The receivers at Eastern Washington look younger than ever.
That’s despite the fact that senior Cory Mitchell is 26 years old, classmate Blair Bomber wears a goatee and redshirt sophomore Cooper Kupp is trying to grow a beard.
Most of the rest are as fresh-faced as it gets – a reflection of their position coach, former All-American Nick Edwards, who’s two years younger than Mitchell and whose likeness on the EWU website still has him wearing an Eagle uniform.
Edwards still likes to snag a pass or two during warmups, outleaping the freshmen and grabbing way more than his share of those 50-50 balls.
“He’s having fun but he’s working hard,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said. “He’s everything he was as a player, but he’s taking it to another level.”
So are the players; 11 are in camp, an ideal blend of talent, experience and promise for the future. Besides Kupp, whose 93 catches for 1,691 yards and 21 touchdowns earned him a spot on the FCS All-American team; there’s Mitchell, the brother of former star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who caught 47 balls for 699 yards and three scores; and junior Shaquille Hill, a consummate deep threat (38 catches, 790 yards, nine TDs and a 20.8-yard-per-catch average).
Bomber and true sophomore Kendrick Bourne will push for more playing time, while redshirt freshman Nic Sblendorio figures to see his share of throws.
In other words, when the Eagles line up with four wideouts and All-American Vernon Adams under center, it’s a scary proposition for any opposing defensive coordinator.
“Our whole offense, everybody’s a threat – I don’t think you can just worry about Coop,” said Edwards, who took over last spring when his former mentor Junior Adams moved to Boise State.
“They do all have a strong work ethic – I love this group already,” said Edwards, who also has two redshirt freshmen and four true frosh under his wing this fall.
Baldwin said that “at least one, possibly two” true freshmen will play this fall, but added that “we expect all of them to have an impact at some point in their careers.”
Terence Grady hopes that point arrives on Aug. 23, when the Eagles host Sam Houston State in the season opener.
“Coming into this camp, I’ve tried to have the mentality that I’m not going to redshirt,” said Grady, a 6-foot-5, 200-pounder from Kent. “My goal is to be the best I can be, and the skill level here just drives me to be a better player.”
Along with classmate Jalani Phelps, a 6-3, 185-pounder from Lynden, Washington, Grady reminds Baldwin of none other than the lanky 6-4 Edwards.
“He’s already got size, he can run and on top of that, he has a great mentality and a work ethic and competitiveness in him – he’s going 100 percent,” Baldwin said of Grady.
Other newcomers include Brad Wallace of Lacey, Zach Eagle of Camas and Stu Stiles, who a year ago was throwing passes at Mt. Spokane High School.
“I knew a lot of the wide receiver stuff just being a quarterback,” said the 6-0, 170-pound Stiles, “but the college game is definitely faster.”
After Tuesday’s practice, Baldwin said one of the main goals is to continue to work the team into game shape. … Linebacker Ronnie Hamlin’s left foot was out of its protective boot and he was jogging in street shoes. … There’s a new kicker in camp – Colfax High School product Tyler McNannay, a redshirt freshman who already has two short stints at Washington State and Weber State. He redshirted last year at Weber. McNannay already is getting his share of kicks in practice, and converted an extra point in Saturday’s scrimmage. … Eastern will hold two-a-days today and Friday (at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.) and a single practice Thursday at 9 a.m. ahead of Saturday’s 9:50 a.m. scrimmage.