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Sports >  EWU football

Eastern Washington seniors Calin Criner, Jack Sendelbach stay ready amid quarantine, uncertainty

Eastern Washington  defensive back Calin Criner  hangs on to North Dakota State  quarterback Easton Stick  during the second half of the 2018 FCS championship game on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington defensive back Calin Criner hangs on to North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick during the second half of the 2018 FCS championship game on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Eastern Washington safety Calin Criner’s father – a former assistant coach for the now-defunct XFL’s Seattle Dragons – returned to the family’s Boise home last week with a smile and a haul.

The ex-Idaho defensive coordinator found a good deal on a used bench and weight set, something his son could use as he’s home from school amid Washington state’s mandated coronavirus quarantine.

Criner, who will be a fifth-year senior and a key piece of the Eagles’ secondary, didn’t participate in a single spring practice.

Compounding the cancellation of spring football for Criner was the shutdown of his gyms, at college and in the Boise area, throwing a wrench into his high-level routine.

But something – albeit lighter weights, pushups and other from-the-garage workouts – is better than nothing.

“The biggest thing, and this goes for players across the country, will be if guys at home are still working hard and being disciplined,” Criner said. “It will show during the upcoming season.”

After a 7-5 season and missing the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the second time in three years, the Eagles, the 2018 national runners-up, took out their frustrations in winter conditioning.

The disappointing 2019 season apparently lit a fire under the players, leading to what Criner and others described as “the best winter we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

But EWU, which returns several starters on offense and defense and figures to be back in the Big Sky title mix this fall, didn’t get to see the fruits of its inspired labor this month.

The Big Sky Conference announced the cancellation of spring football and other activities until at least May 15, and is widely expected to shelve it all completely until the next school year.

Redshirt freshmen hoping to show the physical and mental strides they’ve taken since arriving on campus last summer will have to wait to see if they’re capable of moving up the depth chart.

Transfers such as former Arizona State safety Ely Doyle will have fewer reps to adjust to EWU’s scheme and personnel.

The Eagles, who graduated four of their five starting offensive linemen, will likely have to wait until late summer to find out who will protect All-Big Sky quarterback Eric Barriere when EWU opens its 2020 campaign at Florida, the program’s first SEC opponent.

EWU players, coaches and trainers are corresponding from home via Zoom video conferences, making the best of a situation that’s completely out of their control.

“Would have been a great time to see what we had this spring at unproven positions, and to see how much the young guys have come along,” Criner said.

Sixth-year senior linebacker Jack Sendelbach agreed.

“We’ve been talking about the possibility of a 4-3 look on defense, with Chris Ojoh, Ty Graham and me, and in the spring we could have worked on our cohesiveness,” Sendelbach said. “And there’s more than a handful of guys I was excited to see, how they improved.”

Sendelbach, a team captain last season, leads a talent-heavy position group that includes Graham, a former Cheney star who started at Idaho before transferring to EWU and who will be eligible this fall. Ojoh, a two-year starter, missed most of last season due to injury.

The majority of EWU’s players have returned to their respective hometowns, but some are still in Cheney, including Sendelbach.

He has plenty of reasons to stay in Eastern Washington.

Sendelbach’s family lives near downtown Seattle, where there’s a higher concentration of coronavirus infections.

Some of his friends have contracted the disease and are recovering, he said, and he’d rather be safe than sorry by staying in Cheney.

“I’ve had respiratory issues, and my parents are in their mid-60s, so I don’t want to take the chance of getting infected or spreading it to them,” said Sendelbach, who has been running at local city parks to stay in shape.

That’s another reason he’s staying in Cheney while many of his friends are gone.

“It’s way more locked down over in Seattle. People are getting kicked out of parks sooner,” he said.

Sendelbach, who along with offensive tackle Tristen Taylor and defensive end Jusstis Warren were recently granted their sixth year of eligibility due to injuries, has already had to deal with the uncertainty of a 2020 season.

Less than five months before their season opener, and amid a worldwide pandemic with no definite end in sight, his 2020 season is again in question.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said last week on a radio show he’d be “shocked” if NFL or college football happens this fall.

That didn’t put Criner or Sendelbach at ease.

“I have been stressing about that the last couple weeks now,” Criner said. “What Herbstreit said has been playing with my head. I don’t want to wait two freaking years to play in a game again.”

“It’s definitely scary that might be a possibility,” Sendelbach said. “But you just assume the season will happen to keep your mind from going crazy.”

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