What began as a normal spring week of practice turned sharply after the Tuesday night draft for the Eastern Washington football team.
It was then that the Eagles split in preparation for the Red-White spring game, something the program hadn’t held since 2019.
“We did the draft, and you started to feel, not this division, but we were getting competitive within the team,” said sophomore receiver Nolan Ulm, who had never played in the spring game.
“It was very exciting,” Ulm said. “You actually get to put on a show.”
Playing for the White team, Ulm caught four passes for a scrimmage-best 154 yards and two touchdowns. But the rest of Ulm’s team accounted for just 86 yards, and the Red squad rolled to a 39-15 victory Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney.
Head coach Aaron Best – who did not coach on either side of the split staff and instead played the role of a highly invested fan – bestowed the Golden Eagle most valuable player award on the entire Red defense, which held the White side to zero net rushing yards on 11 rushes.
“If you can’t pick one, it’s a really good thing or a really bad thing,” Best said. “If you’re trying to find one, that’s a bad thing. If you can’t pick one, then it’s probably a decent thing where collectively I think they played really well.
“They played good, sound, solid football.”
The Red defense intercepted three passes from the White squad’s two quarterbacks, Trey Turner and Kekoa Visperas, and also forced a fumble. Each of those plays was worth three points in the final score.
Red gained 201 yards on 29 carries and another 161 yards through the air, ending with a 362-240 advantage in total offense.
Redshirt freshman Davante Smith led all running backs with 124 yards on nine carries, including a 70-yard burst.
“He’s just electric,” Best said of Smith. “Every time he finds a seam, he makes more than he probably should with the opportunity.”
Fellow freshman running back Brandon Montoya had 77 yards and a touchdown on his seven carries. Sophomore Justice Jackson added 40 yards on six rushes and also scored a touchdown for the Red team.
Senior Gunner Talkington – whom Best said would enter the fall as the No. 1 quarterback – took the first snaps with the Red team and finished 5 for 10 for 59 yards. He connected with sophomore Efton Chism III for a 19-yard touchdown when Chism found space in the middle of the field, reversed course and dashed the last 15 yards for the score.
Senior Ryan Kelley finished 2 for 5 for 6 yards, and junior Simon Burkett completed all eight of his attempts for 96 yards for the Red team.
Turner took the majority of snaps for the White team, and the sophomore finished 8 of 15 for 175 yards. Visperas, a redshirt freshman, completed 5 of 14 attempts for 65 yards.
Best cautioned against reading too much into statistics for the team’s quarterbacks, who are all looking to replace Walter Payton Award winner Eric Barriere as the Eagles’ starter in the fall.
“Every one of those guys is better, without a doubt, than they were when they started spring,” Best said. “That’s with a new coordinator (and) a new position coach (Jim Chapin).
“That’s with a lot of new faces around them. That’s without Eric Barriere, at the end of the day, so now, it’s a little more competitive, knowing there is a seat open.”
The Eagles will pivot toward their summer offseason, during which Best said he hoped the team would focus on getting into “football shape” after gaining strength over the winter. The Eagles also hired four new coaches this off-season, and so spring football was as much about getting everyone familiar with each other as anything else.
“We have got to hit this ground running,” Best said, “when we get to August with all the parts, more bodies (and the) same coaches.”
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