Despite all odds, Eastern Washington expects on Wednesday morning to announce one of the best football recruiting classes in school history.
For that, the Eagles can thank not only a smooth coaching transition, but an unusual bond among several recruits from the South Puget Sound.
Several of them signed with Eastern at Christmas – that’s a story in itself – then stuck with the Eagles despite the recent departure of coach Beau Baldwin and several other assistants.
For some it was a question of character.
“We all felt like under the circumstances, we had to show everybody what we’re about,” said Andrew Boston, a wide receiver from Puyallup.
It doesn’t hurt that Eastern is among the most pass-heavy teams in the nation at any level: Last year the Eagles averaged 42 points and threw for 5,614 yards.
The South Puget Sound always has been the top area for Eastern recruiting; new coach Aaron Best went to Tacoma’s Curtis High, and former EWU receiving stars Nick Edwards and Greg Herd prepped at Foss and Steilacoom, respectively.
This time the Eagles hit the jackpot.
As Christmas neared, the Eagles already had verbal commits from Steilacoom wide receiver Marques Hampton Jr., Lakes linebacker Cale Lindsay and Olympia defensive lineman Amir Matheney.
Boston, a three-star recruit from Emerald Ridge High School, jumped on board two days before Christmas.
Meanwhile, Tahoma High School receiver/cornerback Ira Branch had spoken with Hampton, Boston and Everett two-way starter Anfernee Gurley.
“I wanted to wait until they did – so it was all pretty connected,” Branch told the Tacoma News-Tribune.
“We all have that mentality – to bring a national (Football Championship Subdivision) title back to Eastern,” Branch said.
This tight-knit class drew closer during visits to Cheney and made new friends along the way. Three-star receiver/cornerback Darreon Moore of Kennewick also committed on Dec. 25.
Three weeks later, Baldwin announced he was leaving to become offensive coordinator at Cal. Several days after that wide receivers coach Nick Edwards joined him.
The Eagles had already lost offensive coordinator Troy Taylor to Utah. The question in mid-January was: Who would they lose from a strong recruiting class?
The day after Baldwin’s resignation, the program got some reassurances on social media.
“100 percent committed and have been since day one,” Moore said via Twitter.
So were the others.
Boston got the message even while Baldwin was still the coach: that he was wanted by the university and not just the football program. Apparently, so did the others. As it stands, Eastern is poised to land at least four three-star recruits and 10 two-star athletes.
Boston said he identifies with the Eagles’ underdog mentality.
“That’s just my mindset, my work ethic, that the biggest thing is earning everything I get,” said the 6-foot, 3-inch Boston.
This year, Boston was rewarded with a first-team all-4A South Puget Sound League selection after catching 69 passes for 859 yards and 13 touchdowns.
His high school coach, Torey Donovan, knew two years ago that Boston was going to be something special.
Down a touchdown late in the first half against regional power Graham-Kapowsin, Boston was playing cornerback. Reading the quarterback’s eyes, Boston got a jump on the pass and returned the ball 60 yards for a score.
“He’s not one of those talented players who don’t want to work,” Donovan said. “Even though he has the talent, he’s willing to put his nose to the grindstone.”
That led to 12 scholarship offers, including several from FBS schools such as Hawaii, Air Force, Army and Idaho.
“I think they got a steal,” said Donovan, who said Boston reminds him of former Rogers-Puyallup star Brandon Gibson, who later starred at Washington State and played several years in the NFL.
More recently, Boston has followed the career of All-American Cooper Kupp, who’s expected to be a high pick in the NFL Draft.
“I can’t wait to get to work,” Boston said.
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