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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eagles fly into camp hungry

Offseason hard work evident for Big Sky champs

EWU defensive line coach Ryan Sawyer began to whip his troops into shape as camp opened on Wednesday. (Jim Allen / The Spokesman-Review)
If the Eastern Washington football players ever decide to write a book – “How I spent my summer vacation” – it will be dull reading indeed. It will be a story of agility drills, route running and weightlifting – and how six dozen Eagles lifted up each other during a long, hot summer in Cheney. The Eagles are working on their fourth straight Big Sky Conference title. Working, literally. Many players found summer jobs in Cheney so they could stick around … for more work on the toasty practice fields. Perhaps success only breeds the expectation of more at EWU, which is 22-2 in Big Sky play over the last three years. “I think the team is hungrier than I’ve seen in my time at Eastern,” said two-time All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp, a redshirt junior from Yakima who said he marveled at the commitment from his teammates. The exciting part of the story could be the sequel, which began Wednesday on the first day of fall camp. Despite the loss of some key players from last year, the Eagles are co-favorites with Montana State to win the conference title. “We embrace those expectations,” Kupp said. “You can’t just say you’re going to act it out; you want your actions to reflect your future,” Kupp said. The coaches noticed the actions too. “You can see a culture that’s being built,” said Baldwin, who welcomed 13 returning starters and 43 letter winners from last year’s 11-3 team. “You can see by the body types (after summer conditioning) and the mental things, too. “Hitting the field running, that’s always a good thing,” Baldwin said. That’s certainly true with the season opener at Oregon barely three weeks away. Among the key tasks this year is getting the team up to speed – especially a defense that will face an up-tempo offense from the Ducks. “Oregon’s not going to wait for that defense to line up, that’s a reality,” Baldwin said. The other reality is that the defense is undergoing a major overhaul under new coordinator Jeff Schmedding, who installed a 4-2-5 scheme that will make the Eagles faster, if a bit smaller overall. Senior Todd Raynes will quite literally be in the middle of it all, having moved from safety to the new rover position. “It fits our defensive personnel a little better,” Raynes said. “We have the speed and we have the talent to do it.” The biggest motivator was last year’s season-ending, 59-46 loss to Illinois State in the FCS playoffs, where the Eagles gave up scores on the Redbirds’ first nine possessions. “That last game stuck in our craw, and we use that as motivation,” Raynes said.


The Eagles practice without pads again today and Friday at 9:15 a.m. Full pads will come on Saturday. After a day off on Sunday, the Eagles will hold their first two-a-days on Monday, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The first scrimmage is scheduled for Aug. 22. … The only key player on the sidelines Wednesday was defensive end Albert Havili, who suffered a torn ACL on his right leg during spring ball. Havili is expected to be out three more months.