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Eastern Washington football adds eight players in early signing period

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 20, 2017, 5:25 p.m.

Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best celebrates the Eagles’ defensive efforts  during a Sept. 30, 2017, game in Cheney. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best celebrates the Eagles’ defensive efforts during a Sept. 30, 2017, game in Cheney. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

This could turn out to be signature recruiting class for Eastern Washington football.

All the Eagles need are a few more signatures.

On Wednesday, the early signing period yielded an FBS transfer and seven standout high school players, highlighted by three-star quarterback Simon Burkett of Bellingham.

For now, eight is enough, considering that the Eagles have room for only 14 scholarships to replace departing seniors.

Coach Aaron Best and his staff can afford to be picky. The result was a star-studded class in which every signee was rated at least two stars by Scout.com.

“At the end of the day, these eight kids are going to be Eagles for the first time,” Best said. “They’re high-caliber athletes and high caliber in the classroom.”

The most prominent is Burkett, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound dual threat who finished his career at Meridian High School with 7,658 yards and 79 touchdown passes. He also rushed for 1,564 yards and 29 TDs.

“He’s long, and will be good in our running game and our run-pass option schemes,” said Best, who added that the coaches also prize Burkett’s ability to extend plays.

Burkett will get protection from his classmates, as Eastern signed three offensive linemen: Risone Ama from Mt. Spokane High, Charlie Baumann of Bellevue and the only non-Washingtonian so far, Brad Godwin of Redlands, California.

The Eagles also beefed up on the defensive line with end Corbin Hartsock of Olympia and Joshua Jerome from Monroe, Washington.

Dean Sise, from Kirkland’s Juanita High School, is transferring from Navy and is penciled in at rover.

Eastern signed only one wide receiver, Champ Grayson of Kennewick, but Best noted that the Eagles added three wideouts last year and are flush at that position.

Best added that the recruiting – this year and every year – was less about 40-yard dash times and more about good times in the homes of recruits.

With the early signing period, in-home visits were crucial.

“Some of these kids still haven’t set foot in Cheney,” Best said. “They have a lot of faith in what they’ve researched and the connections they’ve made with us in home visits.”

Most of those visits were held in the Evergreen State – particularly the Puget Sound area, long a stronghold for the Eagles in recruiting.

“We always try to put a fence around the state of Washington,” said Best, a Tacoma native who’s recruited the Puget Sound area on behalf of the Eagles for a decade and a half.

Eastern has strong selling points in Washington: a winning tradition and proximity. According to Best, that makes it “more of a family-driven decision than an individual decision.”

Some players weren’t able to make a decision on Wednesday. Three-star wide receiver Anthony Stell and two-star cornerback Darrien Sampson – both from Seattle’s Rainier Beach High – announced on Twitter on Wednesday morning that they would delay signing until the final letter of intent day on Feb. 7.

That topic was off-limits for Best, who could only discuss signees and remaining areas of need.

By far the biggest is at cornerback, where Josh Lewis, Nzuzi Webster, D’londo Tucker and Brandon Montgomery are entering their senior years.

Best and recruiting coordinator Cherokee Valeria also will look for linebackers and a defensive lineman or two.

The Eagles also need a punter to replace all-Big Sky Conference first-teamer Jordan Dascalo.

Trevor Bowens of Utah State has given an oral commitment but didn’t sign on Wednesday. In the meantime, Best said the Eagles will explore their options, including a junior college signee.

“That may not be a February 7th decision,” Best said. “It could be a July 7th decision.”