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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Northern exposure: Former Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere excited to take his shot in the CFL

By Dave Cook The Spokesman-Review

Eric Barriere has never been to Canada, but he’s about to give it a go.

The former Walter Payton Award winner out of Eastern Washington University signed in January to play with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, adding to the growing list of former Eagles quarterbacks to join the league.

After spending his first two years away from EWU playing for a pair of United States Football League franchises, Barriere signed with the same CFL team that held his rights out of college. He still has hopes of getting a crack at the National Football League, but he’s more than happy to continue growing as a professional in the province of Manitoba.

“I’m excited – it was a roller coaster playing in those spring leagues,” he said this winter from his offseason home in Lancaster, California. “I’m just glad I’m moving to a league with some stability, and I’ll get another opportunity to showcase what I can do.”

The Inglewood, California, native will step foot on Canadian soil for the first time in his life on May 5 when he arrives for the start of training camp for the Blue Bombers. Preseason games in the CFL start on May 20, the regular season begins June 6 and the season concludes with the Grey Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Nov. 17.

“I can’t wait,” Barriere said. “I’ve never gone that far north. I’m sure in the winter it will be super cold, so I’ll have to bring out the jackets I had at Eastern all over again.”

Even if he doesn’t have the proper garments, there are plenty of former Eagles in the league who would probably lend him a hand – although they are now his on-the-field enemies.

Barriere joins former Eagles Bo Levi Mitchell (Hamilton Tiger-Cats) and Vernon Adams Jr. (British Columbia Lions) as quarterbacks in the league, and T.J. Lee III is a veteran safety for the Lions. Ryan Phillips is a former B.C. safety and is the team’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

J.C. Sherritt is a linebackers coach at Saskatchewan after spending his entire playing career as a record-breaking linebacker for Edmonton. He played on EWU’s FCS championship team in 2010, along with Mitchell and Lee. Their head coach at EWU was Beau Baldwin, who is the new quarterbacks coach for the Calgary Stampeders.

“Eastern players have made a great impact with the teams they are on,” Barriere said of EWU’s CFL presence. “It provides a great impression on Eastern – so it does give me some comfort.

“I wasn’t even in college when some of them were playing in the CFL,” he added of the future matchups with fellow Eagles. “That’s definitely going to be fun and I can’t wait for that.”

The successful pipeline of former EWU quarterbacks into the league started with Rick Worman in the 1980s, then continued with Matt Nichols in 2010. Barriere broke the school and Big Sky career yardage records held previously by Nichols (2006-09), who played two preseason games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 before playing nine seasons in the CFL from 2011-2021.

Nichols said in spring of 2021 – just as Barriere’s professional game was beginning – that the CFL’s larger field size would be advantageous for Barriere’s strong arm and accuracy.

“I think there is a big future for him in the CFL – especially with the equity EWU has in the league,” Nichols said. “I think he could go up there and be great.”

Barriere turned heads as a sophomore in 2018 when he took over for injured All-America starter Gage Gubrud at midseason and led EWU to the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas. More people noticed as he continued to pile up exciting plays, yards and honors, eventually finishing fifth in the voting for 2019’s Payton Award – which goes to the FCS’s top offensive player – and the runner-up for the award in the COVID-delayed season in 2020-21.

In the fall of 2021, he turned enough new heads to finally win the Payton Award. His senior season concluded in December 2021 with EWU’s third FCS playoff berth in four seasons.

Barriere played in 51 games at EWU from 2016 to 2021, going 32-10 as a starter. He was twice named the Big Sky Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, including in 2021 after throwing for 5,070 yards, 46 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 13 games.

“Eric’s off day is somebody else’s greatest day, which is crazy because of the standard he set for himself, this team and this university,” EWU coach Aaron Best said in spring 2021.

Barriere completed 1,007 of 1,623 passes (62%) for 13,809 yards, 121 touchdowns and 29 interceptions in his college career, while also rushing for 1,585 yards and 22 scores on 376 carries – all of which are school records.

His statistics were what one professional football draft web site called “ridiculous.”

Barriere went unselected in the 2022 NFL draft and did not receive a contract offer after participating in minicamp with the Denver Broncos. The All-American later signed with the Michigan Panthers of the USFL on May 20, 2022. He played two games for a 2-8 team, completing 14 of 24 passes (58.3%) for 118 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and two carries for 13 yards.

After being waived in May , he signed with the New Jersey Generals but did not play in any games for a 3-7 squad.

Since then, the league faced some turbulence and eventually merged with the XFL, relaunching as the United Football League (UFL) during the spring.

“It was good, even though I didn’t get to play as much as I would have liked to showcase my talents on the field,” Barriere said. “But the experience being around players and coaches who have been in the NFL was good. At the end of the day, I couldn’t control some of the things that were going on with the league and team. I’m just glad I had the opportunities – I met a lot of great people and had great relationships with them.”

While he was in the USFL, former EWU offensive tackle Tristen Taylor was playing for the Philadephia Stars. That provided Barriere a connection far from his West Coast roots.

His mobility and accuracy are two of Barriere’s strengths, but his arm strength may be his best asset. At a practice as a freshman at EWU, he won a challenge at practice by throwing the ball farther than All-America punter Jordan Dascalo could kick it.

That arm strength should suit Barriere well in the CFL, where the field is 30 yards longer (including end zones) and 12 yards wider than fields in the the American game. Although there are just three downs to achieve a first down (or a score) in Canada, there are also 12 players on the field per team and the CFL allows forward motion by receivers and running backs.

“I still have to learn the rules and everything,” he said. “But what I can take from my past experiences is being ready competition-wise. The quarterbacks and styles I was able to be around was also helpful. I took knowledge from them and different things that can help my game and my team.”

Winnipeg won CFL titles in 2019 and 2021, and lost 28-24 to Montreal in the 2023 Grey Cup after eliminating British Columbia 24-13 in the West Division Final.

The starter at quarterback is veteran Zach Collaros, who since 2012 has completed 67.2% of his passes in the CFL for 28,599 yards, 184 touchdowns and 86 interceptions.

Former South Dakota standout Chris Streveler and Terry Wilson out of New Mexico are other QBs on the Blue Bombers roster.

Former Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop – a teammate of Barriere’s last year in New Jersey – was also on the Winnipeg roster before signing on Feb. 13 to be a backup to Adams in British Columbia. Prukop played from 2013-15 at MSU, then transferred to Oregon.

The signing of Barriere in mid-January came on the same day Winnipeg traded pending free-agent backup Dru Brown to the Ottawa Redblacks.

“I’m a big football fan, so I keep up with everything,” Barriere said. “They didn’t win it, but year in and year out they are competing for that top spot. I’m happy to go into an organization like that.”

Above all else, Barriere is grateful for the fresh opportunity.

“People have always kind of told me that my game would translate well to the CFL” he said.

“But my plan was always to give the NFL a shot, and see what the USFL in the spring was about in hopes it could provide a path to the NFL. God had a different plan, so now I’ll go to the CFL and hopefully make the best of it.”

“Somebody is going to be happy with him, more importantly as a person,” Best said. “He’s a heckuva player, but he’s a heckuva person. You match those two things together and somebody is going to be very fortunate, because he’s such a gifted person and player.”