They’re paired on the left side of Eastern Washington’s offensive line, but Beau Byus and Jack Hunter spent their teenage years separated by a Greater Spokane League rivalry.
Byus, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior tackle, prepped at Central Valley.
Hunter, a 6-4, 290-pound senior guard, went to Gonzaga Prep.
When they locked up, the two hulking lettermen threw each other around.
“Those games were pretty physical,” said Hunter, whose Eagles (11-2) host Maine (10-3) on Saturday in the FCS semifinals. “I remember being sore the next day.”
Byus and Hunter did most of their battles deep in the paint of often frenetic GSL basketball games, a sport that was Hunter’s first love.
Hunter didn’t start playing football until his junior year at G-Prep, but he left as one of the best lineman in the league.
An all-GSL tight end and defensive end, Byus’ foremost sport was football, but, like Hunter, he yielded no Division I scholarship offers.
EWU head coach Aaron Best, then the Eagles’ offensive line coach, had a history of helping turn sizable ex-high school basketball players into solid offensive linemen.
Michael Roos, who was drafted out of EWU in 2005 and became an All-Pro tackle for the Tennessee Titans, heads a long list of erstwhile basketball players who flourished under Best.
Best extended walk-on offers to Byus and Hunter, who, according to current EWU offensive line coach Jase Butorac, came to Cheney as raw talents.
They’ve since carved out starting spots on a EWU offensive line that’s paved the way for the best rushing offense (3,466 rushing yards 39 rushing touchdowns) in program history.
“When Beau first got here, he was about 205 pounds. He looked like Bambi out there,” Butorac said.
“Being former walk-ons, (Byus and Hunter) have worked their butts off to get to this point, and they’re fun guys to be around.”
Led by All-American center Spencer Blackburn (6-2, 285), each of EWU’s starting offensive linemen, including right guard Kaleb Levao (6-4, 290) and right tackle Chris Schlichting (6-5, 300), earned All-Big Sky Conference distinction this season.
Byus came to EWU as a tight end, was converted to a reserve tackle and has successfully supplanted Tristen Taylor, a 6-7, 325-pound left tackle who went down with a season-ending knee injury in early September.
“I remember when coaches called me into the office last year and asked what I thought of moving over to tackle,” Byus said. “I said, ‘I’m only 240 pounds,’ but I put on about 30 pounds – I am still pretty small for a tackle.”
When Taylor went down, Byus stepped seamlessly into the starting role.
“I was ready to go,” Byus said. “I had prepared for this opportunity.”
Hunter has held his starting spot since former starter Matt Meyer, whose career has been rife with injuries, went down last season.
Taylor and Meyer came to EWU on scholarship. Offensive tackles Nick Ellison, a former starter, and Brett Thompson also came to EWU on scholarship, but opted to not return to the team.
EWU’s offensive front now consists of two former walk-ons (Byus and Hunter), Blackburn, who was offered “minimal” scholarship money out of school, a former EWU defensive lineman (Levao) and Schlichting, who has started every game since redshirting in 2015.
“What makes us good, I think, is our chemistry,” Hunter said.
Butorac, who started on EWU’s offensive line just four seasons ago, agreed.
“This isn’t the biggest line,” Butorac said. “But they make up for it with intensity and a high football IQ.
“They want to be the best offensive line that’s played at Eastern, and there’s been some pretty good offensive lines over the years.”
Byus sat out with an injury in a 14-6 loss at Weber State on Oct. 13, a game in which Schlichting was injured in the second half. Down to its third-string left tackle and reserve right tackle, EWU shuffled around bodies to try and make up for the losses.
Weber State, which had one of the fiercest defensive lines in the FCS this season, smelled blood in the water and harassed then-newbie starting quarterback Eric Barriere, sacking him four times, picking him off twice and holding the Eagles to 247 total yards.
Maine downed Weber State 23-18 last week in Ogden, Utah, in the FCS quarterfinals, beating the Wildcats the same way Weber State beat EWU, by forcing four turnovers and pressuring quarterback Jake Constantine.
Maine leads in the country in rush defense (68 yards per game) and is second in sacks (47).
Hunter, who will be playing his final game at Roos Field, expects a big challenge.
“Weber had an athletic defensive line that was good fast off the ball,” Hunter said. “Maine’s defensive line is big and blows people back.”
On a roster traditionally stocked with Western Washington products, Byus and Hunter are the only local starters for EWU.
Defensive back Cole Karstetter (Ferris) and defensive end Keenan Williams (Cheney) have started games the last three seasons but have missed the Eagles’ two last playoff games with injuries. Williams, a first-team All-Big Sky defensive end, and Karstetter aren’t listed on the team’s depth chart for the Maine game.
Starting defensive end Jim Townsend is also an Eastern Washington product who prepped at Okanogan High.