Preseason accolades have been coming at Eric Barriere like a blitzing linebacker.
Eastern Washington’s dynamic senior quarterback has been mentioned among the top offensive players at the Football Championship Subdivision level since 2018, when his cannon arm and shifty feet helped the Eagles reach the program’s second national title game.
He did much of the same in 2019, but it was a much different story when he spearheaded an offense that ranked No. 1 in yards per game (524 yards per game).
Barriere, a preseason All-American and preseason Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year, embarrassed mostly losing teams in his junior campaign, but had droughts against the conference’s stouter defenses as EWU finished 7-5 and missed the postseason.
He was coy about a nagging leg injury that made him reluctant to run the football much of the 2019 season, but mentioned it later that year. He was adjusting to a first-year offensive coordinator, too.
Ian Shoemaker, the former Central Washington head coach in his second season at EWU, recently admitted that he and Barriere weren’t always on the same page.
“There was a transition in the first half of the (2019) season,” Shoemaker said. “There were some things (the two of them) didn’t see eye to eye on. We were learning each other. There were times maybe I was wrong, maybe he was uncomfortable. But we got more and more comfortable as the year went on and now we’re even tighter.”
Following a 49-46 loss at Jacksonville State when the Eagles totaled 12 fourth-quarter yards, EWU’s deficiencies began to show the following week in a 35-27 upset loss at Idaho, a game that may have been the difference in not earning an at-large playoff bid that season.
Now Barriere, who hasn’t played a game in 15 months, gets to begin his redemption tour at the Kibbie Dome on Saturday when 12th-ranked EWU begins its delayed winter/spring football season against the Vandals.
Idaho returns much the same defense that bottled up Barriere in Moscow – the Vandals jumped out to a 28-0 lead – before he went on a late touchdown barrage in a losing effort.
The Southern California product said he has used the delayed season to shore up weaknesses Big Sky foes Idaho, Montana and Sacramento State exposed that year.
“I’ve worked on staying calm. Not let the defense dictate what you’re trying to do,” Barriere said. “Early in the (2019) season, I wasn’t as calm as I could have been. I let the defense frustrate me instead of letting the game come to me.”
Despite his relatively disappointing season, he still finished fifth in Walter Payton Award voting, essentially the Heisman Trophy of the Division I subdivision.
Many pundits predicted since last spring that Barriere is the top returning quarterback in the FCS, but the wait for this unusual and truncated season tested his resolve. The six-month delay, stressful coronavirus restrictions and protocols and constant uncertainty began to take a mental toll.
Seeing his childhood friends in the Pac-12 Conference play a season while he watched games from his apartment on Saturdays only added to his frustration.
But Barriere, one of EWU’s team captains, still helped lead offseason workouts as he held onto hope.
“I was mad at first, I wanted to be out there to compete,” said Barriere, who threw just four interceptions in 2019. “But this all showed me how things can quickly be taken from you.
“It was hard watching college games in the fall, but I’m glad we waited until now. You saw all those cancellations in the Pac-12, and I wouldn’t have wanted that to be us.”
Barriere, who won’t lose a year of eligibility this spring, will look to build on gaudy numbers that already include 6,300 passing yards, 1,200 rushing yards and 73 total touchdowns.
Reaching a 16-team playoff field is the biggest check mark on his list.
“Missing the playoffs with that team, certain stuff didn’t fall our way,” Barriere said. “It’s lit a fire.”
EWU head coach Aaron Best, who will miss Saturday’s game after testing positive for COVID-19, is fortunate for Barriere’s return.
“He is certainly one of the best players in this league and at this level,” Best said. “I can’t wait to see what is in store.”
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