(This is the first in a series of preseason previews on 2013 EWU football.)
In the Eastern Washington University football program, players wait their turn – and there is no such thing as a panic button.
Thus, despite the annual ritual of filling holes – with some of them more gaping than others at the conclusion of the 2012 season – the Eagles see it as an opportunity for others to fill new roles.
Head coach Beau Baldwin, who enters his sixth season at the helm, has 48 returning letterwinners back for the 2013 season, including 25 on offense and 21 on defense, plus a punter and a kicker. There is also a solid group of freshmen who redshirted in 2012, as well a strong group of incoming players joining the team when practices begin August 7.
“Every year is like that, and it’s exciting to see the new youth and talent we have in our program,” Baldwin said.
Among the returning letterwinners are seven starters on offense and 5 1/2 on defense. All-American linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, All-America cornerback T.J. Lee and All-America offensive guard Steven Forgette are back, as well as three others who earned Freshman All-America accolades – quarterback Vernon Adams, safety Jordan Tonani and return specialist Shaquille Hill.
The Eagles lost all three of their starting wide receivers, three of four starting defensive linemen and a pair of starting linebackers. But at each position, EWU has plenty of returning experience, plus a strong group of redshirt freshmen waiting in the wings.
A total of 33 players with 301 career starts return for the 2013 season. In 2012, the Eagles returned 40 players with a combined 348 starts between them, and ended up finishing 11-3 overall and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. But in EWU’s national championship season in 2010, a total of just 24 players with starting experience (total of 196 starts) returned.
“Even though we have positions with a lot of experience returning, there are a lot of players battling – there is competition throughout our team,” Baldwin said. “If you are able to build a program that puts out a good product and consistently wins season after season, you need to end up with competition.”
Eastern’s 2012 season ended with a 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State in the semifinals, denying the Eagles a repeat trip to Texas to play for the NCAA Division I title they won in 2010.
Eastern was ranked fourth in the final regular season Sports Network Top-25 poll and was seeded second in the playoffs, finishing the 2012 season 11-3.
Eastern opens the season Aug. 31 at Oregon State in Corvallis. Two weeks later, the Eagles travel to play Toledo, then EWU plays at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas, Sept. 28.
“Our team can’t wait to play FBS schools,” Baldwin said.
Eastern’s home opener is at Roos Field in a nonconference game versus Western Oregon, Sept. 7.