It may be hot and humid in Thibodaux, La., and the Nicholls State football team may be in a sticky situation, but that doesn’t concern Paul Wulff.
“Our kids know (about the Colonels’ problems). That stuff doesn’t matter,” the Eastern Washington coach said about the Eagles’ season opener tonight. “Our kids have played in hot weather before. Granted, it’s not nearly as humid, but it can’t be a factor. It’s about going down and playing football and handling all of the elements. It’s still a football game. The focus has to be on us.”
With the Eagles returning many players, particularly starters, from last year’s 6-5 team, the fifth consecutive winning season for Eastern, there is good reason to concentrate on what the team can control.
That does mean not worrying about the sudden coaching change at Nicholls and what players may or may not be eligible for today’s 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
A week into fall camp, Nicholls offensive coordinator Jeff Richards was fired because he had about two dozen players take a correspondence course from Brigham Young University. Head coach Daryl Daye wasn’t implicated in what was called academic fraud, but he was fired because he was in charge. A week later, defensive coordinator Jay Thomas was named head coach.
Exactly why the players took the course – such as to get or remain eligible – is unclear, but the NCAA was on campus this week helping with the school’s investigation.
“We don’t know exactly what’s going on there to be honest,” Wulff said. “Most of their kids are practicing. It’s not like whole roster has been decimated. We anticipate a full-strength team.”
The Eagles are taking nothing for granted.
“We know they have a lot of talent, especially on defense, and a lot of team speed,” Wulff said.
Nicholls was 5-6 last year and lost 18 letter winners, all of whom were starters. Among the 47 returning letter winners, three offensive and four defensive starters are back.
That turnover in starters may make the lack of information on Nicholls a moot point.
When asked why the Eagles didn’t have a lot of film of the Colonels, Wulff said, “That means they have all of ours, probably. That’s why they didn’t exchange.”
The Eagles know enough.
Nicholls runs the triple option, a deceptive and explosive offense that Eastern doesn’t see in the Big Sky Conference. Avoiding the big play is a challenge for Eastern, but EWU’s defense could be a bigger problem for the inexperienced Colonels.
Thomas has to replace a four-year starter at running back and put him behind an offensive line that graduated four starters. Behind inexperienced junior quarterback Yale Vannoy are two true freshmen.
Though the Colonels run the ball most of the time, wide receiver Vince Butler averaged 25 yards a catch last year.
All three linebackers and the middle of the line are first-time starters on the defense, which fits into Eastern’s game plan of controlling the clock. Three of the four starters return in the secondary.
“The tough part is just the unknown,” Wulff said. “The good part is it’s a good team we’re facing and the game should be exciting. It’s a game we have a chance to win, but it’s a very challenging foe.”
Two true freshmen made the trip for Eastern, wide receiver Jason Coleman and running back Toke Kefu. Starters out with injuries are free safety Gregor Smith (groin) and center Randy Meade (knee). Starting positions that will probably be decided at game time are left guard (Matt Doyle or Rocky Hanni) and kicker (Skyler Allen or Sheldon Weddle).