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Eleven on Eleven: taking a look at the toughest players Eastern Washington will face this season

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 24, 2018, 11:13 p.m.

Eastern Washington’s schedule isn’t chock-full of Top-25 programs, but the Eagles will face some of the best FCS players in the country.

Decorated quarterbacks. NFL-caliber receivers. Menacing linebackers. Each has the ability to disconcert the Eagles.

Here are 11 individuals who could pose the most trouble for EWU.

Central Washington – Reilly Hennessey (ex-EWU QB): It’s been less than two years since Hennessy realized he wouldn’t supplant Gage Gubrud on EWU’s depth chart, and transferred to the Division II school in Ellensburg. He put up nearly 3,000 total yards last season, helping the Wildcats go unscathed before being edged by eventual national champion Texas A&M Commerce 34-31 in the playoffs.

Hennessey started two games for EWU in 2015, a year before Gubrud burst onto the FCS scene. He faced the Eagles’ secondary for three years in practice and likely won’t be rattled by the environment.

Northern Arizona – Case Cookus, QB: In his last two meetings against EWU, the four-year starter combined to complete 39 of 58 passes for 508 yards and four touchdowns. But this NAU team could be the best one yet, as it also includes NFL prospect Emmanuel Butler, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who could break the school’s receiving record this year. That combination could be a handful in the Skydome.

Washington State – Renard Bell, WR: The Cougars have one of their deepest groups of receivers this year, and the Eagles, who ranked 118th in the FCS against the pass last season, will see their secondary face its biggest test. Bell is the most proven of WSU’s returners, accounting for three 100-yard games last season and earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team.

Cal Poly – Joe Protheroe, RB: The Walter Payton Award nominee redshirted last season with a knee injury, but he’s rushed for nearly 2,300 yards. In two games against EWU, he’s averaged more than 120 yards.

Montana State – Troy Andersen, QB/RB: As a quarterback, Andersen, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year last season, is an unknown. He was thrust into the position from running back after starting QB Chris Murray was sidelined for academic reasons. Andersen could be the Bobcats’ best all-around player. If the Bobcats have any success with the Eagles in Bozeman, Andersen will likely have a hand in it.

Southern Utah – Chinedu Ahanonu, LB: Ahanonu is quickly growing into one of the most feared linebackers in the conference. In just seven games, he tallied 70 tackles and nine tackles for loss. The Eagles will need to know where he is every play.

Weber State – LeGrand Toia, LB: Toia, an All-American, was a big reason the Wildcats held the Eagles to 20 points in Cheney last season. The hard-hitting linebacker had 11 tackles, two sacks and two tackles for a loss along with a pass break-up.

Idaho – Kaden Elliss, LB: Elliss isn’t built like most FCS linebackers. At 6-3, 218 pounds, he has the look of a bona fide FBS linebacker, because that’s what he’s been in previous years, an All-Sun Belt selection. His versatility in the second level, on the edge, and even on offense as a tight end and fullback make him one of the best overall football players in the Big Sky.

Northern Colorado – Jacob Knipp, QB: Before Knipp missed the last two seasons with a knee injury, he was shredding the Big Sky Conference’s secondaries. In 2015, in a 45-43 loss to EWU, he completed 20 of 29 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns.

UC Davis – Keelan Doss, WR: EWU head coach Aaron Best described Doss as a more athletic version of Cooper Kupp. That’s high praise. Arguably the top receiver at the FCS level, Doss is also expected to be drafted in 2019. He hauled in 15 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown against EWU last season.

Portland State – Darian Green, RB: A transfer from Ball State, Green has rushed 214 times for 1,089 yards and five touchdowns, including a 164-yard game against Eastern Michigan.


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