Eagles get their SWABs awards, hand out many others at annual football banquet
Eastern Washington’s football season came to an end on the football field following a disappointing 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State University in the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Dec. 15.
It officially came to a close last Sunday night at the Pence Union Building with a sold out annual awards banquet. The evening was a time where seniors were honored – some lightly roasted – and the accomplishments of many others acknowledged by various coaches and athletic department personnel.
The Eagles finished as the No. 4 ranked team in the final Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top-25 poll. Eastern finished the 2012 season 11-3 and won a share of the school’s sixth Big Sky Conference championship. It was the fourth 10-plus win in school history, joining the 2010, 1997 and 1967 squads.
Eastern’s run through the playoffs garnered the Eagles the Inland Empire Sports Writers and Broadcasters (SWABs) Team of the Year, an award presented by the SWABs Ed Sharman. It was Eastern’s third such award with past honors coming in 2010 for the national championship team and the 1967 squad that were the runners-up for the NAIA football championship.
“They went down swinging with everything they had,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said of his team that rallied from a 35-0 halftime deficit and closed to within a touchdown two different times before closing to within a field goal but having the Bearkats run out the clock.
EWU coach Beau Baldwin won the SWABs Coach of the Year for the second time in three years. Baldwin joined four other former Eagle coaches as award winners including Ray Giacoletti (2004 - basketball), Dick Zornes (1992 - football), Curt Byrnes (1977 - wrestling) and Dave Holmes (1967 - football). Baldwin was also the runner-up for the national FCS Eddie Robinson award as national coach of the year.
Junior wide receiver Brandon Kaufman was the SWABs Amateur Athlete of the Year, becoming the third Eastern player in a row to earn the honor, joining J.C. Sherritt and Bo Levi Mitchell in a category now dominated recently by EWU football.
Kaufman broke the FCS record for single season receiving yards with 1,850, and finished the year with 93 receptions and 16 touchdowns. The Denver, Colo., native is now pursuing professional opportunities, and was not at the banquet. He was at the National Football League Combine in Indianapolis, Ind., where he had the 19th-best overall grade out of 38 wide receivers.
“Kaufman made the tough things look easy,” Baldwin said.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Best said Kaufman was “one of the toughest competitors,” he’d ever seen as Best watched Kaufman play with a separated shoulder through practically the entire 2010 championship season and a broken finger in a shorted 2011 campaign.
Baldwin was the emcee for the night and talked of the road of progress this particular group of players – especially the seniors - had traveled. They’ve earned two FCS Final-Four appearances and one national championship.
“This is a special group for a lot of reasons,” Baldwin said. “We went from a grass field and a high school scoreboard,” he said of the journey this group of players has taken from Woodward Field to the nationally known red turf and state of the art scoreboard at Roos Field.
Eastern’s 16 seniors, including the team’s four co-captains – linebacker Zach Johnson, defensive end Paul Ena, wide receiver Nicholas Edwards and offensive tackle Will Post all had special recognition as team captains. A trio of players were honored for receiving regional and national academic awards, including Academic All-American Jeff Minnerly out of Spokane’s Ferris High School. As a team the Eagles earned a 3.01 GPA.
Chase King received his just rewards for playing all 14 games in 2012. As a result of his 10 tackles – many on kick coverage units – King was selected as Special Teams Player of the Year.
Five other Eagles were given team accolades, including Defensive Player of the Year Ronnie Hamlin, Offensive Player of the Year Brandon Kaufman, Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year Miquiah Zamora and Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp.
The Tom Oswald Award is relatively new and honors the memory of the longtime Cheney football coach who passed away in 2006. “Football and community were the cornerstones of Tom Oswald,” EWU sports information director Dave Cook said while presenting this year’s award to former Eagle and current EWU Police Department officer Jay Day. Day was selected in part because he follows Oswald’s creed of, “doing the right thing for youth.”
Receiving the Pat Roberts Memorial Award for athletic and academic achievement was Grant Williams. The 2008 graduate of Rogers High School in Puyallup, Wash., started just 10 games in his Eastern career, but was a versatile player at all three linebacker positions and on special teams. He played in 50 career games.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.