Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now
Eastern Washington University Football

Eastern Washington football starts fall camp with new-look roster, coaching staff

White Team quarterback Michael Wortham celebrates his 19-yard run for a touchdown with teammate wide receiver Jacolby Cochran against Red Team during the EWU football 2023 Red-White Game, Friday, April 28, 2023, on Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

With 30 days to go until they open their season against North Dakota State in Minneapolis, the Eastern Washington football team heads back to practice on Thursday for the first time as a full squad since spring ball.

It’s a new-look team as compared to last year. Redshirt sophomore Kekoa Visperas is the clear No. 1 option at quarterback after filling in late last season. The defense has been restocked with summer transfers and returners who are looking to stay healthier than last year. They have four new positional coaches who bring new perspectives and ideas to the staff.

The schedule, like last season, does them no favors. Of their first five opponents, one is an FBS team – Fresno State – that won 10 games last year, and the other four are all ranked or receiving votes in the preseason FCS Coaches Poll.

It is particularly crucial that the Eagles sharpen up quickly.

Here are three storylines to follow heading into practices, which will include scrimmages on Aug. 19 and 26 at Roos Field.

What sort of impact will late transfers make?

The Eagles added eight transfers to their roster over the summer, including four front-seven defenders, a running back and three offensive linemen.

The defensive reinforcements are particularly noteworthy.

Redshirt junior Caleb Oppan was originally a three-star recruit and started his career at Duke, where he played minimally in 2021 before reportedly stepping away from football for medical reasons in 2022. He could give a boost to a defensive front that barely had enough healthy players to compete in the Red-White Game last spring.

Da’Marcus Johnson, another senior transfer, played in 29 games at Fresno State over the past three seasons in a reserve and special teams role. The 6-foot-4 defensive end could also provide an infusion to a spot where the Eagles rotated in a number of players last season.

Senior linebackers Ben Allen (Bucknell) and Adam Cohen (UCLA) elevate the experience level of a group that was young a year ago.

Allen was a team captain for Bucknell (a Patriot League member) and tied for second on the team with 83 tackles. He was named second-team all-league. Cohen played in two games for the Bruins last season and eight overall in his four years at UCLA.

Junior running back Malik Dotson is a transfer from Feather River (California) College, where he played with EWU quarterback Jared Taylor, who participated in spring ball. The 6-foot, 200-pound back rushed 114 times for 1,057 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, and also caught 11 passes for 233 yards and three TDs.

Originally from Lakewood (Arlington, Washington) High – where he played with Taylor – Dotson’s role on the offense will be interesting to follow. The Eagles return their top three rushers from last year in Tuna Altahir, Justice Jackson and Micah Smith.

There are also three new offensive linemen, with redshirt sophomore Brock Gunderson (BYU), junior Dillan Misa’alefua (San Mateo in California) and junior Aidan Corning (Butte College, Simon Fraser) joining a group that is consistently among the team’s strongest position groups.

Who emerges in the backfield?

Dotson joins a group that should provide plenty of competition during practices.

While Altahir, now a redshirt sophomore, returns after leading the team in rushing in 2022, his 420 rushing yards ranked 21st in the Big Sky, one spot ahead of Jackson (now a junior), who had 403.

Redshirt senior Isaiah Lewis did not play last season but has appeared in 17 games for the Eagles over his career, rushing 53 times for 354 yards. He is back. So is redshirt senior Micah Smith, who started twice last season and has 542 career rushing yards in the program.

There’s also redshirt freshmen Nick Adimora, who led all rushers with 38 yards in the Red-White Game, Talon Betts and redshirt junior Brandon Montoya.

How do key special teams starters step into their roles?

Preseason All-Big Sky punter Nick Kokich was good last season, sending just two of his 55 punts into the end zone for touchbacks, booting 14 at least 50 yards and landing 14 inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

Now a redshirt senior, Kokich will be counted on to repeat that performance, though certainly the Eagles hope to use him less. No Big Sky player punted more last year than Kokich did.

But he’s going to receive the football from a different long snapper this year, as Cody Clements graduated. Redshirt junior Aaron Estrada is positioned to take the starting job, but the Eagles also have freshman Tyson Jacobson, a transfer from Idaho and a Camas, Washington, native, on the roster.

Few teams struggled as much as the Eagles kicking field goals last season. The team finished 4 for 10, the second-worst percentage in the Big Sky. The Eagles also missed a pair of extra-point kicks as well.

Late in the year they turned to freshman Soren McKee, who made his lone field-goal attempt (from 33 yards) and all seven PATs. He also kicked off eight times, three of which went for touchbacks.

McKee is the sole player listed as a kicker on the Eagles’ roster. There are four others listed as punters: Kokich, junior Jackson Cleaver, and true freshmen Brandon Smith and Brady Peterson.

Cleaver, in his three years at Eastern, has made 4 of 6 field goals and 20 of 23 extra points. He has also kicked off 39 times with 12 touchbacks. Presumably, the kicker competition will come down to McKee and Cleaver.