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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer to be inducted into Big Sky Hall of Fame

Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer runs toward receiver Eric Kimble as they walk off the field at Carbondale, Illinois, with a 35-31 win over Southern Illinois.  (Spokesman-Review Photo Archives)
By Dave Cook The Spokesman-Review

In 2000, it was a long shot that the small college town of Cheney, could be linked with the midsized California city of La Mirada.

But a secret love of snowboarding proved to be the tipping point for Eastern Washington University in the recruitment of quarterback Erik Meyer.

The unlikely association of cities more than 1,200 miles apart not only created prolific numbers for the Eagles football program 20 years ago, but it has also produced the second Eagles football player to be inducted into the Big Sky Conference Hall of Fame. Meyer, a former Walter Payton Award winner in college and league player of the year when he played professionally for the Spokane Shock, has earned that distinction, the conference announced Thursday.

Meyer will be honored in the third class of inductees, with the ceremony set to take place July 20 in Spokane.

He said he’ll use the occasion to honor the players and coaches from the two conference championships he was a part of in 2004 and 2005.

“It’s kind of the same as winning the Walter Payton Award – this is more than just an individual accomplishment,” Meyer said. “I’m very blessed and excited for it, but it goes deeper, back to the great teams we had at Eastern. This is a group award. I’m honored to be a part of that, and there are a lot of people who helped me earn this.”

Meyer’s head coach when he played at Eastern – Paul Wulff – is now his boss. Meyer is quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at Cal Poly, where Wulff took over as head coach in 2023 after former Eagle Beau Baldwin held the position for three seasons.

“I owe a big thanks to him for giving me the opportunity to even pursue my love of football at the next level,” said Meyer, now 42, of becoming a college football player under Wulff.

“I’ve known Coach Wulff for 24 years now – it’s kind of surreal that your first coach in college becomes a really good friend, a colleague together under Coach Baldwin and now as our head coach. I’ve seen Coach Wulff in many different aspects and it’s been a fun adventure these last four years.”

Former Washington State University star quarterback Timm Rosenbach was an assistant at Eastern in 2000 when he reached out to Meyer in La Mirada for the first time. Rosenbach, as well as former Eagles strength and conditioning coach Darin Lovat, are also back at Cal Poly.

“It’s almost like I’m back again in college playing,” Meyer said of seeing his former coaches on a daily basis again.

Eastern played at Cal State Northridge on Oct. 28, 2000. The night before, Rosenbach watched Meyer play for La Mirada High School, located between Los Angeles and Anaheim. Meyer then attended the EWU game and met Wulff for the first time.

Meyer and his family developed a close relationship with EWU, and Meyer made his official visit to Cheney in the dead of winter.

“I left 70 degrees in Los Angeles to what seemed like 10 degrees and 3 feet of snow in Cheney,” Meyer said. “But that wasn’t as much of a culture shock as when I lived there. Instead of just one weekend, I experienced life there month to month and truly saw the four seasons.”

The snow swayed him, in a good way.

“I was a big snowboarder growing up and in high school,” he said of his weekly winter trips to Mountain High Resort and Big Bear Mountain near Los Angeles. “I love the mountains and I love the snow, so when I was up at Eastern I loved how close we were to get to some ski resorts.”

Skiing and the risk for injury is a taboo for college athletes – especially those on scholarship and playing such an impactful position as quarterback.

Nevertheless, Meyer kept his passion secret – for two seasons at least.

“I don’t know if they really knew my first two years there, but going into my redshirt sophomore year I sort of laid off the snowboarding,” he said.

Fred Salanoa was EWU’s record-setting quarterback when Meyer arrived as a redshirt freshman in fall 2001. Josh Blankenship transferred to Eastern from Tulsa for the 2002 season, and Meyer saw some action that season as his backup.

In 2003, Meyer and redshirt freshman Skyler Allen were locked in a tight battle for the starting position.

As it turned out, a second-half comeback fueled by Meyer at Idaho gave him the starting nod for good.

That is, it was a comeback if a lone touchdown and 2-point conversion generated by Meyer counts as a comeback. The result was one of the oddest final football scores imaginable, 8-5.

