A bit slipshod, but spirited.
That was the way Eastern Washington University’s first full football practice of fall camp played out Friday afternoon, and Beau Baldwin, the Eagles’ second-year head coach, didn’t seem the least bit surprised.
“Obviously, like any first day, it was sloppy at times,” Baldwin said after putting his players through a two-hour workout sans pads. “But our attitude was tremendous.
“Everyone was flying around and acting like they were genuinely excited to be back out here. You could see that all the work they put in over the summer has paid off.”
The Eagles, who return 38 letterwinners, including 15 starters, are hoping to improve on last year’s disappointing 6-5 season that included a 5-3 record and third-place finish in the Big Sky Conference. And in an effort to do just that, almost 60 team members – including several incoming freshmen – spent the summer in Cheney working out together.
“It was just a lot of guys who are hungry and not wanting to go through what we went through last year,” said senior quarterback Matt Nichols, a three-year starter and Walter Payton Award candidate, who played a major role in organizing those voluntary summer workouts.
“June and July become a time when you have to become self-motivated and decide what kind of a season you really want to have,” Baldwin said. “Those two months can sometimes become the most important months of the entire year when you’re talking about preparing for your season.
“And our guys seem to have made the most of them.”
For Nichols, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder, who has dropped almost 15 pounds – and kept them off – since last fall, the opening day of fall camp served as a stark reminder of how quickly that window of opportunity to play college football opens and closes.
“One day, you’re a freshman in the dorm thinking you still have five more years of this,” he said, “and here I am today, already going into that fifth season. It’s just crazy how fast it’s gone by. … I still have one more year, and your senior year is usually your best year.”
Because of a one-year ban on postseason play that was handed down by the NCAA earlier this year from infractions that occurred within the program under ex-head coach Paul Wulff, EWU is not eligible to compete in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs this fall.
But school administrators hope to change that situation when they travel to Indianapolis on Monday to meet with the NCAA’s appeals committee on the appeal they filed earlier this year. No timetable has been provided on when they NCAA might rule on EWU’s appeal.
“Personally, I think we’ve all worked harder because of everything that has happed to us, and, hopefully, we’ll be a better team because of that,” Nichols said.
The Eagles will hold their first workout in full pads Monday and stage their first scrimmage of the fall next Saturday at 11 a.m. at Gonzaga Prep.