For three seasons, Cooper Kupp has been helping Eastern Washington win football games.
Not satisfied with that, the All-American wide receiver spent much of the winter helping the Eagles win the recruiting game as well.
From fall all the way up to National Signing Day, Kupp was a big reason the Eagles hauled in one of the best recruiting classes in school history.
Coach Beau Baldwin noticed.
“He (Kupp) spent as much time as anyone, and a lot of times, you wouldn’t think that, because a lot of people are asking for his time,” Baldwin said at the Eagles’ signing event on Wednesday.
Baldwin saw it in the recruits’ faces. “They’re saying ‘holy cow,” the best player in the country at this level and he’s out there with them on a Saturday night, bowling or playing hoop.”
“I think it meant a lot to those guys,” Baldwin said.
Indeed it did. Running back Jason Talley, a two-star recruit from Portland, was swayed as much as anything by Kupp’s attention, and his decision to stay a fifth year in Cheney instead of turning pro.
“I have dreams of playing in the NFL and so does he, but for him to want to come back here for his senior year, that means it be something special,” Talley said.
Kupp even put in an appearance on signing day, telling fans at Northern Quest about his own experiences as a lightly-recruited athlete out of Davis High in Yakima.
“I was really fortunate to be able to play at Eastern,” Kupp said.
Only the fans were seeing stars
While fans were reveling in the number of highly touted recruits in EWU’s class, Baldwin and the coaches barely noticed.
“We’ve never bought much into that,” Baldwin said. “Obviously you make note of it on this day and say, ‘We signed this two-star guy, because fans like it.”
Baldwin added that his coaches focus on “how an athlete looks on film, what the product is and meeting the young man in person.”
The Eagles signed a trio of three-star players, as rated by Scout.com and Rivals.com. They include quarterback Eric Barriere, running back Antoine Custer and offensive lineman Conner Crist. Five other EWU signees merited two stars.
To redshirt or not?
Asked whether any recruits were swayed by the possibility of seeing action as true freshman, Baldwin had a ready answer: no.
The three incoming receivers, for example, might prefer to redshirt while they learn on the practice field from seniors Kupp, Kendrick Bourne and Shaq Hill.
And even though the Eagles lost seven seniors on the offensive line, Baldwin said the new linemen will most likely redshirt and learn the ropes on the practice field from assistant coach Aaron Best.
On the other hand, in 2013, the Eagles moved several true freshmen from the O-line to the D-line, where they had an immediate impact.
And what about Barriere, the quarterback who’s already been compared with Vernon Adams Jr.?
“Most likely he’ll redshirt,” Baldwin said, leaving his options open as he warmed to the idea of seeing what Barriere can do on the field.
Getting a top-notch quarterback is “huge,” Baldwin said. “No matter how good you are at other spots, the teams that have one, those teams always have a chance.”
“I don’t believe in the ‘game-manager,” I believe in a quarterback being an All-American,” Baldwin said.
Despite the advantage of getting an earlier start than usual after a 6-5 record, Baldwin would have preferred the opposite: another deep playoff run.
“Last year wasn’t what we wanted, but a lot of people would like to have a winning season,”Baldwin said. “Winning is still the best recruiting tool you can have,” Baldwin said.