SEATTLE – Eric Barriere smiled and eagerly rubbed his hands together as he envisioned himself stepping up to Washington’s traditionally salty defense.
Eastern Washington’s junior quarterback grew up with the intent of playing in raucous Pac-12 stadiums, which he’ll do Saturday at noon when the Eagles face the Huskies in Montlake.
If the strong-armed, fleet-footed Barriere was a couple of inches taller, he’s conceded, this likely wouldn’t be his first start against a Power 5 program.
He’d be a member of one.
Barriere, one of the top high school quarterbacks in Southern California, was listed at 5-foot-10 at La Habra High, where he was the Orange County Register’s third-ranked quarterback behind 6-5 K.J. Costello (Stanford) and 6-2 Devon Modster (California).
Hawaii, then a struggling Mountain West program, was the only FBS team to offer Barriere a scholarship, but he wasn’t interested in losing in geographical isolation.
A couple of Pac-12 schools showed some interest, but not enough to pay for his education.
So when Barriere and EWU – ranked third in the FCS preseason coaches poll after a run to the 2018 national title game – face defending Pac-12 champion Washington at Husky Stadium, it’s an opportunity for him and others to prove they were worthy of big-school interest.
“It’s definitely going to be special,” Barriere said. “It’s stuff that you dream of, playing in a big stadium like that and playing against a Pac-12 team like USC, UW or Washington State.
“There’s going to be a lot of jitters, but I am excited. It’s going to be a fun game. I can’t wait.”
Barriere racked up 2,450 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air and 606 yards and eight scores on the ground in 10 starts last season, numbers that helped him become a preseason Walter Payton Award candidate.
He has won a Big Sky Conference title, three FCS playoff games and played in front of a national audience when the Eagles faced North Dakota State in the FCS title game on ESPN2.
Now he’s ready for his biggest test: a Huskies defense that has led the Pac-12 in scoring defense the past four years, and in front of a crowd that’s expected to exceed 60,000 fans.
The last time EWU and an undersized Southern California quarterback came to Husky Stadium, Vernon Adams and the Eagles pushed head coach Chris Petersen’s team to the brink in a 59-52 shootout loss in 2014.
UW also edged EWU in 2011, a 30-27 result in Seattle.
Petersen, whose team has played in three straight New Year’s Eve Six bowls, expects another dynamic EWU team on Saturday.
“I know the problems (EWU) can cause,” Petersen said. “I think their schemes are good and those guys do a great job of playing fast and free. You can feel that. You can see that. I think the history of their program and they standards that they have over there are really impressive.”
The last two great EWU quarterbacks, Adams and Gage Gubrud, spearheaded upsets of Pac-12 teams in recent years.
In 2013, Adams led the Eagles to a 49-46 upset of No. 25 Oregon State. Gubrud and the Eagles upset Washington State 45-42 in 2016.
EWU has been overwhelmed in its last two games against FBS, though, falling hard at Texas Tech (56-10) in 2017 and Washington State (59-24) in 2018.
Adams, now a starting quarterback for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, believes Barriere can be the next EWU quarterback to shock a big-time program.
“Eastern is winning,” Adams predicted earlier this month. “I don’t care if Chris Petersen – a great guy and great coach – has got it rolling over there. My guy coach (Aaron) Best got it rolling over there, too, and (Eric) Barriere is better than I was.”
Barriere is essentially a microcosm of the players EWU attracts – undersized, underrecruited talents who often overachieve in college – and UW quarterback Jacob Eason represents the type of big-time recruit the Huskies have been signing in recent years.
Eason, who began his career as a true freshman starter at Georgia in 2016, is listed at 6-5 and 225 pounds.
Third-year EWU head coach Best remembers Eason when the former Lake Stevens (Washington) High star came to Eagles’ summer team camps.
“My son saw Eason at camp and said, ‘Dad, he’s pretty good,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s too good,’ ” Best said. “He didn’t understand at 9 years old why (Eason) couldn’t play at Eastern, because he was an SEC recruit at that point.”
Washington had eight players drafted this past spring, its secondary taking the biggest hit.
EWU sophomore receiver Andrew Boston still expects the biggest test of his young career.
“On paper, they should be (the best team I’ve faced),” Boston said. “But the tradition doesn’t always carry over every year. They still have to prove themselves, and I have to be confident in what I do.”
EWU’s Jayson Williams, a senior receiver, agreed with Boston.
“They communicate with each other very well and have freak athletes,” Williams said.