Soaring Through Struggles- Eagles continue responding to adversity


Keri Kelly

Aaron Best gives a final send-off to the team after the scrimmage. (Photo edits by Emily Powers)

By Luke Pickett, Reporter

Following a ten win season and second round elimination last season in the Division 1-AA/FCS playoffs, HERO Sports puts the Eagles in the 18th spot in the top 25 preseason rankings.

With a new group and adjustments still to be made, EWU head coach Aaron Best knows that his team has their focus on getting ready for the upcoming season.  

“We go into the season with a certain mindset,” Best said regarding pre-season rankings. “We’re all undefeated right now, but the ranking does say something.  It says that you’ve done something the year before. You’re nationally known, and you’re one of the 25 teams listed in the national brand at the FCS level.”

Since Best took the reins of the team in 2017, the Eagles have won 41 of their last 58 games.  

“It’s taken a lot to get here,” said Best. “We intend to do more than we have, because in our minds, it’s never good enough, and can always be better.”

With the Eagle’s becoming Co-Champions of the Big Sky Conference in 2018 under Best, the future looked bright with future All-American QB Eric Barriere. 

The pandemic brought struggles for the Eagles as it did everyone else.  Playing only seven games in the 2020-21 season, their ability to execute efficiently became a challenge.

EWU junior wide receiver Talolo Limu-Jones celebrates a touchdown. Limu-Jones had a career-high three touchdowns in EWU’s 54-21 victory over Northern Colorado Saturday. (Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner)

“Our theme throughout that period was mental agility,” Best said. “There’s going to be things thrown your way that nobody has a handbook for.  Our guys were steady and resilient as they are on Saturdays.”

Following two makeshift seasons in 2020-21 and 2021-22 due to Covid-19, the Eagles now prepare for next season without Barriere and other notable team leaders, Talolo Limu-Jones, Tristen Taylor, and Andrew Boston.

“We lost a ton of numbers in terms of tackles, touchdowns and yards on the ground and in the air, but they weren’t a ton of numbers in bodies,” said Best. “That explains how special they were during their time here.”

The Eagles who are moving on to professional levels left their impacts on the field and on the stat sheet.  Coach Best credits those players for the way EWU is currently ranked as well.  

“It says something about the guys that left us as graduating seniors in ‘21, but it also says something for the guys that are taking over.  They know they need to step up.” 

EWU has promising talent ready to take over the vacant wide receiver spots in Freshman All-American, Efton Chism III and Sophomore All-American, Freddie Roberson.  However, the main focus, according to Best, is for players to take leadership roles. 

Quarterback Eric Barriere (15) playing catch during halftime, at the Red-White spring game. (Brad Brown)

“We’ve had the same guys here on campus from January of 2020 until January of 2022,” said Best. “We need guys to step up in a leadership role.  The stats will come, but leadership is something that we’ve really pushed those guys to do after those guys who have been instrumental leaders for the last two years.” 

Amid Covid-19 and rumors of financial issues between school administration and the football program, Best insists the team’s approach remained the same.

“There is no tension,” Best said. “Our duty and responsibility is to win games and graduate guys with degrees.”

The goal of growing the school’s name and reputation remains steadfast at EWU. 

“I think it’s a specialty of our community and our university because it’s necessary that we route for one another loudly,” said Best. “When you’re better, we’re better.  And if we’re better, that means the national brand is that much stronger.”

The 2022-23 season kicks off on September 3rd at The Inferno as EWU hosts Tennessee State.

Best knows that being nationally ranked is not enough to be satisfied with. “We have the ability to do greater things,” he said. 

Support from the fans is key to the success of the team.  The Eagles history features 26 conference championships since 1901, and with nearly a seventy percent win percentage at home, the value of EWU fans rings true.

The crowd rushed the field after Family Day. People were encouraged to get autographs from the EWU football team. (Photo edits by Emily Powers) (Keri Kelly)

“At the end of the day you only get five or six home games per year,” Best said. “So you’ve got to put your best foot forward and play your best games to continue that comradery with the fans.”

As the Eagles look forward to a new season with optimism, Best recognizes how important it is for the team to block out the noise and the distractions of the last few years. 

“We’ve done great things, but we want to do it consistently in a greater fashion,” he said. “And it takes all of us, everybody in Cheney, not just at the University.”