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SMU transfer quarterback Kyle Padron makes smooth transition to Eastern

As Kyle Padron starts a new chapter in his life, he’s already on the right page. And we’re not talking about the playbook.

The previous chapter is closed, but speaks volumes about the character of Eastern Washington’s next quarterback, who will lead the Eagles into the 2012 season tonight at Idaho. It includes sudden stardom, self-doubt, newfound faith and a fresh start far from home.

Through it all, Padron hasn’t lost his quick smile and easygoing attitude. Says EWU head coach Beau Baldwin, “If you can’t get along with Kyle Padron, then you just don’t like people.”

Three Septembers

2009 – Curiously, the last chapter began three years ago in Pullman, when the Southern Methodist football team blew a three-touchdown lead and lost in overtime to the Cougars, 30-27. SMU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 424 yards and two touchdowns, but also tossed four costly interceptions.

Two weeks later, Padron replaced an injured Mitchell in a game against Houston; Mitchell regained his health, but not his job, while Padron went on to lead the Mustangs to a 45-10 win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. It was the program’s first bowl win in almost a quarter-century.

2010 – “I’m playing the game faster, seeing things a lot quicker and the defense is slowing down for me,” Padron, then just 19, told in a preseason story headlined “Padron Poised to Power Ponies.”

While Mitchell got a new start – and a championship – in faraway Cheney, Padron threw for big numbers in June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense, completing 59 percent of his passes for 3,828 yards, 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The Mustangs finished 7-7 against a difficult schedule but won the West Division of Conference USA.

2011 – After starting 21 straight games entering the season, Padron didn’t survive the opening game against Texas A&M. After throwing interceptions on two straight possessions, he was benched in favor of J.J. McDermott.

“I made two bad throws, and I take full responsbility for those throws,” Padron told the Dallas Morning News the following week. “I’m not going to make excuses.”

He played sparingly after that, then not at all after suffering a herniated disc injury in the SMU weight room; that after playing through the pain of an ankle injury suffered the previous year but not diagnosed until 2011.

Change of direction

As he searched for direction that winter, he found something else. A friend brushed aside his excuses, told him to get in the car, and drove him a Christian young adults’ camp. “It was an awesome time,” Padron said, who said he confessed his faith in Jesus on Jan. 20.

“I’m living for Him and trying to glorify Him in everything I do.”

That still included football. When Mitchell won the Walter Payton Award in his last season at Eastern, Padron was still in Dallas, but ready to follow in Mitchell’s footsteps.

“We still talk a lot,” says Padron of Mitchell, now in the Canadian Football League. “He’s always been someone I could look up to, and he told me it was a great place to play and that the coaches put you in position to win.”

During a visit in January, Padron says, Baldwin and his staff “did everything right, including assigning All-American wide receiver Nicholas Edwards to give him a tour around campus. “I had a lot of positives to take away from that visit,” Padron said.

Still, it was a tough decision to play 30 hours away from home instead of 30 minutes, but Padron emphasized that his family told me they would support me and come up for the games.”

In April, as the Eagles were in spring drills, Padron’s medical hardship application was approved by the Big Sky Conference, giving him the necessary two years’ eligibility required to transfer to an FCS school. Two months later, the business management major was enrolled in summer classes and throwing practice balls to Edwards, Greg Herd, Brandon Kaufman and the rest of a talented receiving corps.

“It’s a serious challenge (missing spring ball),” said Baldwin, “but he did all the right things in terms of getting here and working with the guys in the summer without any of us around.”

The next chapter

As fall camp began, Padron kept his cool in every way. “The weather here is awesome,” he said after another sweltering practice – sweltering, that is, if you’re not from Texas.

But the heat was still on Padron, whose arm strength and experience made him the unofficial favorite to be the starter.

Acclimating to the Eagles’ offense wasn’t as easy as it sounded, even for a player with big-school credentials. If anything, it was harder to grasp than June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense at SMU. “This offense has more multiple formations and personnel groupings, a lot of two-tight end sets, or one tight end,” Padron said.

“At SMU it was more four wide (receivers) and just chuck it.”

Even as he grasped the offense, Padron struggled at time to grasp the football, and balls hit the turf. The answer was simple: Padron has always played in shotgun formation, even in high school. “Being under center is a bit new for me,” he said.

No matter the adjustments, teammates and coaches have made it easier.

“I can text (the receivers) whenever, say ‘let’s go throw,’ and in 30 minutes they’ll be here.”

The same goes for the coaches, including Baldwin, quarterbacks coach Zak Hill and quarterbacks coach Junior Adams, who’s become accustomed to late-night calls when Padron wants to “bounce some things around.”

Even the other quarterbacks – the Eagles have five – are “taking care of me,” Padron said.

“This is one of the closer teams that I’ve been on. On most teams, guys eat with the same guys every meal, but here people are hanging with different guys each day.”

Especially the wide receivers. Says Kaufman, “Kyle is picking it up the offense quickly; he’s coming around real nice.”

That was on display at a recent scrimmage, when Padron laid a perfect pass that Kaufman one-handed against tight coverage.

“No wobble at all,” Kaufman said. “He put it in a nice spot.”

Which is where the Eagles hope to be in November. Padron’s goals are team-oriented: winning the Big Sky outright and making another run at the national title.

“And beating Montana, that’s a big one,” said Padron, who got under Grizzly fans’ skins en route to Cheney: “Building up a strong dislike of people from Montana already – LOL,” he Tweeted while on the road.

“I didn’t really think about it before I did it,” he said with a shrug.

Before that, Padron will return to the Palouse, including a Sept. 8 game at WSU.

He was on the sidelines that day Pullman three years ago, an 18-year-old freshman on the sidelines with no idea that he would follow Mitchell’s footsteps all the way to Cheney.

“It’s amazing, really,” Padron said. “I don’t think that will ever happen again.”

Padron has two years to follow those footsteps – and write a new chapter.

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