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EWU spring football: Cooper Kupp raises bar for Eagles’ receivers

EWU wide receiver Cooper Kupp has laser focus, even during spring practices. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
EWU wide receiver Cooper Kupp has laser focus, even during spring practices. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

This is the third in an eight-part series on spring football at Eastern Washington. Today: wide receivers.

Besides the obvious ones, Eastern Washington is reaping some big benefits from Cooper Kupp’s decision to stay in Cheney for his senior season.

Take Saturday morning’s practice, for example. A three-time All-American, Kupp has nothing left to prove, but there he was, extending for a tough one-handed grab in the end zone – in April.

In the scrimmage that followed, Kupp jostled with a defender for a ball that looked like a lot less than 50-50 when it left the hand of quarterback Gage Gubrud.

But after performing a midair pirouette – Kupp plucked the ball from the air, recovered his balance and raced home for a 67-yard touchdown play.

He wasn’t done. After the scrimmage, Kupp sounded like an eager freshman as he told reporters that he “couldn’t wait to get back on Monday” to break down film – again, in April.

Kupp also used the opportunity to issue a challenge his teammates.

“I want people to know that every rep counts. If your effort isn’t matching up to what your goals are, then you’re letting the team down,” Kupp said.

The big plays and work ethic behind them “are just huge for us younger guys,” said fellow wide receiver Stu Stiles, a redshirt sophomore from Mt. Spokane High School who’s grateful for one more season with Kupp, Kendrick Bourne and Shaq Hill.

Together, they should be one of the best wide receiver groups in the Football Championship Subdivision and the strongest component of Eastern’s offense going into a challenging 2016 season.

Last year, Eastern led the nation in receiving yards with 353 yards a game, and there’s no reason to think that will change this year.

It starts with Kupp. Last year he caught 114 balls for 1,642 yards and 19 touchdowns en route to being named the FCS offensive player of the year. He even threw for two scores and returned punts for the second straight year.

Bourne goes into final season as an elite Big Sky Conference player; last year he had 73 catches for 998 yards and eight scores. Hill is still on the mend from a pair of knee surgeries, but coach Beau Baldwin is confident that Hill can regain his big-play abilities as a receiver and kickoff returner.

The rest of the roster is loaded with talent and experience. Six-foot-5 Terence Grady (25 catches, 281 yards and two scores) is back for his true junior season, while redshirt junior Nic Sblendorio (23 catches, 366 yards, two TDs) showed his big-play ability last season.

Stiles and fellow sophomore Simba Webster each had seven catches last year.

“I’m excited about what’s coming up this year,” Kupp said.

Coming Friday: offensive line.

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