With a little hindsight, this year’s Eastern Washington football recruiting class looks even better than it did on signing day.
That’s saying a lot, considering the Eagles added 10 players on Wednesday to bring their total to 18.
Even more striking is the overall quality of the class, with 12 athletes rated at two stars or better by 247Sports.com.
That was enough to rank Eastern ninth in the FCS and second in the Big Sky Conference behind newcomer (and former FBS school) Idaho.
Moreover, the rankings don’t take into account surprise signee Tiquan Gilmore of Los Angeles, a running back with one of the biggest upsides among recent Eastern signees.
Flying under the radar of the scouting services – and apparently most college recruiters – Gilmore averaged 15 yards per rush during a two-year career at Torres High School while finishing with more than 6,000 career yards.
The signing of Gilmore was the eye-opener for the fans gathered Wednesday morning at Northern Quest casino. After the announcement, Best couldn’t resist a smile at pulling off a recruiting coup.
“Everything is so transparent these days – everybody know who everybody else is recruiting,” Best said. “Everybody knows what trips everybody is taking, then you get a guy like Tiquan – nobody had any idea where his high school was, if they play football.
“These are some of the special moments, to unveil those people to Eag Nation.”
The other headliners were a trio of in-state recruits, all of whom rated three stars: quarterback Simon Burkett from Bellingham, safety Tre Weed of Sumner and wide receiver Anthony Stell of Seattle.
Weed and Stell turned down multiple offers from FBS schools to play at Eastern, a credit to Eastern’s regional reputation.
All but two EWU recruits are from Washington.
Looking back on his first full recruiting cycle as head coach, Best made a point of sharing the credit with his staff, especially recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Cherokee Valeria.
“It’s ours, not mine,” said Best, who added five assistants last spring. “At the end of the day, you don’t change what worked. We did a good job of having new coaches and new ideas, and we have some personable guys on staff.”
Recruiting from a position of strength – Eastern Washington has won five Big Sky titles in the past eight years – Best said the Eagles’ approach hasn’t changed.
Going into the recruiting season, the Eagles’ biggest need was at defensive back, a position usually filled by athletes who also played wide receiver in high school.
Some recruiters try to seal the deal with false promises, but not Eastern.
“We tell them where they’re going to be – we’re trying to build trust,” Best said.
After a player arrives, Best said, “If there is some flexibility where he is going to make us better at another position, we don’t just move him – we have conversations.”
Weed, a standout receiver at Sumner High School, will play safety for the Eagles. In his case, the best conversations took place with current players in the EWU locker room.
“He felt very comfortable in those surroundings, like it was home away from home,” Best said.
“We knew he had other offers, but we didn’t waver in our approach.”
That approach filled most of Eastern’s needs, none of which is immediate.
The only exception is at punter, but former Utah State punter Trevor Knowles is on EWU’s campus as a walk-on.
Best expects special teams coach Heath Pulver to find another punter and long snapper before fall camp.