On a muggy August morning, Matthew Sommer was soaking it all in – and not just his own sweat.
“It’s fun being an older guy, getting quality reps and watching the younger guys progress,” said Sommer, a 310-pound nose guard with a full beard.
But Sommer is just 19 years old. So is end Samson Ebukam; both played in every Eagle game last year as true freshmen, which wasn’t a surprise to coach Beau Baldwin.
“We felt like in recruiting that these guys were a notch up – that’s not taking anything away from the guys we were recruiting in the past, but we saw that these guys were diamonds in the rough,” Baldwin said.
Now polished veterans, Sommer and Ebukam are starters on an Eagles defensive line that lost heavily in the offseason, but could be as athletic as ever.
Gone are 320-pound run-stuffers Andru Pulu and Will Katoa, but their bulk is replaced by Sommer and senior tackle Dylan Zylstra, who’s only 285 pounds “but makes up for it in other ways,” line coach Ryan Sawyer said.
Sommer appears to be the best of both worlds, a force in the middle with the speed to move laterally.
“He’s playing large, and when you’re doing the things we’re doing, a guy has to be disruptive,” Sawyer said.
Depth inside doesn’t appear to be a problem – a good thing, since Sawyer usually rotates nine or 10 players in every game. Senior Ashton Boothroyd (285 pounds) and sophomore Jordan Pulu (280) are the top backups to Sommer and Zylstra, respectively, but Baldwin likes what he sees in true freshmen Dylan Donahue, Kaleb Leavao and Patiole Pesefea; all are 280 pounds or more.
“We’re going to have to sift it all out,” Baldwin said of the upcoming decisions on who will redshirt.
The Eagles have bigger questions at end. Ebukam was expected to share time at “buck” end with senior Evan Day, but the latter is expected to be out about two more months with an ACL injury suffered in the spring.
That could mean more snaps for the 240-pound Ebukam, who was a revelation last year, a force on the edge who had 28 tackles and also made a momentum-seizing pick-6 against Southern Utah.
John Goldwire, a 255-pound senior, is the top backup at “buck” end.
At field end, Washington State transfer Zackary Johnson, a 250-pound senior, will be the starter. “He’s going to make a lot of plays for us,” said Sawyer, who sees 255-pound redshirt freshman Andre Lino as the first in off the bench.
“He’s come a long way in the last year,” Sawyer said.
A pair of true freshmen have caught Baldwin’s eye, including North Central product Marcus Saugen and Nick Foerstel of Tumwater, Washington.
“I see both of them pushing to play, but we’ll see where we’re at next week,” Baldwin said.
The Eagles will hold a single practice session today at 9 a.m.; on Friday they’ll hold their last two-a-day session, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., before Saturday’s 9:50 a.m. scrimmage at Roos Field.