Eastern Washington University opened spring football drills on Tuesday under sunny skies in Cheney. WIth their postseason fate still uncertain for next fall, the Eagles seem determined to not only improve on last year's 6-5 record, but to prove to the NCAA they are worthy of posteason playoff berth whether they are eligible or not.
You can read an unedited version of the first-day-of-practice story that will appear in Wednesday morning's S-R below. In addition, I've included this link to more information on EWU's spring practices, and this link to the advance story that ran in the S-R on Sunday.
CURTAIN DROPS ON EWU'S WINTER OF DISCONTENT
The gloomy winter of discontent officially ended for
Gone, it seemed, were the murky clouds that have hovered over the program since mid February, when the NCAA slapped the school with three years of probation and a one-year ban on postseason play because of rules violations that occurred during a four-year span under former head coach Paul Wulff.
And back were beaming smiles, spreading across the faces of players returning from last year’s 6-5 team and eager to make sure the ban on postseason play – if it sticks – will hurt as much as the NCAA hopes it will.
“It’s just one of those things where if we had another 6-5 season, that penalty wouldn’t affect us anyway,” said quarterback Matt Nichols, who will be a senior next fall. “It won’t be a penalty unless we make it a penalty. We just have to take care of business and prove we’re worthy of playing in the postseason.”
Eastern has formally appealed the postseason ban, and most of the 60 or so players – including 15 returning starters and 23 other letterwinners – who took part in Tuesday’s practice are holding out hope it will be overturned.
If not, they still plan to give Eagles fans something to cherish next fall.
“The initial shock made it hard,” wideout Tony Davis, a classmate and favorite target of Nichols, said of the ban. “But when it comes down to it, we’re all competitors. That’s what we do, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.
“Hopefully, we can prove that we belong in the postseason playoffs, even if we don’t get in.”
Defensive back Lonnie Hosley, another senior to be, echoed
“It’ was disappointing to hear about (the ban) at first,” he admitted. “But we’re all pretty strong-headed, and we’re anxious to get back out here, start playing football again and getting on to bigger and better things next year.”
“I think we still have a lot to prove and a lot to show off during our senior season’s here,” Nichols added.
Shortly after the NCAA announced its penalties, there were reports of some Football Bowl Division schools poking around to see if any EWU players might be interesting in transferring. But none bit, and on Tuesday several reconfirmed their loyalty to the Eagles’ program and second-year coach Beau Baldwin.
“There were a few players that it really was weighing on their minds,” Nichols said of the idea of transferring. “But, ultimately, we all kind of decided that this is where we started. This is the place that gave us a chance when a lot of bigger schools overlooked us when we were in high school, and I think it’s only right for us to stay here and finish out our careers together.”
Wideout Brynsen Brown, who will also be a senior next fall, claims all the concern over players leaving EWU should be a thing of the past.
“That’s over,” he said. “Everyone is happy where they are. I know I didn’t want to leave. This is my family. I’ve been here four year, going on five, so why would I want to leave something I’ve put my whole time in?”
“Our guys are excited about that,” he said. “All they’re thinking about right now is today’s practice and making plays and doing things right. You forget about some of the other things have come up, and that’s a credit to players. They’ve done an amazing job of just being resilient to things that were out of their control.”
The Eagles will practice two days in just helmets, jerseys and shorts before donning pads. … Wide receiver Brynsen Brown will be held out of spring drills indefinitely while recovering from arthroscopic surgery that was performed on his left shoulder this winter. … Quarterback Matt Nichols dropped 20 pounds over the winter in what he said was an effort to increase his speed and stamina. “It’s little things like that that will ultimately give our offense more weapons next fall – like me being able to run more, scramble better or get out of sacks better than I did last year.” … The annual Red-White Game will be held at Woodward Field on Saturday, April 25, at 2 p.m. in conjunction with EWU’s Killin Weekend.