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Eastern Washington University Football

‘I believe in coach Best and in this program’: Fifth-year receivers Efton Chism III, Nolan Ulm affirm commitment to Eastern Washington

By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

It is customary for football coaches to hold end-of-the-season, one-on-one meetings with players, and Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best holds to this custom.

Usually, the meetings last up to an hour. That’s about how long the meeting went with Efton Chism III, a team captain and the Eagles’ leading receiver in 2023.

But Best knew he wanted to set aside a bit more time for Nolan Ulm, the senior receiver who has developed a reputation as a passionate, vocal leader for Eastern.

“It was from 3 to 9, Friday night,” Best said of the end-of-season meeting. “Nolan always goes last on a day.”

Ulm remembered it similarly.

“I got up once to give him a piece of paper,” Ulm said. “We didn’t move. It was a grind, but we had so much to talk about.”

They discussed the 4-7 season that had just come to an end. They talked about how they could continue the upward trajectory they agreed began after a 3-8 season in 2022.

Ulm brought the players’ perspective; Best explained where the coaches were coming from.

Both appreciated the other’s passion.

“It’s almost like a coach-to-coach conversation, because you have to have some of the leaders understand what language we’re talking as coaches,” Best said. “But I think the biggest (topic) was, where do we go from here?”

That’s the question the Eagles worked to answer during the offseason, and it’s the primary focus of spring practices this month at Roos Field in Cheney.

Those practices will culminate in the annual Red-White Game on April 26.

Ulm is back for his fifth season with the program. So is Chism . So are many others who might have chosen to transfer or be done with college football, no doubt a positive sign for the program.

“For me, it was just huge to have some of those exit (interviews) with our coaches to see what the plans were going forward,” Ulm said.

In an era when transferring is easier than ever, Chism and Ulm could have found other places to play their senior year. They both want to win championships. They both aspire to play in the NFL.

And in the end, they both determined Eastern gave them a great opportunity to achieve those goals.

“There was no question this was the best spot for me,” Ulm said. “Everybody was asking me if I was going to hit the portal. I can only imagine what it was like for Efton.”

Chism walked through his decision-making process independent of Ulm’s, but he came to a similar conclusion.

“Obviously, looking out and seeing all the people in the (transfer) portal, I definitely thought about it,” Chism said. “But (looking) at what we had on offense, with (junior quarterback) Kekoa (Visperas), Nolan, the offensive line, why would I leave? We have all the pieces here.”

The return of Ulm and Chism – the team’s top two receivers in 2023 – gives the Eagles even more continuity on offense, the side of the ball for which Eastern has long carried an expectation of excellence.

Since the start of the 2021 spring season, Ulm and Chism have both played in 41 games. Ulm has 83 catches for 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns over that span; Chism has 226 receptions – third most in EWU history – along with 2,541 receiving yards and 24 receiving touchdowns.

“Efton Chism’s not going to end up catching Cooper Kupp,” Best said, referring to the FCS all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. “But second place isn’t bad when Cooper Kupp is sitting in first place.”

Kupp’s success in the pros after graduating from EWU is another reason Chism was happy to stay in Cheney rather than playing his final year elsewhere. Kupp, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the third round and went on to be a Super Bowl MVP, paved a path for players such as Chism to follow.

“The end goal is to get to the NFL,” Chism said. “Producing with these guys one more time will (give me a chance to) do that.”

Ulm, too, pays attention to former Eagles in the NFL – a list that also includes wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who last month re-signed with the New England Patriots on a three-year deal – and noted that there are many paths to get there.

He also said that being a receiver is different than playing other positions, like cornerback, the position of his former teammate Marlon Jones Jr., who transferred to Vanderbilt last offseason.

Cornerbacks can just lock down a receiver all game, Ulm said, but receivers need the whole offense to be clicking to show what they can do.

Ulm is certain that Eastern’s offense will be doing that this fall.

“I believe in coach Best and in this program,” Ulm said. “I know we can make it back to where we need to be.”