They’ve gone toe-to-toe with the big boys on the field. Now Eastern Washington is winning some battles in the living room.
Among the Eagles’ 21 prep signees are some players that Beau Baldwin admitted would have been a stretch to sign in the past – before Eastern put together a stretch of winning seasons.
“There’s some uniqueness with this class for us,” Baldwin said Wednesday afternoon before unveiling this year’s class at a booster luncheon at Northern Quest Resort & Casino.
“We’re starting to get into some battles with universities that we haven’t been before, where it had been a slim-to-none chance,” Baldwin said.
Consider Dehonta Hayes, a physical defensive back out of Lincoln High in Tacoma, whose speed and size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) attracted the attention of Utah State and Nevada, among other Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Then there’s Tristen Taylor, a 6-7, 310-pound offensive lineman from Stockton, California, who also was sought by UNLV.
Closer to home, Mt. Spokane linebacker/safety Roy Hyatt (6-2, 200) was being courted by Wyoming before committing to the Eagles.
The highest-rated player in the class, three-star defensive end Keenan Williams (6-3, 260) from Cheney drew attention all the way to the Pac-12 level.
The bottom line: sustained success on the field, including a 34-9 overall record and 22-2 in the Big Sky Conference over the past three years. People have noticed, including recruits and their parents.
More important, Eastern filled a pressing need to build depth on the offensive line, where seven seniors will play key roles this year. The Eagles signed six prep offensive linemen, who together with last year’s redshirts, will gain experience before the transition in the summer of 2016.
The six signees average 285 pounds and 6-5 per player.
That shortage was partly because of injuries last year on the defensive line, where several O-linemen migrated. Only three defensive linemen make up this year’s class.
Likewise, the Eagles are solid at linebacker and signed just three, but one is Ketner Kupp, the younger brother of EWU All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
“The bloodlines are there, but his family will be the first to admit that he and Cooper are different,” Baldwin said. “Ketner will come in with his own personality and be his own type of player.”
At running back, the Eagles signed two recruits, both of whom could challenge for playing time in a group that lost three players to graduation.
“That was huge,” said Baldwin, who returns only two veteran backs in redshirt juniors Jalen Moore and Jabari Wilson. “You always have to be able to play four or five of those guys every year.”
The defensive backs are growing into a small army, with five signees added to 14 returnees from last year.
“We want to create competition and depth, and more and more often you’re playing five DBs,” Baldwin said. “You’re seeing a lot more universities shifting that way, with more going to a nickel just as their base.
“Definitely for us that was the thought process as well.”
Geographically, the class was typical for Eastern: Thirteen players hail from Washington, with eight from the Puget Sound area. Four are from California and three are from Oregon.
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