It was a tough day at the office Wednesday morning for the Eastern Washington linebackers.
Gap control was more concept than a reality, and overpursuit was punished by screens and misdirection plays. Emotions ran high, but youngsters Albert Havili and Miquiyah Zamora kept their cool – and their perspective.
“Coach tells us to play hard when we’re tired, but when you’re tired, you sometimes forget your jobs,” Havili said midway through another two-a-day session on the grass practice fields behind Reese Court.
Zamora took an even larger view. “That’s the great thing about film: It’s not always as good and it’s not always as bad as you think it will be.”
On a morning when even some veteran defenders were losing their cool, Havili and Zamora showed just why they’ve come of age more quickly than the average Eagle.
All Zamora did last year was transform himself from safety to linebacker, pack on 15 pounds and share a starting spot with veteran J.C. Agen. Now at 220 pounds, the redshirt sophomore from Pasco is a starter at weak-side ’backer.
Havili was an even faster learner, getting playing time in the middle last year as a true freshman and capping a standout season with a momentum-turning, 77-yard interception return for a score in the FCS quarterfinals against Jacksonville State.
This year, the 6-2, 255-pounder from Federal Way, Washington, is second on the depth chart behind senior Cody McCarthy.
Both played in all 15 games as the Eagles won their second straight Big Sky Conference title.
Linebackers coach Josh Fetter wasn’t surprised. “Not a bit – they’re talented kids,” said Fetter, whose unit had more questions a year ago than any other. A thin group was augmented by moving Zamora and former running back Jordan Talley.
The Eagles could have done the same with true freshmen Jake Gall and Joe Kreifels, but the payoff for waiting means promise for the future. “Now we just have to get them going in the right direction,” said Fetter, whose group has an enviable mixture of talent, experience and youth – sometimes all rolled up in the same player.
For that, Fetter can thank veterans McCarthy (115 total tackles last year) and Ronnie Hamlin (with a team-high 140), the latter an All-America candidate who was dispensing advice Wednesday morning while healing from a minor foot injury.
Said Zamora: “Not too many guys get the opportunity to learn from a guy like Ronnie Hamlin and a guy like Cody McCarthy. “All the little things: how to read … like ways to shorten your steps and be more efficient.”
They all gathered after practice Wednesday “and cleared our heads,” Zamora said.
After all, there’s more work ahead.
Coach Beau Baldwin wasn’t overly worried about Wednesday’s defensive mistakes. “It’s stuff you just have to clean up on film. I’m glad they’re frustrated, but like I tell the guys … we never really have it all figured out,” Baldwin said. … Two defensive starters were held out of drills on Wednesday: Hamlin wore a boot on his left foot after suffering a minor injury on Monday, and strong safety Todd Raynes is recovering from an ankle injury. … After a single practice today, the Eagles face another double session on Friday leading up to a scrimmage Saturday morning at 9:50.