It’s based in Cheney, but Eastern Washington’s FCS power football program is quite western, widely comprised of talent from the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area.
More than 40 of its players grew up a short trip from Husky Stadium, where the Eagles face 13th-ranked and defending Pac-12 champion Washington on Saturday at noon.
Seven of EWU’s 10 full-time coaches also grew up west of the Cascade Mountains, including third-year head man Aaron Best
EWU – ranked No. 3 in the FCS preseason coaches poll following a national title game appearance – turned its speakers up to full blast on Tuesday at Roos Field with fake crowd noise, trying to emulate the sounds of the estimated 65,000 fans in the season opener.
It knows what to expect in Montlake, where the Eagles were edged by the Huskies in 2014 (59-52) and 2011 (30-27).
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver and Puyallup, Washington, native Andrew Boston spent plenty of time in the picturesque venue as a casual observer.
When he returns home Saturday, he’ll face a defense that’s annually been among the nation’s best.
Like most FCS players in a guaranteed-game scenario, Boston wants to show the big local school it shouldn’t have passed on him.
“Coming out of high school when you’re overlooked by an FBS school, you have a chip on your shoulder, especially the one in your backyard,” said Boston, an Emerald Ridge graduate who had over 500 yards receiving and four touchdowns last season.
“For the last three years, I have been looking forward to this game,” Boston added. “I’ve been to Husky Stadium a few times, but never played, so I’m really excited to be in that atmosphere.”
For players like EWU redshirt sophomore safety Anfernee Gurley, it’s a high school reunion of sorts.
Gurley and linebacker Emmanuel Osuoha starred at Class 2A juggernaut Archbishop Murphy in Everett, where they were teamed up with current Washington corner Kyler Gordon and offensive lineman Ben Hines.
“A lot of kids I played with or against in high school are at UW,” Gurley said. “A lot of us wanted to go to a big Division (I) school with the big lights and the giant stadiums.
“We did maybe want to go to UW growing up and get that big Power 5 (scholarship) offer. But it’s nice to know we (at EWU) still have that opportunity to face them and get that opportunity to beat them.”
EWU fifth-year seniors Jayson Williams, Dehonta Hayes and Jusstis Warren – a transfer from Washington – all played high school ball together at Lincoln High in Tacoma.
They’re excited to be teamed up again near the Puget Sound in front of their respective friends and families.
“It’s going to be good to go back to the west side of the state, because a lot of us are from that area,” said Williams, a slot receiver. “It’s like another home game – but more attendance.”
EWU’s juniors and seniors have faced FBS programs Washington State and Texas Tech on the road in recent years, but for the sizable chunk of players returning to Seattle, playing the Huskies holds a little more significance.
“I had the opportunity to go UW, but I didn’t want to be a preferred walk-on,” said Hayes, a safety who bulked up 15 pounds in the offseason. “I wanted to go somewhere where I was part of a team that was a family and I could make plays.
“This is going to be a great way to start off the season. They’re a great team.”
Neither team has a player from Spokane County on its two-deep roster this week, but former Gonzaga Prep star Devin Culp is expected to see the field as a redshirt freshman tight end for the Huskies.
Oddmakers have the Eagles as 21-point underdogs.
UW paid EWU $550,000 in guaranteed-game cash, per USA Today.
Best, a graduate of Curtis High in Tacoma, referenced the 1994 hit comedy “Dumb and Dumber” when asked about EWU’s underdog status.
“So you’re saying there’s a chance?” Best joked with reporters. “When you line up two teams, there’s always a chance to compete, and the outcome is what it becomes.”
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