Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of previews for EWU’s 2013 football team.
You can never have enough linebackers.
The Eastern Washington University football team used a lot of them in 2012, and now, must find a way to replace the productivity of six linebackers lost to graduation. Although only two of them were starters, the need for linebackers translates to special teams as well.
“On paper, we lost six linebackers,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin explained. “Some of those seniors were involved in special teams and didn’t play a ton at linebacker. But three or four of them played a lot of snaps at linebacker, so that’s another position where we have some opportunities for new players.”
In 2012, the Eagles had a quartet of linebackers with huge experience. Only one of those players is back. Lost were Zach Johnson, Tyler Washburn and Grant Williams.
But back is senior All-American Ronnie Hamlin, who has started 22 of the 25 games he has played in his career, which was marred by a knee injury costing him his first years in the program.
Hamlin had 136 tackles in 2012, an average of 9.71 per game. After redshirting the 2009 season because of the bum knee, the injury also kept him from playing during Eastern’s national championship season in 2010. Although he is guaranteed only one more season in an Eagle uniform, Hamlin will eventually apply to the NCAA to receive his sixth year.
Another experienced linebacker returning is junior Cody McCarthy, who has started five times. Senior J.C. Agen has four starts.
Three redshirt freshmen are also waiting for their chance to perform – if not on the field, then definitely on special teams. They include converted defensive back Miquiyah Zamora, as well as Cedric Gonzalez and Gaven Deyarmin. Junior Jordan Talley is also in the mix at linebacker after having rushed for 631 yards and eight touchdowns the past two seasons as a running back.
And just to be sure, the Eagles recruited three freshmen, Jake Gall, Albert Havili and John Kreifels, who could be called into duty if needed.
Three of the team’s four starting defensive linemen were lost, but for a team that regularly rotated 10 players in and out of the lineup, experience isn’t a concern.
“We play a lot of defensive linemen during the year, and that gives us a huge benefit at the end of the season,” Baldwin said. “We always say we are going to be as good on defense as our defensive line, and we go from there.”
The lone 2012 starter back is senior tackle Andru Pulu, but Anthony Larry returns for his senior season after starting eight games as a defensive end in 2011.
Other returning letterwinners on the defensive line include seniors Will Katoa and Jakob Pugsley; juniors Evan Day, Dylan Zylstra, Zackary Johnson and John Goldwire; and sophomore Jordan Pulu.
The Eagles also have a trio of non-lettering squad members back, Ashton Boothroyd, Branson Schmidt and Derek Weston plus a redshirt freshman in Zach Wimberly. Weston, however, is expected to miss the season after suffering a dislocated hip during spring practice.
Another area with abundant experience is in the secondary, where three senior starters, another seven-game starter and five other returning letterwinners are back.
The Eagles also received good news in the spring when UCLA 24-game starter Tevin McDonald transferred to EWU. He brings 135 tackles, four interceptions and 14 passes broken up at the Pac-12 level to the Eagles.
His addition made softer the blow during the summer that returning seven-game starter Jordan Tonani would miss the 2013 season because of an injury, requiring surgeries to both hips.
“It’s a great area to have experience,” Baldwin said. “They’ve grown together – a couple of years ago you would have called them an inexperienced group, but they’ve now played a lot of football together.”
Senior All-America cornerback T.J. Lee is back after piling up some impressive statistics in 2012. A 20-game starter in his career, he ranked third on the team with 90 tackles and finished with 11 passes broken up to rank 10th in school history. Safety Allen Brown has even more starting experience in his career with 26 starts. He finished second on the team with 91 tackles in 2012 to help him earn second team All-Big Sky honors.
The third returning starter is Ronald Baines, who has 14 career starts heading into his senior season.
Tonani, a freshman All-American in 2012, finished his redshirt freshman season sixth on the team with 68 tackles, had five passes broken up and led the Eagles with three interceptions.
Other returning letterwinners in the secondary are seniors Bo Schuetzle and Christian Hudnell, junior Isaiah Jenkins and sophomores Todd Raynes and Miles Weatheroy. Schuetzle finished with 18 tackles and a pair of passes broken up, Hudnell had one tackle, Raynes had seven tackles and Weatheroy finished with eight.
Non-lettering squad member Frank Cange, as well as redshirt freshmen Zach Bruce, Jude Isbell, Jordan Thompson and Diamonte Wiggins, add depth.