August 4, 2012 in Washington Voices

They’re Eagles now

Two former Bears ready for start of 2012 season at EWU
Steve Christilaw

Jake Miller is a sophomore punter for EWU.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

The college football season gets under way this week at Eastern Washington University, where the Eagles take to the practice field beginning Wednesday

This means summer is all but over for a couple of former Central Valley players.

J.C. Agen was busy trying to squeeze the most out of his final week of summer, heading to the lake one last time before heading to Cheney for the start of football practice. It was a brief respite from a summer of preparation for his junior season.

“The last week I’ve taken off from everything – lifting weights, working out, everything,” he said . “I just want to let my body rest a little before we start up on Aug. 8.”

It was the same for sophomore punter Jake Miller.

“I’m ready for the season to start,” he said. “I’ve been working out, trying to improve. My coaches and I sat down and figured out what I should work on and that’s what I’ve focused on.”

Agen walked on at EWU after his career as a Central Valley defensive back for coach Rick Giampietri, himself an Eastern graduate. After redshirting his first season at Cheney, Agen played in all 15 games as the Eagles earned the school’s first NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national championship. Last season he played in all but one of the team’s nine games – starting four games when linebacker Zach Johnson was out with a knee injury.

Going into this season, Agen is listed as a backup at linebacker to go with his duties as a special-teams standout.

“My goal right now is to be ready to go whenever and wherever I’m needed, whether that means starting, coming off the bench to help out, or playing special teams,” he said. “You know, that sounds like something coach Giampietri would say.”

If last year was any indication, Miller can look forward to big things in 2012.

A year ago, his first season with the Eagles after transferring from Washington State University, Miller averaged 44.26 yards per punt, but punted just 39 times; a minimum of 40 punts are needed to qualify for ranking in the NCAA statistics – credit an efficient offense for that stat.

His per-punt average would have ranked him third in the FCS (the highest ranking by a freshman in the nation), and that’s the position he holds in the division’s preseason rankings. The EWU record was set in 2003 by Jesse Nicassio, who averaged 44.42 yard per punt.

Of his 39 punts a year ago, Miller had 10 downed inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, and had 10 of 50 yards or longer, with a season-long of 59.

His four punts against Cal Poly a year ago earned him College Football Performance Awards National Punter of the Week honors. In that game Miller booted a pair of 57-yard punts, one of 55 and another of 51 as the Eagles pulled out a 53-51 victory in triple overtime.

Miller’s last 23 punts a year ago averaged 46.6 yards and included all 10 of his kicks of 50 yards or longer.

“I did so many kicking camps when I was younger that I’ve pretty much learned how to break down what I do and kind of coach myself,” Miller said. “I know what I need to work on and how to figure out what I’m doing that needs to be corrected.”

Miller and Agen are looking forward to the start of the 2012 season, which begins with a pair of road games that aren’t that far down the road.

Eastern opens the season in Moscow against Idaho on Aug. 30. Nine days later they face Washington State in Pullman.

“As far as we’re concerned, those aren’t really road games because they’re both close enough that most of our fans will be there to watch us,” Miller said. “What I think is even more important for us as a team is that we get a bye week after those two games. That gives us an extra week to get ready to open the Big Sky Conference at Weber State.”

A year ago EWU threw a scare into Washington in the season opener, before losing a heartbreaker when the Huskies picked off a Bo Levi Mitchell pass with less than a minute to play.

“This definitely is a chance for us to show that we can play with anyone in the Northwest,” Agen said.

Agen knows what a fast start to the season can mean to a team. After going 2-2 in their first four games in 2010, the Eagles rolled off 11 straight wins, capping the season with a come-from-behind win over Delaware in the National Championship game in Frisco, Texas.

Last year the team dropped its first four games, then rallied to win six of the final seven games to finish 6-5.

“That’s something we’ve all been talking about preparing for this season,” Agen said. “We have to start fast and we have to stay focused.

“The 2010 season was such an incredible season and it was so great to win games the way we did, especially the big wins we had at home in the playoffs. We can do that again. We just have to be ready for it.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email