Christmas in August?
Why not, says Eastern Washington football coach Aaron Best, who likened the first day of fall camp to opening a bundle of presents.
Some very large presents.
“It’s one of those deals where you’ve already peeked at the presents a little bit, so you know what’s under the tree, but you don’t know for sure,” Best said Thursday as about 90 Eagles presented themselves for practice.
The similarities ended there on a sun-baked afternoon on the grass fields behind Reese Court. It was 92 in the shade – if you could find any.
How hot was it? So hot that several cellphones stopped working.
Meanwhile, the Eagles were operating at a high tempo despite the heat. Predecessor Beau Baldwin relied mostly on morning practices, but Best figures the extra sweat will pay off on Sept. 2, when the Eagles open the season deep in the heart of Texas against Texas Tech.
It’s also in keeping with a more physical approach that also got the approval of All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud, who said he’s completely bought into Best’s “start physical, stay physical” mantra that began in the spring.
But even if the Eagles run the ball a bit more this year, Gubrud still expects to help win games with his arm.
After passing out praise to a new generation of wide receivers and an offensive line that overachieved last year, Gubrud said, “There’s nothing to worry about. We’ll be just fine.”
The experts agree, picking the Eagles (12-2 overall last year) to finish second in the Big Sky Conference despite the departure of three of the top receivers in school history and every offensive coach save Best.
Eastern also must find a way to generate a pass rush after the graduation of All-American Samson Ebukam and get better against the run on the edge.
“You don’t replace him, you do it by committee,” Best said. “Maybe we bring a bit more pressure or bringing in some more packages, it’s going to open up opportunities for others.”
That’s the whole idea, defensive lineman Andre Lino said.
“The young guys are stepping up,” said Lino, who’s also a team captain. “We still have that chip on our shoulder of this school being known as an offensive school.”
Once practice began, Best moved to the main field, where the defense was working. Behind him, former player Jase Butorac was directing the offensive line – Best’s home for almost two decades – while new offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder was working with Gubrud and three other quarterbacks.
Nearby, new assistants Kevin Maurice (running backs), Jay Dumas (wide receivers) and Heath Pulver (tight ends and special teams) appeared to hit the ground running.
That’s not surprising, said Best, who reminded reporters that the 2017 season “didn’t begin today. It began in January.”
“We were just getting used to each other … but this isn’t the first time we’ve put a practice together,” Best said. “Of course, there’s a little more excitement now.”
And why not? Christmas is here.
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