Eastern football appears to have arrived on recruiting radar
Eastern Washington has been victorious at a terrific pace on the football field, no matter the color or composition.
They’ve been winning the hearts of their fans along the way, too.
And if Eagles’ head coach Beau Baldwin is right, he and his crew of coaches – and yes players – are now beginning to win over the minds of some of the best football talent in the region.
That was the assertion last Wednesday when Eastern officially announced their signing class of 2014.
On the field in 2013, Eastern finished 11-3 and participated in, and hosted, its third Football Championship Subdivision semifinal playoff game in four years. Baldwin is 55-22 in his six seasons in Cheney.
Roos Field has more red than in the past, and we’re not just talking turf. Attendance is up over 8,000 per game for the past two seasons, up from the 6,700 range when Baldwin was first hired.
When everything is added together, the numbers are helping Eastern become a much more attractive place to play football for some of the top talent in the region.
Eastern announced the signing of 26 new recruits, 22 from Washington state and all of whom Baldwin and his staff certainly think will have a future on the red turf.
It wasn’t long ago that the top of the Big Sky Conference football food chain belonged - as it might in nature - to Ursus Horribilis Montanis, a.k.a. the Montana Grizzlies.
“It’s night and day, it really is” Baldwin said. “For years we battled Montana who I have the utmost respect for,” Baldwin said. “It’s an incredible program (and) to be quite honest we seldom stood a chance.”
Eastern lost more than they won when they got in those battles, Baldwin said. “Now, when we get in those battles we’re right there and winning a lot of those battles.”
“And we’re winning a lot of them versus some programs at the next level,” Baldwin added. “We had a number of these young men either go on visits or turn down visits with FBS schools.”
The credit goes well beyond what takes place in the football offices, too.
“It’s a tribute to everyone’s hard work, what the administration has done in terms of a game day atmosphere, the facilities upgrades and obviously what the players have done, you know winning games and championships, that kind of led us to be a place where guys are coming here,” Baldwin said.
Recruits are choosing to even make visits just to catch a football game and absorb some of the new energy that has been unleashed in Cheney on game day. “It’s not even taking them the official visit for them to get the feel that ‘yeah, I want to be here,’ which is a new thing for us,’” Baldwin said.
Eastern’s focus has always been Washington-first. And it starts when a prospect is a year away from graduation. “We start local with juniors and move out from there into the state,” Baldwin said. Then the search extends to Oregon, Idaho, parts of California and other locales in the west like Colorado – specifically Denver – where Eastern discovered Brandon Kaufman, among others.
The process isn’t something Baldwin started, he said. “It’s coach Paul Wulff, coach Mike Kramer, coach Dick Zornes, they’ve been doing a lot of this for years,” Baldwin said. “We’re just continuing in those footsteps because it’s such a great model for your locker room and just the continuity in your team.”
“If we can find that player locally and ultimately find that player within the state it’s something huge in our locker room,” Baldwin said. “We’re going to go out of state when we can’t find that player in state.”
But harvesting in the home state has historically produced a good yield and still does for Eastern.
A player Baldwin points to as an example is quarterback Reilly Hennessey from Camas, near Vancouver, Wash. He might be one of those guys some of the bigger schools let get away. Hennessey’s a Gatorade Player of the Year.
“Within the Northwest, he was our guy,” Baldwin said. “I’ll be the first to admit, I was a little nervous that at some point he would garner something bigger that he couldn’t turn down.”
“We feel really good about his future,” Baldwin said.
And that probably goes for the rest of the program, too.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.