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Zamora leading Eastern’s defensive charge

Eastern Washington linebacker Miquyah Zamora celebrates his sack on Northern Iowa quarterback Aaron Bailey last month. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington linebacker Miquyah Zamora celebrates his sack on Northern Iowa quarterback Aaron Bailey last month. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Eastern Washington linebacker Miquiyah Zamora takes this football brotherhood thing pretty seriously.

Enough to change his uniform number for his senior year. Enough to credit his success to those who came before, and enough to make sure he sets an example for those who follow.

“Tough love,” Zamora calls it, the kind he got from his grandfather Joe Zamora, who held a broken family together in Moses Lake and later in Pasco.

Zamora got more tough love at Eastern - it was doled out in 45-pound helpings in the weight room from former ’backers Ronnie Hamlin and Cody McCarthy.

“Ronnie would snap his fingers and say, ‘Better get to work,’ ” Zamora said this week. “They pushed me, and they were just like my older brothers. They treated me just like that.”

That meant a lot to Zamora, who was the oldest child in his family by nine years and craved those friendships. Some were forged on the football field as Zamora spent his adolescence bumping helmets in AAU ball with future teammates Cooper Kupp and Zach Bruce.

College brought uncertainty. Lightly recruited despite a standout career as a receiver and safety at Chiawana High School, he accepted a partial scholarship from Eastern and got to work in the fall of 2012.

Money was tight back in Pasco, enough so that Zamora would call his mother, Polly, every day with reassurances that he’d get that full ride.

“She was stressing pretty bad,” said Zamora, who had worries of his own.

“I found out that I couldn’t backpedal,” Zamora said. The coaches noticed too, and Zamora was moved to outside linebacker. The transition was eased by linebackers coach Josh Fetter. “He told me, ‘If you mess up, you mess up 100 percent. He did a good job teaching me.”

Indeed, Zamora gained size, muscle and that full scholarship. Now he’s a 6-foot-1, 230-pound middle linebacker, a team captain and the 10th-leading tackler in school history. After three straight double-digit tackling performances, Zamora is two away from 300 in his career.

“That comes from a lot of reps and a lot of film study,” Fetter said. “He’s really grown up.”

But even at 23, Zamora is still impressionable. This summer, former Eagle All-American linebacker J.C. Sherritt took a break from his Canadian Football League duties and joined the Eagles for summer conditioning.

As they worked out together, Zamora was inspired. “Here he is, a really successful guy, and what does he do? He comes right back and makes sure the younger guys are doing the right things,” said Zamora, who was suitably moved to change his uniform number from 49 to 4 - Sherritt’s number.

“I thought, why not, this is my last ride, so let’s go hard,” Zamora said.

So far, he’s done just that. Through five games, he’s the second-leading tackler in the Big Sky Conference, and he was the Big Sky defensive player of the week after 14 tackles against Northern Iowa.

More important, he led the charge as the Eagles forced four straight three-and-outs and came back to win 34-30.

That meant a lot to Zamora, who admits frustration over Eastern’s defensive shortcomings in recent years.

“At times it’s really hard,” Zamora said. “You can make excuses about time of possession and all that stuff, but at the end of the day we have a job to do, and that’s to get the ball back.”

The Eagles have done just that in the last three games, setting the table for comebacks against UNI, Northern Arizona and UC Davis.

“The best thing is, we haven’t reached our full potential yet,” Zamora said.

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