Nov. 19, 2007
Eastern Washington University is fast becoming a Mecca of outstanding, award-winning quarterbacks.
For the fourth time in the last six years, an Eastern signal caller has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year as sophomore Matt Nichols earned that honor when the All-Big Sky Conference team was announced on Monday (Nov. 19).
Nichols was one of 19 players honored, including four first team selections, three on the second team and 12 that received honorable mention. Eight of Eastern's 12 seniors were recognized as the Eagles finished the season 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big Sky for sole possession of first place.
Eastern, which plays at McNeese State in this week's NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, had 13 players honored last year after a 3-8 campaign. But the team's lone first team selection a year ago was EWU's kicker.
Last year, Nichols endured a 3-8 record as a freshman when he had a school-record 17 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. This season, Nichols has completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,125 yards, 30 touchdowns, just six interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 161.4 to rank seventh in that category in FCS.
"It's been an amazing turnaround," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "Matt has helped us improve a great deal, but so have our coaches and other players. Everybody worked hard in the off-season to make our team get better."
Joining Nichols on the first team were wide receiver Aaron Boyce, offensive guard Matt Alfred and defensive end Greg Peach. Alfred was honored for the fourth-straight year after earning first team honors in 2005 and second team honors in 2004 and 2006. Peach earned honorable mention in 2006.
Second team selections were offensive tackle Zach Wasielewski, defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon and safety Bryan Jarrett. Wasielewski was honorable mention last season and Jarrett earned first team All-Big Sky honors as a sophomore in 2005.
The 12 honorable mention selections included offensive tackle Rocky Hanni, who was honored for the fourth time. He was a first team selection as a freshman in 2004, honorable mention in 2005 and second team in 2006. Others honored on offense were guard Chris Carlsen, wide receiver Brynsen Brown, tight end Tom McAndrews and running back Dale Morris.
Receiving honorable mention on defense were end Jason Belford, tackle Shawn Powell, outside linebacker (rover) Anthony Dotson, linebacker Jared Kuhl, linebacker Makai Borden and cornerback Ira Jarmon. Earning honorable mention on special teams was Adam Macomber.
"We're very happy that so many players were recognized for their hard work," added Wulff. "They are all well-deserving of honors. I believe that honorable mention is every bit as rewarding as first or second team -- what's important is that they are being recognized by the other coaches in this conference."
Erik Meyer, the player Nichols replaced, was the Big Sky's Offensive Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. Meyer played as a freshman under Josh Blankenship, who received the honor in 2002. One year earlier, current Miami Dolphin running back Jesse Chatman was the league's top offensive player, giving Eastern five of the last seven winners.
"That's very impressive," said Wulff. "We've had some very talented players and have had tremendous success on offense as a program. These honors have been a reflection of that, particularly in regards to the quarterbacks we've had. It's an extremely important position on our football team and we've been fortunate to have had some very talented quarterbacks play here."
The 30 touchdown passes Nichols has thrown are just one away from the school record of 31 set two years ago by Meyer. Last week Nichols broke the school's single season rushing record for quarterbacks with 313.
"His improvement mirrors that of a lot of our players," said Wulff. "Last year we were a very young football team and most of those players have grown up this year. We adjusted our schemes to tailor to our talent, and that's paid off this season."
"Matt continues to grow as a quarterback, but he certainly deserved that award this year," Wulff added. "Consistency is going to be his continued path of development. He needs to strive to play well week-in and week-out."
All four of Eastern's senior offensive linemen were honored after they helped Eastern rank eighth in FCS with an average of 456.0 yards per game. Boyce caught 75 passes for 1,230 yards and nine touchdowns to earn first team All-Big Sky honors and rank in the top 11 nationally in both receptions (6.8 per game) and reception yards (111.8 per game). Peach was honored on the first team after having 53 tackles, including nine sacks that rank 12th in FCS (0.8 per game).
Witherspoon had 38 tackles, including one sack and a total of 11 1/2 tackles for losses. Jarrett was the team's second-leading tackler with 76 and added an interception and seven passes broken up.
Offensive Player of the Year
16 - Matt Nichols - Quarterback - 6-2 - 220 - So. - Cottonwood, Calif. (West Valley HS '05)
9 - Aaron Boyce - Wide Receiver - 6-2 - 205 - So. - Kent, Wash. (Kentwood HS '05)
66 - #Matt Alfred - Offensive Guard - 6-3 - 300 - Sr. - Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS '03)
94 - ^Greg Peach - Defensive End - 6-2 - 250 - Jr. - Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS '05)
#Also first team All-Big Sky in 2005 and second team in 2004 and 2006.
^Also honorable mention All-Big Sky in 2006.
64 - ^Zach Wasielewski - Offensive Tackle - 6-4 - 290 - Sr. - Seattle, Wash. (Chief Sealth HS '03)
97 - Lance Witherspoon - Defensive Tackle - 6-2 - 255 - Jr. - Federal Way, Wash. (Decatur HS '04)
6 - %Bryan Jarrett - Safety - 5-11 - 210 - Sr. - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03 & Western Wash. Univ.)
%Also first team All-Big Sky in 2005.
^Also honorable mention All-Big Sky in 2006.
83 - Brynsen Brown - Wide Receiver - 6-1 - 210 - So. - Puyallup, Wash. (Emerald Ridge HS '05)
77 - @Rocky Hanni - Offensive Tackle - 6-5 - 290 - Sr. - Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '03)
53 - Chris Carlsen - Offensive Guard - 6-3 - 270 - Sr. - Poulsbo, Wash. (North Kitsap HS '03)
80 - Tom McAndrews - Tight End - 6-0 - 240 - Sr. - Spokane, Wash. (Mead HS '03)
22 - Dale Morris - Running Back - 5-9 - 205 - Jr. - Eugene, Ore. (Marist HS '04)
42 - Shawn Powell - Defensive Tackle - 6-1 - 250 - Jr. - Spokane, Wash. (Shadle Park HS '04)
55 - Jason Belford - Defensive End - 6-1 - 240 - Jr. - Tacoma, Wash. (Lincoln HS '04)
4 - Anthony Dotson - Outside Linebacker (rover) - 5-9 - 185 - Sr. - Federal Way, Wash. (Federal Way HS '03)
27 - Makai Borden - Inside Linebacker - 5-11 - 215 - So. - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '05)
50 - Jared Kuhl - Inside Linebacker - 6-0 - 230 - Sr. - Hillsboro, Ore. (Hillsboro HS '03 & Col. of the Siskiyous JC)
2 - Ira Jarmon - Cornerback - 5-8 - 190 - Sr. - Lakewood, Wash. (Clover Park HS '03)
35 - Adam Macomber - Special Teams - 5-6 - 170 - Jr. - Port Angeles, Wash. (Port Angeles HS '05)
@Also first team All-Big Sky in 2004, second team in 2006 and honorable mention in 2005.