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Ceja upends size advantage


Defensive end reaches for sack record

Ceja utilizes a nontraditional, speed pass-rush off the edge.
Photo by Aaron Malmoe

His coaches call it, “The Dirty.”

“I don’t know how he does it, to be honest with you,” EWU defensive line coach Ryan Sawyer said. “That’s why we call it ‛The Dirty.’”

Sawyer is referring to the signature pass-rush move of Eagles defensive end Jerry Ceja, a move that has helped Ceja accumulate nine quarterback sacks in 2012, placing him second in the Big Sky Conference and sixth in the Football Championship Subdivison.

According to Sawyer, Ceja achieves this move by faking a rush toward the offensive tackle’s inside shoulder, knocking down the hands of the offensive lineman, then spinning his body outside the tackle and sprinting toward the quarterback. “It’s a move you don’t see every day,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said Ceja used “The Dirty” to thwart two potential late game-winning drives from opponents this season: first against Weber State in a 32-26 Eagles victory and later against Montana State in a 27-24 thrilling win for EWU. Ceja’s late game sack versus Weber State—his second of the game—forced a fumble that was recovered by Eagles’ defender Will Katoa and ensured an Eagles victory.

“It’s fun for us,” Sawyer said. “I’ll be on the field and I’ll say, ‛Give him “The Dirty”, Jerry.’ And he just smiles at me and goes and gives him ‛The Dirty’ and it works.”

Ceja’s flexibility and ability to contort his body in unusual ways allows him to sneak past offensive linemen with relative ease.

“He’s slippery,” Sawyer said. “We call him ‛Gumby’. His body can bend in directions that make you and I want to cry if I thought about bending my body in that direction. He can be running full speed, change directions and his inside shoulder can nearly touch the ground. That’s the kind of stuff, you see, even the very best athletes in the world can’t do.”

However, rushing the quarterback is not the only listing in Ceja’s job description. As a full-time starter at defensive end for the first time in his collegiate career, Ceja is being asked to stop the run as well as give opposing quarterbacks “The Dirty.”

“He’s not just a pass-rush specialist like maybe he was the last couple years; he’s played a lot,” head coach Beau Baldwin said.

Listed at 6 feet 3 inches tall and only 220 lbs., Ceja does not have the prototypical size of a defensive end in a 4-3 defense. However, Ceja is powerful enough to be a force against both the run and the pass.

“He’s a lot stronger than he probably thinks he is or gives himself credit for,” nose tackle Evan Cook said of his fellow lineman. “Now we get to see the physical side of Jerry. He can be physical; I mean, he’s a strong kid. [He’s] stronger than he knows.”

Cook also praised Ceja’s mental capabilities. “He’s probably one of the most intelligent people I know,” Cook said.

Ceja has totaled 20 1/2 sacks in his four years as an Eagle, placing him ninth all-time in career sacks in school history. Five of those sacks came in EWU’s 2010 championship season, including two against Villanova in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Ceja believes his experience in the postseason will help the younger players who were not on the roster for that championship run.

“You’ve been there before and you know how to get back there,” Ceja said. “We have a strategy; we have a plan to get back there. To convey that to the younger guys, I think it’s just all about doing the little things at practice every week and focusing one week at a time, because we’re not going to be able to get there this week, we’re not going to be able to get there next week.

“It’s all about focusing on the moment, focusing on each game, one game at a time, and then eventually making it through the playoffs and to the national championship.”

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