It is August, and the Eastern Washington football team is holding its second scrimmage of the preseason.
Almost two dozen players are not participating, most of whom would later start the season opener, a 36-29 Eagles’ victory over Tennessee State.
On this August morning at Roos Field in Cheney, sophomore wide receiver Efton Chism III is not standing by idly. He spends time among the other receivers. He talks to the other returners. He even spends time holding snaps for the kickers, a job for which he is not listed on the depth chart.
Chism is just … present.
“He cares about everybody, and that’s a great quality to have,” Eagles coach Aaron Best said earlier in the preseason. “He’s an awesome son, awesome brother, awesome boyfriend – just an awesome individual. … He’s (one of) a few guys over the years (who) just make everybody around them better.”
Including the season opener last week, Chism has played in 21 games for Eastern Washington. In those games, he has 87 catches for 1,075 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He did not redshirt, but he is still considered just a sophomore because his first season was the spring-shortened, seven-game COVID-19 campaign.
He is already respected around the conference, one of just four sophomores named to the preseason All-Big Sky team. And he is looked to as a leader – and a key target for quarterback Gunner Talkington – for an Eagles team looking to earn the program’s third victory over a Pac-12 team this Saturday in Eugene against Oregon.
“You have a dream growing up of playing against these people,” Chism said this week, referring to Oregon. “I’m going to take it all in, but we want to go out there and prove we have the talent to compete with those guys.
“We want to show the rest of the world that Eastern football, we’re good. People need to know who we are.”
‘To the T, perfect’
People certainly know who Chism is. The guy teammates call “Ef,” “Ee,” “Chiz” or “Third” finished third on the team in receptions (57) a year ago and first in touchdowns (nine) while also returning kickoffs and punts.
He’s done this before, too. In high school, Chism played varsity in nine games as a freshman and in 12 games as a sophomore, the year his game took off. He caught 58 passes for 915 yards and 12 touchdowns for Monroe (Washington) High that year. The team finished 10-2 and reached the State 4A playoffs.
“Everything he does is to the T, perfect,” said Jaedyn Prewitt, a senior at Whitworth who quarterbacked that 10-2 Monroe team. “His preparation and work ethic is the best I’ve ever seen.”
That Monroe team produced a number of college football players, including lineman Joshua Jerome and running back Isaiah Lewis, Chism’s current teammates at Eastern. Receiver Isaiah Cole and quarterback Gio Fregoso, who backed up Prewitt at Monroe, ended up at Whitworth.
Michael Bumpus, the former Washington State and Seattle Seahawks receiver, was Monroe’s coach then. It is to Bumpus that Chism gives much credit for his growth as a football player.
“He was there from the start, my first day of football, starting in eighth grade,” Chism said. “Without him, I don’t see my football career going the way it has gone.”
Up until then, Chism’s focus had been on soccer and baseball, and Bumpus knew his skills were raw. But Bumpus saw how Chism could control his body, and that pointed to great potential as a football player.
“I think that’s how you could really tell he was advanced,” said Bumpus, who works as a sports analyst for various outlets. “I remember thinking that he could control his body in ways kids his age really didn’t do.”
Once Chism put on football pads, Bumpus saw the young receiver’s competitiveness, and during their years together they developed a strong bond.
Chism said he considers Bumpus to be another father figure in his life, along with his own dad, Efton Chism II.
Whenever he goes back to Monroe, Chism tries to see Bumpus and his family, if possible, and they text frequently and talk on the phone after games.
“He just held me to a high standard,” Chism said of Bumpus. “He was holding me to a higher standard than a lot of people in my corner do.”
Chism finished his high school career with 153 receptions for 2,430 yards and 29 receiving touchdowns, but he also made an impact rushing the ball (375 yards) and returning kicks (1,143) and punts (137).
If all of that sounds a whole lot like a certain former Eastern Washington receiver who is a star for the Los Angeles Rams, well, it is a comparison those around the Eagles are often cautious about making. Cooper Kupp set many records not just for Eastern but also for the whole of the FCS, and it would be difficult for Chism to top those even if he had monster seasons as a sophomore, junior and senior.
Chism recognizes Kupp as one in a long line of former Eastern receivers he looks up to, including Kendrick Bourne (now with the New England Patriots) and others, like Nsimba Webster, Brandon Kaufman, Shaq Hill and Talolo Limu-Jones, someone who “really took me under his wing,” Chism said.
Chism and Limu-Jones roomed together on away game trips last year, Chism said.
As Limu-Jones talked about Kupp and talked about playing in a national title game, Chism listened.
Saturday’s game in Eugene marks the second time Eastern has played Oregon. In the previous meeting, in 2015, the Eagles did their best to keep up, gaining 549 yards in a 61-42 loss. The Ducks racked up 731 yards of offense, including 485 rushing.
Kupp was a menace to the Ducks’ defense: He had 15 receptions for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
The Eagles aren’t necessarily asking Chism to do anything like that. They are confident in their corps of receivers, and as they showed last week when seven players caught at least two passes (Chism led the way with seven for 73 yards and two scores).
They, like Chism, just want to show what they can do against a Power Five program.
“We’ve got this group that is willing to do anything to help the team,” Chism said. “I don’t think it’s all about accolades. Everyone wants the main goal to be the main goal. We’re locked in.”
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