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Eastern Washington University Football

Anfernee Gurley happy to be back in the fold for Eastern Washington’s football team

Texas Tech’s Jett Duffey  tries to break away from Eastern Washington’s Anfernee Gurley  during a game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (Brad Tollefson / AP)

One of the Big Sky Conference’s top true freshmen in 2017, Anfernee Gurley looked on in frustration as his Eastern Washington teammates advanced to the 2018 FCS national championship without him.

Sidelined by a season-ending knee injury he sustained on the second day of fall camp, Gurley, a safety and nickel linebacker, took solace in seeing his teammates and coaches enjoy that success.

He really wanted to be a part of it.

“As much as I love the sport of football, watching my family and brothers play without me, it really sucked,” said Gurley, a third-team All-Big Sky selection at 18 years old.

After almost a year of rehab and patiently working his way back into the fold, Gurley was flying to the football Saturday with the same vigor he had two years ago.

In EWU’s second and final scrimmage before its season opener at Washington, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound redshirt sophomore had plenty of reason to smile.

In the Eagles’ 65-play scrimmage, the defense yielded a meager 196 yards and one touchdown, albeit against a shorthanded offense that rested star quarterback Eric Barriere and his entire starting offensive line.

The defense – which also played without some key figures, including senior captain Dylan Ledbetter – broke up eight passes, totaled five sacks and allowed just 28 yards of rushing.

In what was mostly a showcase for players battling for second- and third-team spots on the team’s depth chart – various projected starters were also mixed into the bunch – the white-clad offense had trouble moving the football.

Second-string quarterback Gunner Talkington hit receiver Johnny Edwards on a 11-yard scoring connection, the lone touchdown of the afternoon.

Gurley’s red-clad unit was happy about that.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten some live reps,” Gurley said. “And I’m a high-energy guy, so our defense came with a lot of juice today.”

Gurley, recognized by the Big Sky in 2017 mostly for his play as a special teams enforcer, was also named EWU’s Special Teams Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

The former Archbishop Murphy star – he helped lead the Everett school to a State 2A title in 2016 – totaled 37 tackles as a true freshman, forced two fumbles and broke up three passes.

In his lone start against UC Davis, he had nine tackles.

“We’re savages,” Gurley said of EWU’s secondary, which was without promising young cornerback Ira Branch (foot injury) for the second scrimmage. “We love what we do. We know they’re not throwing it to us, they’re throwing it at us.”

Talkington (5 for 11, 37 yards) and true freshmen Trey Turner (6 for 10, 57 yards) and Kellen Kranc (5 for 10, 74 yards) split the reps. Simon Burkett did not suit up for the second straight scrimmage.

Third-year head coach Aaron Best wasn’t particularly impressed with the offense.

“I don’t think there was a ton of cleanliness today, especially (the offense),” Best said. “Snaps weren’t awesome, blocks weren’t awesome, holes were there and weren’t hit awesome. We don’t have bad players, it just wasn’t a great day at the office.”

Andre Slyter concluded a successful fall camp, hitting a 38-yard field goal to round out the Eagles’ scoring plays. Slyter hit all all three of his field-goal attempts in EWU’s two scrimmages.

Former Cheney star Ty Graham, a transfer linebacker from Idaho who will redshirt this fall, had a scrimmage-high eight tackles and a sack.