Pavel gives Eastern football a leg up

Eastern Washington's Jimmy Pavel, left, has connected on 15 of 16 field-goal attempts. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Eastern Washington's Jimmy Pavel, left, has connected on 15 of 16 field-goal attempts. (Tyler Tjomsland)

As a wide receiver in high school, Jimmy Pavel wasn’t exactly a deep threat.

But late in his sophomore year, the kickers started dropping from injury, and Pavel was asked to step up to the tee.

“I took karate, so I had quick feet,” Pavel said.

And a big leg. Suddenly, Jimmy Pavel was going deep.

He’s not through yet, and Pavel is a big reason the Eastern Washington football team is headed for the FCS playoffs this season. Pavel has connected on 15 of 16 field-goal attempts even while adjusting to a new holder and the swirling winds of Roos Field.

“It’s been more than I could ask for,” said Pavel, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior. “I didn’t think I’d make it to college as a wide receiver.”

Pavel’s feet are planted in reality. He hopes to go even further as a kicker, and hopes to give the pros a try next year. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll finish his degree in business management and work for his family’s telecommunications business.

“He truly studies the position, and understands what we’re trying to do on special teams,” Eastern special teams coach Jeff Schmedding said.

For three seasons, he tried to do that at Boise State, where he walked on after graduating from Portland’s Central Catholic High in 2008.

Pavel drew interest from some Big Sky Conference schools, notably Northern Arizona. But while visiting Flagstaff a month before high school graduation, he got a call from Boise State and promptly changed his flight. He redshirted that fall and eventually played part time for two seasons, always as a walk-on.

“It’s about believing in yourself,” Pavel said. “I’m fat and slow, but I wanted to prove them wrong, and I did.”

In 2010, he played in three games and kicked nine extra points to help Boise State finish 12-1. But injuries and disagreements with his special teams coach pushed him to trade blue turf for red.

“I decided I didn’t want to play at a big school again,” said Pavel, who found a good fit with the Eagles.

He also became the first player to spend his entire career on two different fields not colored green.

That fall, Pavel pushed starter Mike Jarrett, “who got a lot better once Jimmy showed up,” Schmedding said.

This year, again as a walk-on, he competed from April through August with junior Kevin Miller, who handles kickoffs.

“Walking on, I kind of like it – it’s a chip on your shoulder,” the 22-year-old Pavel said. “You have to prove something every day. It’s a pressure situation, but it’s my job anyway.”

The job puts a premium on concentration.

“When I kick, I can’t even hear the crowd, really,” Pavel said.

It’s helped that Pavel has spent extra time in the summer at specialized camps, with the blessing of the EWU staff.

“They’ve been really supportive of that,” Pavel said. “I’ve been in kicking camps since I was a junior in high school, and I’m glad they allow me that leeway.”

Pavel said he also appreciates the importance head coach Beau Baldwin places on special teams.

Pavel has responded by helping out in spot duty as a punter. Last week against Cal Poly, he connected on a 51-yarder that the Eagles downed at the 1-yard line.

“He can do it all,” Schmedding said. “The punting competition (with sophomore Jake Miller) has been very competitive.”

On Saturday, Pavel will enjoy the first of two Senior Days – the official one this weekend when Eastern plays UC Davis, and perhaps a bigger one when the Eagles finish the regular season at Portland State on Nov. 17. His parents, Jim and Bonnie Pavel, will attend both games. At least 30 friends and family will cheer him on in Portland.

“I didn’t care as much in high school, but this is a little more special,” Pavel said.

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