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EWU gears up for season of high expectations

Head coach Beau Baldwin is well aware of the excitement surrounding the Eastern Washington football team. (Dan Pelle)
Head coach Beau Baldwin is well aware of the excitement surrounding the Eastern Washington football team. (Dan Pelle)

Beau Baldwin doesn’t have time to be burdened by great expectations – there’s too much work to do.

Don’t get him wrong: Eastern Washington’s football coach is excited about the Eagles’ preseason No. 1 ranking and the opening game on Aug. 23, when the ESPN mothership will descend on Roos Field and make Cheney – for one weekend – the epicenter of college football.

But Baldwin is more excited about the opening of fall camp on Thursday, when the Eagles begin the process of living up to all the hype.

“We appreciate all the hard work that everyone has put in over the years to give us the opportunity for all of this,” Baldwin said last week as he begins his seventh season as head coach.

That includes a chance for national exposure, an unprecedented third straight Big Sky Conference title and a chance to return to the FCS title game they won in 2010.

“Like I’ve said before, this is where we want to be as a program,” said Baldwin, who quickly warmed to the subject of fall camp and the excitement of seeing players compete for 11 starting spots vacated after last season.

Some of those holes were filled during spring ball, but Baldwin is looking forward to the competition at cornerback, offensive line, kicker and punt returner.

“You want that sense of competition everywhere, at every position,” Baldwin said. “But I’m excited about special teams and the corner position.”

Elsewhere, the Eagles, 12-3 last year, return quarterback Vernon Adams, receiver Cooper Kupp and a record-setting offense that led the nation in pass efficiency and passing touchdowns and finished second in total offense.

Last year, Adams finished second in the balloting for the Walter Payton Award after throwing for 4,994 yards and 55 scores; Kupp was first-team All-American and the FCS freshman of the year after catching 93 balls for 1,691 yards and an FCS freshman-record 21 touchdowns.

The running back corps looks deeper than ever, while vacancies at guard and center will be filled by game-savvy veterans who’ve already seen plenty of action.

Defensively, the Eagles lose six starters from a group that finished 104th out of 122 FCS teams in total defense. The Eagles also gave up 56 touchdowns and 457.7 yards per game, but that was partly due to a demanding schedule that included Oregon State, Toledo, Sam Houston State and three playoff opponents.

The Eagles have preseason All-America candidates at every position, including tackle Dylan Zylstra, outside linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and free safety Tevin McDonald.

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