EWU football opens spring drills with familiar feel

Senior+quarterback+Gage+Gubrud+hands+the+ball+off+to+junior+running+back+Dennis+Merrit+at+EWU+football%27s+first+spring+practice+on+April+3.+The+Eagles+are+trying+to+improve+on+a+2017-18+season+in+which+they+went+7%E2%80%934+overall%2C+but+missed+out+on+the+FCS+playoffs.+%7C+Mckenzie+Ford+for+The+Easterner

Senior quarterback Gage Gubrud hands the ball off to junior running back Dennis Merrit at EWU football’s first spring practice on April 3. The Eagles are trying to improve on a 2017-18 season in which they went 7–4 overall, but missed out on the FCS playoffs. | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

As second-year EWU head football coach Aaron Best likes to say: “Practice makes permanent.”

Fortunately for Best, his 2018-19 team has a haul of players with plenty of it.

The Eagles began spring drills on April 3 with a multitude of returners, including 56 letter winners and 17 returning starters. Even better, the group will consist of up to 28 seniors (more than the previous two seasons combined), a luxury Best isn’t taking for granted.

“It’s unusual and abnormal, but we’re OK with it,” Best said on an EWU Athletics podcast last week. “I like strength in numbers.”

Nine Eagles return for the offense, including senior quarterback Gage Gubrud, senior wide receiver Nsimba Webster, senior running back Sam McPherson and junior running back Antoine Custer Jr.

Eight players are back for the defense, including senior linebacker Ketner Kupp, senior lineman Jay-Tee Tiuli, along with senior cornerbacks Josh Lewis and Nzuzi Webster.

The Eagles season ended in heartbreak last year, as the team missed out on the FCS playoffs despite finishing 7–4 overall and in a tie for third in the Big Sky Conference standings with a 6–2 record.

Gubrud, in his third year at starting quarterback, said the postseason “snub” will serve as motivation for the team.

“Not making the playoffs last year makes us work that much harder to make sure we make a run, so we’re excited to start up today,” Gubrud said at media availability on April 3.

As far as what to expect at the outset of spring practice, Best said ball security is at the top of the list.

“This week we’re going to take care of the football on offense, and we’re going to take the football on defense,” Best said at his April 3 availability. “We’re dramatically trying to impress upon our guys how precious the football is.”

Last season, EWU ranked sixth in the nation in total offense while turning the ball over 23 times (14 interceptions and nine lost fumbles). That’s not dreadful by any means, but considering the defense only forced 13 turnovers, there’s certainly room for improvement.

“If we can take the ball away [and] be in that zero to plus turnover margin, we should be in good shape,” said Best.

The EWU spring schedule will consist of 15 practices or scrimmages over the course of 26 days in April. The Eagles will practice each Wednesday and Friday from April 4-27, along with April 9 (Monday), April 16 (Monday) and April 24 (Tuesday). They will scrimmage on April 13 (Friday) and April 21 (Saturday) and take part in the annual Red-White Game on Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m.

All events will be held at Roos Field.

“We’re excited to be out here, and we’re going to make the most of it,” said Gubrud.