Given a full nine-month recruiting window this time around, Beau Baldwin discovered he didn’t have to choose between quality and quantity.
Instead, Eastern Washington University’s second-year head football coach went searching for both. His wide-ranging efforts were rewarded Wednesday morning when 33 high school seniors signed national letters of intent to play football for the Eagles next fall.
“We’re excited, really excited,” Baldwin said of his massive recruiting class, which includes 11 out-of-state signees and no junior college transfers. “I think it’s extremely deep and talented. And I think we were able to recruit a lot players into areas where we lost a good number of guys – like the defensive line where we lost some great seniors – and also certain positions like defensive back, where we’re still pretty young.”
Seven of Baldwin’s newest recruits are listed as defensive linemen, and seven more are listed as defensive backs. Three of those defensive linemen come from out of state and two of them, according to Baldwin, have a chance to step in this fall and help fill the holes left by the graduation departures of Buchanan Award winner Greg Peach, Jason Belford and Lance Witherspoon.
“It’s not that we were necessarily looking for D-linemen from out of state, but it just so happened that there were a couple we could get from out of state that we had rated above anyone we thought we could get from in state,” Baldwin said.
The out-of-state recruits expected to end up on Eastern’s defensive front include Jerry Ceja, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Aurora, Colo.; Will Katoa, a 6-0, 285-pounder from Salt Lake City; and Anthony Larry, a 6-3, 225-pounder from Sacramento, Calif.
“It’s hard to say for sure right now, but both Ceja and Katoa have a chance to come in and play right away,” Baldwin said.
Among those new recruits listed as defensive backs are Shadle Park’s Bo Schuetzle and Seattle O’Dea’s Chandler Gayton, who was one of three signees who missed substantial portions of their senior seasons with injuries.
Gayton played in only three games last fall because of hamstring problems. Billy Lechtenberg, a defensive back from Mountlake Terrace (Wash.) High, and Brandon Kaufman, a 6-6, 205-pound wide receiver from Denver, were also hampered by injuries.
“Kids like that who are injured sometimes stay a little bit under the recruiting radar, which can be a great thing if they can get healthy again,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin added that he expected all three to be healthy when camp starts next fall, noting that Kaufman and Lechtenberg are playing basketball for their respective high schools this winter.
Among the other important recruits who signed with the Eagles were Kevin Miller, a place-kicker from Portland who has a chance to replace the departed Felipe Macias, and Anthony Vitto, a 6-1, 195-pound quarterback from Simi Valley, Calif.
Baldwin felt the need to recruit another quarterback after Darius Banks, a highly touted California recruit who enrolled at Eastern Washington as an academic non-qualifier last fall, decided to leave school at the end of the first quarter.
While 33 might seem like an inordinately large number of signees, it leaves Eastern close to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision limit of 30 equivalent full rides.
Baldwin said the limit would be reached by a combination of attrition, the dividing of scholarships – which is legal at the FCS level – and the possibility of some signees not qualifying academically.
Baldwin, who was hired to replace Paul Wulff on Jan. 4, 2008, admitted the extra recruiting time he and his staff had this year made the entire process a lot less stressful.
“The biggest different was that we were able to start recruiting in the spring and talk to high school coaches throughout the season,” he said. “Whereas the year before, when we got here in January, we were talking to players we had never met before, and that’s never an easy thing.”