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Eastern Washington begins spring football practice with emphasis on positives

Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best instructs his players during the Eagles’  game against Texas Tech on Sept. 2, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (Brad Tollefson / AP)
Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best instructs his players during the Eagles’ game against Texas Tech on Sept. 2, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (Brad Tollefson / AP)

Aaron Best was more than ready to spring forward Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re excited,” Best said as his Eastern Washington football team opened spring practices at Roos Field.

“The guys are giddy,” Best said.

And why not? The Eagles last saw the red turf in mid-November, during a 59-33 Senior Day whipping of Portland State.

The NCAA selection committee got in its licks the next morning, sending the 7-4 Eagles into an early offseason for only the second time in six years.

The players have used that snub as motivation since, but Best cautioned about taking that too far.

“There’s a rear-view mirror for a reason,” said Best, who’s going into his second year as head coach. “We want to learn from that, not dwell on what didn’t take place.

“We want to turn those negatives into positives.”

Apart from the cold wind, there were a lot of positives on the first of 14 practices leading to the Red-White Spring Game on April 28. The Eagles return 56 letter winners and 17 starters.

Among them are 28 seniors, who may be splitting time as assistant coaches this spring to help the newcomers get up to speed.

Speaking of last year’s redshirts, senior linebacker Ketner Kupp said, “They just want to know what’s it’s like, and is it different (from high school).”

Kupp’s advice: “It’s just football, have a little fun.”

Or, as Best puts it, “Can you still be giddy on the 15th day of practice?”

Working without pads, the Eagles looked loose on Tuesday. Quarterbacks Gage Gubrud, Eric Barriere and Gunner Talkington ran plays while teammates watched.

Going into his senior year, Gubrud has a chance to become the leading passer in Eastern history. He’s already fourth in school history with 8,568 passing yards and has a school-record 10 games with 400 yards or more.

More than anything, Gubrud would rather end his career in the postseason.

“There’s a lot of motivation for sure, getting snubbed like we felt we did,” Gubrud said.

“You can see the motivation level with all the guys. As captains and senior leaders, we have to hold each other to these standards every single day.

“It’s just nice to have the opportunity to come in with the guys and play – just to improve myself every single day.”

The emphasis this week, according to Best, “is to impress on our guys how precious the football is.”

Then Best waxed on about the importance of a positive turnover margin, especially when the goal is to make the postseason.

Eastern was a minus-10 last year in turnover margin, with only 13 takeaways.

The Eagles will practice again on Wednesday without pads, then hold a no-contact practice on Friday. Pads come on beginning Saturday.

The first scrimmage is scheduled for April 13 at about 3:30 p.m. It will be open to the public.


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