from last year -- it was tough for all teams in the Big 12 to run routes and get open against their defensive backs. So that’s going to be a challenge for any receiver."

-- Baldwin on Preseason National Polls -- "There is some merit to be near the top because that can help you when it comes to the playoffs. That can sometimes make it a little easier to stay in the top 16 rather than to have to climb all the way into it."

-- Baldwin on Improvement by Nichols in 2007 -- "I wouldn’t say it totally surprised me by any stretch. That’s especially true when you understand how hard he works in the off-season and how hard he works the week before games. Once the games got going last season, he was just having fun. He put in a lot of time understanding what he had to do to be successful."

-- Baldwin on Nichols -- "You never expect a freshman that struggles a little bit to come back and be Player of the Year in the Big Sky. But if you would have asked me going into last year if he had the talent to do that, I would have said yes. And he obviously proved that." 

-- Baldwin on Nichols Wanting Big Sky Title -- "I think he would trade 100 Big Sky MVP trophies for one Big Sky championship. That’s just his mindset."

-- Baldwin on Future Improvement of Nichols -- "He can just keep getting better and better. There were times last year when there were things he could have done to spread the ball out even more, and that’s something I want to see him do better this season. Sometimes you get comfortable with a certain player, and he and Boyce, obviously, had a special connection. I think Matt will be that much better if he can use his other receivers even more."

-- Baldwin on Nichols to Boyce Passing Combo -- "It’s pretty special -- they’ve developed an incredible rapport and had a great year. But I’ve talked to both guys about the fact we’ll be even more successful in some ways if there are less pass completions between Matt Nichols and Aaron Boyce. The more we can spread it out and involve seven, eight or nine players catching balls in the passing game, we will be that much better. Both Aaron and Matt might have better years even if their stats aren’t as good. I think we can become better as an offense because of that."

-- Baldwin on Boyce and Receiving Corp -- "I’m excited to coach Aaron again, and the rest of the receiving corp. It’s a good group and has a lot of relatively young players."

-- Baldwin on Nichols and Boyce -- "You not only are talking about talented players, but you’re talking about two mature student-athletes. They are great people and that is part of the reason for their success. They have great character off the field as well, and that will help keep those two grounded and keep them progressing. You don’t want them to get their heads in the clouds thinking they have it all figured out, and then all of the sudden an off year slaps you right in the face. I don’t see that happening to those two guys."

-- Baldwin on Future of Talented Junior Class -- "Each year is different, and a lot of things happen between your sophomore year and junior year, and your junior year and senior year. You can never predict the future. But I’m very fortunate to be in this situation. We have a ton of great weapons on offense."

-- Baldwin on Defensive Line -- "There are seniors up there who have all played significant roles since as far back as 2005. They are a veteran group. No matter how young you are at linebacker and in the secondary, if you are good on the defensive line you give those back seven guys a great chance to be successful. And vice versa -- if you’re not good on the defensive line, even All-America corners can’t cover for eight seconds. It’s huge for us from a defensive standpoint to have an experienced defensive line. All the great defenses are always going to start with the guys up front."

-- Baldwin on Offensive Changes -- "To an outsider looking at our team, you’re probably not going to see a lot of changes. There are some subtle changes we are making that are things I believe in and want to do. But it’s not going to be an overhaul. I don’t think you come into a program with a lot of success and make 180-degree changes. If you do, I think you’re letting your ego get in the way a little bit. I want to keep a lot of things familiar for those guys."

-- Baldwin on Defensive Changes -- "We have a new defensive coordinator, so it will be a little different. In the past we’ve started with a one-high safety philosophy and now we’ll use two high safeties as our base. We’ll still have the ability to roll down to an eight-man front. Our defense will probably have more changes than our offense from a scheme standpoint."

-- Baldwin on Winning Big Sky -- "The Big Sky is such a great league and such a fun league to compete in. No matter what you do in your non-league schedule, you still have a new opportunity when the league schedule starts. It’s always an exciting time for us as coaches and players."

-- Baldwin on Big Sky Opener Against His Former Mentor John Zamberlin -- "It’s against Idaho State and a person I have a lot of respect for. That will be a fun game. He came to Central in 1997 and retained three of us that were on staff. That was good of him to do that and that he had faith in us and trusted us. We were fortunate to have a coach come in from all the way across the country and keep us."

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