EWU football reigns over Big Sky heading into spring camp

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EWU football reigns over Big Sky heading into spring camp

By Taylor Newquist, Sports Editor

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The Eagles had 87 days to reflect on their heartbreaking season, which they finished as FCS runners-ups, before starting spring camp on April 2.

Like every year, the team stepping out onto the red turf in the spring is different than the one that last walked off of it in the winter. More has changed this time than others.

Gone are 25 seniors, 15 All-Big Sky performers and several coaches including offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder and defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding.

Returning are 21 seniors, five offensive and four defensive starters.

On defense, Dylan Ledbetter and Jim Townsend man the defensive line, joined by All-BSC second teamer Mitchell Johnson. Chris Ojoh and Idaho transfer Ty Graham will offer experience at linebacker, and Dehonta Hayes, Tysen Prunty and Calin Criner give depth at safety. The biggest question lies at cornerback, where EWU loses four senior players from last year’s team.

“A lot of the younger guys who are going to be playing this year already have a lot of experience from last year,” Hayes said. “Overall, I think we have a lot of guys that are going to make big strides this year.”

On offense, three starters return to the offensive line, including Spencer Blackburn and Kaleb Levao, back for their sixth year of elegibility. The line will provide room to run for Antoine Custer Jr. and Tamarick Pierce, who will lead the backfield as seniors. Leading rusher Sam McPherson is gone, but Custer and Pierce accounted for 28.9 percent of EWU’s 255.9 yard rushing average that was No. 10 in the nation.

“Its a really experienced group,” Blackburn said of the offensive line. “I want to be able to run the ball like we were able to this last season. That’s something that we need to develop through this spring ball.”

Possibly the most important returning piece to the offense is fleet-footed quarterback Eric Barriere, who enters his junior season.

Barriere became a nightmare for opposing defenses last year, after replacing an injured Gage Gubrud, because of his ability to heave the ball deep downfield and escape the pocket with Russell Wilson-esque ease.

Barriere and the rest of the Eagles’ offense will have to familiarize themselves with new offensive coordinator Ian Shoemaker, who joins EWU from Central Washington University.

Head coach Aaron Best said that the coaching change shouldn’t have too much impact on the way the team plays.

“Its coach Shoemaker’s opportunity to build upon what coach Reeder and Eric put together,” Best said. “We spent a lot of time in the winter quarter to get acquainted with not only each other, but with the offense.”

The Eagles will have two scrimmages this spring leading up to the annual Red-White game on April 27.

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