“It was a like a baseball game we won 8-5,” said Meyer, who had a 90 mph fastball as a pitcher in high school and was drafted three times by Major League Baseball.

He doesn’t think about the great “what-if” he didn’t win the starting job in 2003, or if he didn’t come to Eastern at all, or if he would have picked baseball over football.

“I just think about how I took advantage of my opportunities,” he said. “After the Idaho game, I felt like it was my turn to take over the reins as being the next quarterback at Eastern Washington.”

Eastern finished 6-5 in 2003, but in 2004 the Eagles were 9-4 with Meyer as the starter the entire season and won a share of the conference title with a 6-1 mark. In 2005, the Eagles were 7-5 and repeated as co-champs in the Big Sky at 5-2 as Meyer won the Payton Award given to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (then known as I-AA).

EWU quarterback Erik Meyer runs toward receiver Eric Kimble as they walk off the field at Carbondale, Illinois, with a 35-31 win over Southern Illinois University.  (Spokesman-Review Photo Archives)
EWU quarterback Erik Meyer runs toward receiver Eric Kimble as they walk off the field at Carbondale, Illinois, with a 35-31 win over Southern Illinois University. (Spokesman-Review Photo Archives)

Meyer was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year as a junior and senior, and earned All-America honors both seasons.

With a completion percentage of 65.7, 10,261 yards, 84 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions in 42 career games, Meyer broke the FCS record for efficiency rating by quarterbacks with at least 400 completions with a rating of 166.47. He became the 17th player in FCS history to pass for more than 10,000 yards in his career,

“I went through some growing pains in my first year as starting, but in 2004 our team really flipped the switch,” he said. “We figured out who we wanted to be and what we had to do to get it done.”

He recalls another comeback, a 51-44 overtime win at Montana State to end the 2004 regular season, as his fondest memory of his career at EWU. Eastern was down 31-10 at halftime and behind in the fourth quarter with the conference title and playoff berth on the line.

“That win was really, really unique and there were a lot of things in that game that stood out,” he said. “If we lose that game, we’re not in the playoffs, we aren’t conference champions and its just another winning season at Eastern. That comeback and victory truly means a lot to me. It was a fun one.”

As a senior, Meyer became the 12th player in FCS history to throw for at least 4,000 yards in a single season (he finished with 4,003). He also had 30 touchdowns, just five interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 169.3.

“One thing that sticks out to me about the 2004 and 2005 teams was the camaraderie and nucleus we had,” he said. “You hear coaches say the great teams coach themselves, police themselves and discipline themselves. That was our team and what made us special.

“We played for each another, we truly loved one another and we respected each other. Obviously, you can see the results in the success we had.”

Meyer had opportunities with three National Football League teams – Cincinnati, Seattle and Oakland – plus one in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Those didn’t pan out, but he did find a professional home in arena football, becoming a mainstay with the Spokane Shock starting in 2010. He played five seasons there before finishing his career with the San Jose SaberCats.

It was an injury in 2012 that propelled Meyer into coaching. He spent time at La Mirada, Eastern Washington and Central Washington while he was still playing in the AFL, then became a full-time coach at La Mirada where his younger brother by 16 years, Tristan, played.

“As a player, I never understood how much work goes into it behind the scenes until I became a coach,” he said. “For coaches, especially during the season, there are long days of preparation. We are always watching video, trying to make corrections and always want to put our players in the best situations possible to gain an advantage.”

Meyer worked at California with Baldwin for three seasons before landing together again at Cal Poly.

Their first year with the Mustangs was the shortened COVID-19 season in 2020. Baldwin left after the 2022 season with just four victories in 25 games, then Wulff was 3-8 in his first season at the helm in 2023.

After being a part of 28 victories overall and 17 in the Big Sky in the four seasons he played at EWU (not counting his redshirt season), the last four at Cal Poly have yielded just seven wins overall and three conference triumphs.

“These losses might even hurt more as a coach because of how much time and effort you put into it, and how much you want to teach your players and get them to perform and execute,” he said of not taking victories for granted. “You want them to have the sensation of winning. There is a lot that goes into it, but all of it is worth it.”