This is the second in an eight-part series on Eastern Washington football. Today: Wide receivers and tight ends
Eastern Washington wide receivers coach Junior Adams doesn’t have the easiest job on campus. Really.
It’s just the opposite, said Adams, who in four years has crafted a unit that should be the best in the Big Sky Conference, if not the entire Football Championship Subdivision. The Eagles’ receiving corps is headlined by “The Trio” of Nicholas Edwards, Greg Herd and Brandon Kaufman, all of whom have won All-America honors.
“They challenge me every day,” said Adams, whose career at Eastern has mirrored the growth of his stars. “I can’t walk into a meeting half a step off or walk onto the field half a step off, because they’ll call me on it.
“I’ve never had anyone like this. They don’t really compete against the corners from Weber State or Montana State; they compete against each other.”
But this fall, it will be those opposing defensive staffs who must find a way to compete against The Trio as well as a deep, talented receiving corps that also includes Ashton Clark (33 catches last year for 496 yards and four touchdowns), Cory Mitchell (19 catches, 310 yards and two TDs), plus Tyler Hart, Daniel Johnson and a solid group of tight ends.
“As a corps, I feel like we a very diverse group,” Herd said. “There are different ways we can beat you – over the top and underneath.”
That will be easier with the return of Kaufman, who underwent ACL surgery in October and is still not 100 percent.
“He’ll get his burst back,” Adams predicted. “The younger guys and the others, they’re able to learn from these guys. You need to see what these guys are doing; hard work pays, and it’s evident.”
Head coach Beau Baldwin appreciates that, too.
“This group has taken to an extreme the idea of understanding every position, not just their own,” he said. “They understand what the quarterback is doing, and they memorize more than just their own routes.”
Kaufman said rehabilitation has been easier with “two of my best friends working almost every single night” in the weight room.
With the help of All-American quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the Eagles had 4,052 yards and 34 touchdowns – gaudy stats for sure – but the Eagles finished 6-5 and out of the FCS playoffs.
To change that, the receivers are doing all they can to encourage young quarterbacks Anthony Vitto and Vernon Adams.
And with Kaufman back, “we’ll have more chemistry and get the offense where it needs to be,” Edwards said.
All are looking ahead to challenging FBS programs Idaho and Washington State, and confidence is high; in last year’s opener, the Eagles torched Washington for 510 yards – all but 37 of them through the air – but lost 30-27.
“It’s definitely going to be good playing the local schools,” Herd said.
Edwards looks forward to torching a few more secondaries this fall, but is more eager to pass the torch to a new group, including freshmen-to-be Cooper Kupp and Dalis Bruce.
“At this university, we build a receiving corps, and we’re going to take them through the ropes,” he said.
All of which won’t make Adams’ job any easier. Even in just the second week of practice, the Eagles coaches felt it was time to change the routine Tuesday afternoon.
They ordered up a “fun” goal-line drill in which an offensive player lays on his back with his head pointed at the goal line 5 yards away. Just inside the end zone, two defenders are also on their backs. The whistle blows and the ball carrier jumps to his feet and heads for the end zone.
Most of the time, the ball carrier was tackled short of the goal line. Wide receiver Ashton Clark, however, salvaged some pride with a nifty juke and danced untouched into the end zone.
“It was just a fun little thing to showcase what we have as offensive guys and to get us pumped,” Clark said.
Today’s practice has been pushed back half an hour to 4:30, while Friday’s practice/scrimmage has been advanced an hour to 3 p.m., although the scrimmage portion won’t begin until about 3:45 p.m.