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Players fall to EWU and find prime time
Call them Bo Levi and The Not Ready for Pac-12 Players.
That Eastern Washington won a Football Championship Subdivision title last season shouldn’t be a surprise, given that Cheney, Wash. - which sits just 20 miles from Spokane - has access to a good population base.
The school also has a knack of getting players that, whether by academics or talent, get passed over by the bigger schools. Good players make a good program, and Eastern has plenty.
“I got recruited by pretty much everybody in the Pac-12,” said senior defensive tackle Renard Williams, a Buck Buchanan Award candidate for the best defensive player in the FCS. “The Oregons, Washingtons, Arizona. I ended up at Eastern because I was a non-qualifier. It wasn’t necessarily grades; it was that I didn’t have the core classes.”
Williams, a 300-pounder who can run like a linebacker, found a home in Cheney.
“One of the things I loved about Eastern is I would still play a game against a big school every year,” said Williams (and EWU lost at Washington 30-27 to open the season). “I figured if I played well in those games, people would notice.
“It’s everybody’s big dream to go to the big university, but it doesn’t happen for everyone.”
Beau Baldwin, in his fourth season as the Eagles’ head coach, was actually guiding Central Washington the season Williams was recruited. Baldwin had been EWU’s offensive coordinator the year before, in 2006.
“That was the one year I was gone,” he said. “But I’ve seen a number of non-qualifiers who potentially can play at that (Pac-12) level. I’m just glad I got a chance to see Renard play here.
“More importantly, he’s going to graduate in the winter (interdisciplinary liberal arts). A lot of times you have to give young men credit for those years 18 to 22; they can develop quite a bit in that time.”
Williams looks around and sees a defense that, lacking the graduated J.C. Sherritt - who won the 2010 Buchanan Award - is still potent, even if South Dakota’s run game was effective in a 30-17 defeat of the Eagles last week.
Linebacker Zach Johnson, a four-year defensive mainstay along with his twin, safety Matt, has taken Sherritt’s spot on the weakside. Tyler Washburn returns in the middle.
Williams points to defensive end David Gaylord and cornerback T.J. Lee III as key additions, and oddly enough both are non-qualifiers.
So was running back Taiwan Jones, who as a junior ran for 221 yards against the Griz a year ago. Jones left early for the NFL draft, and is now with the Oakland Raiders.
Bo Levi Mitchell doesn’t fit in that category. Coming out of Katy, Texas, he made a visit to Eastern before committing to Hawaii and then, when June Jones changed jobs, to Southern Methodist. He was ready for prime time, starting 19 games for the Mustangs.
“And things happened,” Mitchell said. “I got injured, lost my spot and … the Eastern coaches were honest with me. They said they’d keep following me when I committed somewhere else.
“I’m sure a lot of people say that, but they actually did mean it.”
It helped that Mitchell was charmed by Cheney.
“I’d never seen snow before,” he said. “I thought it’d be fun to play in.”
Lacking Jones, Eastern hasn’t put together much of a running game thus far and Mitchell, who threw for 3,496 yards a year ago, is using his arm even more in 2011 - as in 129 passes in two games.
“It’s going to be a little sore from throwing that many times,” he said. “Our game plan is to be 50-50, be balanced with the run and the pass. But like Coach Baldwin said, once you’re behind 21-0 you kind of have to throw the ball and try to score fast. The games kind of dictate that.”
Mario Brown filled in promisingly for Jones when Jones was hurt during Eastern’s playoff run, but has just 24 rushing yards thus far in 2011. Now that he’s suspended for this game - he threw a punch at a South Dakota player - the carries could fall to sophomore Demitrius Bronson or promising true freshmen Jordan Talley and Quincy Forte.
The receiving corps is more settled. Greg Herd is 6-foot-3, Brandon Kaufman is 6-5 and both put the hurt on opponents, including the Griz, last season. Yet Nicholas Edwards, a 6-3 junior, has the most catches through two games with 25.
“Nick Edwards has been stepping up a lot but I wouldn’t call it a surprise,” Mitchell said. “Because we knew he’d be great. It’s a blessing to have a receiving corps like this.”
The bad news is that the team is still 0-2 as it opens Big Sky Conference play. That gives this game a little more gravity in terms of a repeat run through the FCS playoffs. The prospect of a big early battle with the Griz appeals to Mitchell, who led the Eagles to a 36-27 win over UM last year.
The Eagles are just trading their red turf for Washington-Grizzly Stadium, which is pretty prime-time.
“I haven’t asked about it much,” he said. “I’ve been in some big venues with some big crowds, so that’s one thing I’m not too worried about.
“I’m just going to go out there and play my game.”
Fritz Neighbor, The Missoulian
Read more: http://missoulian.com/college/griz/article_4c3d25da-df41-11e0-b1c3-001cc4c03286.html#ixzz1Y7g6Qoxa