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Wednesday, December 11, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eastern Washington Eagles have some fun at Big Sky Kickoff

Eastern Washington’s Dylan Ledbetter, left, and Jayce Gilder take questions during the Big Sky Kickoff on Monday at the Davenport Grand Hotel. (Photo by Chris Caskey)
Eastern Washington’s Dylan Ledbetter, left, and Jayce Gilder take questions during the Big Sky Kickoff on Monday at the Davenport Grand Hotel. (Photo by Chris Caskey)

With a free-flowing mullet matching his father’s college hairdo, Eastern Washington defensive lineman Dylan Ledbetter was the life of the Big Sky Kickoff party.

Ledbetter, the son of former Washington State linebacker Mark Ledbetter, started off the two-day event at the Davenport Grand Hotel with a bowling victory against some of the conference’s premier football players.

He was quick-witted and jovial on Monday, jokingly interviewing passersby with a tiny camera alongside EWU tight end Jayce Gilder.

Ledbetter and Gilder, both senior captains, represented EWU at the annual media frenzy which annually showcases the Football Championship Subdivision league’s head coaches and athletes.

Will Ledbetter’s 1980s-style hair and mustache still be around on Aug. 31 when preseason Big Sky favorite EWU opens its season at Washington?

“It’s definitely fun and I pull it off better than my father,” said Ledbetter, who helped the Eagles share the Big Sky crown last season and advance to the FCS national title game. “I’m going to keep it as long as I have hair.”

Gilder brought the biceps.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Corvallis, Montana, native’s muscles were bursting out of his red EWU polo shirt, evoking some good-natured ribbing from EWU head coach Aaron Best and Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus.

“Couldn’t find a bigger shirt?” Best said with a grin.

Cookus, an All-American in 2017, flexed like a body builder to jokingly imitate Gilder.

Thirteen head coaches and 26 athletes put aside their rivalries and fraternized in downtown Spokane, engaging in several activities set up by conference officials.

Athletes and coaches sat in their respective school-themed booths on Monday and fielded questions from dozens of reporters, including Idaho, which was represented by head coach Paul Petrino, offensive tackle Noah Johnson and defensive back Lloyd Hightower.

The Vandals were picked eighth in both the Big Sky preseason coaches and media polls Monday after going 4-7 in 2018, its first year in the FCS after a 22-year stay in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Johnson started as a true freshman in 2016 when Idaho went 9-4 and beat Colorado State in the Famous Potato Bowl. Hightower saw time in 12 games that season.

So was there a noticeable drop in talent between the FBS Sun Belt Conference and the FCS Big Sky?

“I thought there would be a talent drop, but there really wasn’t,” Hightower said. “The talent, the size and speed of the receivers I went up against was pretty much the same.”

Up front, Johnson said the talent was different.

“In the Big Sky, the (defensive lineman I faced) were a little smaller, but they were quicker,” said Johnson, a first-team All-Big Sky talent. “ In the Sun Belt, some of the bigger guys got tired and took plays off, but in the Big Sky guys were going hard every play.”

Hightower and Johnson agreed that the Big Sky offered better environments and more intense rivalries.

“When we played Montana at home, they brought so many fans,” Johnson said. “And that’s not something you’d see from South Alabama. And when we played at EWU, there were so many fans that the atmosphere was so cool.”

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