For a workday the smiles sure were plentiful last Thursday.
That’s likely because the Eastern Washington University Eagles hit the football field for the first time since Dec. 17 of last year and their gut-wrenching 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State University in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals.
They appear quite eager to try to get the taste of that bitter defeat out of their mouths and begin preparation to hopefully make another deep playoff run in 2013.
The first scrimmage of the spring will be Saturday at about 11 a.m. at Roos Field with another to follow April 20 before the annual Red-White game April 27.
Faced with the loss of his three big receivers, Brandon Kaufman, Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd, plus key defensive players like Zach Johnson, Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin is excited to see how his depth allows him to fill holes.
“First off I’m excited as a whole about all the different young players that are going to get a chance,” Baldwin said.
While Baldwin sees players in most every position finally getting a chance to emerge from the shadows of those on both sides of the ball who had lengthy careers, it is the receiver spots that can hardly be ignored.
But it’s not a daunting task because Baldwin’s been there many times.
“Just like it was for the D-line in 2009 when we lost Greg Peach, Jason Belford, Lance Witherspoon, you know and you’re excited for that new crew,” he said.
Or, Baldwin said, “When Matt Nichols left, who’s that next quarterback, when Bo (Levi Mitchell) leaves, who’s that next one?”
It’s always exciting for that new crew. “We’ve gotten to see what they can do in practice,” Baldwin said. “Now they get to put that out there and compete, the fans get to see a little bit more of that.”
This is as large of a group that Baldwin can remember in any spring. “We just don’t have a lot of guys leaving the program other than graduating or their eligibility running out,” Baldwin said.
The depth will improve in August when new recruits suit up, he said.
Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams still has vivid visions of Bearkats he can’t seem to shed. “That game, Sam Houston State, 45-42, it’s been on my mind,” Adams said. “We just have unfinished business.”
And with his Big-3 receivers having departed in pursuit of opportunities in professional football, Adams has to make some adjustments. The targets he said got smaller, but speedier.
“Basically I can’t throw it too high, our tallest receiver is 6 (foot), 1 (inch),” Adams said. “It’s a blessing ‘cause they’re all fast.” They are playmakers, he explained. “I just give it to them real quick.”
On paper the sophomore Adams comes in as the heir apparent to the quarterback job. But he doesn’t look at it that way. “We still have two other quarterbacks, Jordan West, a redshirt freshman, strong arm, tall, athletic; and Anthony Vitto, knows the offense, he’s athletic.
“I’m just coming out here trying to compete, trying to win the job,” Adams said.
Adams showed up on day one of spring drills with noticeable razor cuts through each of his eyebrows. The lines were a prank perpetrated by his buddies when Adams was visiting back in Pasadena. It was done while he was sleeping, he said.
A light rain greeted players last Thursday but it didn’t bother another sophomore.
“Football’s football, you play it any weather,” safety Jordan Tonani said. “ I grew up in Spokane, we know what it’s all about here.”
Like Adams, Tonani got plenty of minutes in 2012, especially when Jeff Minnerly was injured. “I’m excited getting back on the field but it’s a different feel coming in than as a freshman,” he said.
Tonani is noticeably a bit more bulky in spring ball. “The weight room’s been so good, we’ve been working so hard,” he said.
“Just the thought of losing that game, coming back and falling short, it’s with all of us every day,” Tonani said. “It’s been pushing us in the weight room and it’s been showing.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.