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Eastern Washington University Football

Eastern Washington quarterbacks now have experience to pair with talent

By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

After wrapping up spring practices, the Eastern Washington football team is now closer to the next season than it is from the last, and head coach Aaron Best had the next phase on his mind Friday after the Red-White Game.

“Now it’s about carryover,” Best said. “They took great strides from practice (No.) 1 to practice (No.) 14 tonight. It’s a matter of bridging that over the summer.”

Best was referring to the defense, but his sentiment applies for the entire roster, which is hoping to turn around its 4-7 record from a year ago and get back to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2021.

Best spoke positively not just about the energy or the trajectory of the team but also about its attitude.

“They’re not ready, but they’re getting better,” Best said. “Some of the most fun practices of my career have been this spring. These guys have wanted to get better. I think they’re ready to take the next step.”

It’s still four months until the Eagles open the fall season with a home game Aug. 29 against Monmouth (New Jersey). But the spring highlighted and hinted what this team will look like then.

The defense is going to rely on young talent

Predictably, the spring game featured younger players so as to avoid injuries to upperclassmen. Redshirt junior safety Armani Orange and senior linebacker Derek Tommasini, for example, didn’t play at all, while other veterans like defensive end Brock Harrison, tackle Matthew Brown and cornerback Darrien Sampson played only a few series.

But Best has indicated all spring that this is the time for some of the sophomores and redshirt freshmen to position themselves to earn significant roles on the team this fall.

On Friday, tree sophomores – 6-foot-5 defensive end Tylin Jackson, linebacker Myles Mayovsky and safety Derek Ganter – started on defense and made impacts. Jackson had a sack and two pass breakups, and Ganter led the team with seven tackles.

There’s also a handful of intriguing freshmen in the secondary, namely JoJo Maxey-Johnson, Jaylon Jenkins, Jonathan Landry and Zion Jones, who have used their redshirts and are ready to contribute.

First-year defensive coordinator Eric Sanders said earlier this month that he has relied on the veteran players to help lead the defense and that they welcomed the contributions of some of the newer faces.

“They’re all in,” Sanders said. “They want to do whatever it takes to be better.”

The quarterback room is deeper, more


The Eagles have coupled talent with experience at the game’s most important position. Redshirt junior Kekoa Visperas has 11 career starts and returns after leading the Big Sky in passing yards per game (275.4) in 2023.

But his primary backups proved last year they could also contribute. Neither Jared Taylor nor Michael Wortham, now seniors, will be asked to throw like Visperas, but they are versatile in that they are comfortable running with the football just as much as they are passing it.

That was apparent Friday, when Taylor ran five times for 58 yards, including a scrimmage-high 45 yards on one play. Wortham is among the conference’s most versatile players, something he showed off in the scrimmage when he caught two passes, completed 3 of 5 throws and also scrambled twice.

Beyond that trio, redshirt freshmen Nate Bell and Aidan Carter completed most of their passes in Friday’s scrimmage and are about to enter their second fall in the program without pressure of playing immediately.

“They looked good,” Best said of Bell and Carter. “Coach (Jim) Chapin does a great job getting (quarterbacks) 1 to 5 ready.”

Specialists roles are settling in

The Eagles now have a special teams coach in Danny McDonald, and at least this spring it looks as if most of the prominent roles are established.

If the scrimmage was any indication, Wortham will continue to return punts and kickoffs, with receiver Efton Chism III – who did not play in the scrimmage – in the mix as he has been the past three years.

Redshirt junior Jackson Cleaver will handle kickoffs and potentially longer field goals, with redshirt sophomore Soren McKee coming on for shorter attempts.

The punting position is potentially less settled, with sophomores Brandon Smith and Brady Peterson splitting duties in the scrimmage. Smith’s kicks had plenty of distance but not much air Friday. Peterson had the loft that looked much more like what Nick Kokich gave his kicks the past four years for the Eagles.

Those are the only four kickers and punters on the roster.

Eastern will play 12 regular-season games in the fall, an occasional quirk of the college football schedule. Half of those games will be in Cheney, beginning with two in a row: Aug. 29 against Monmouth and Sept. 7 against Drake.