EWU Football Springs Into Action as Practices for 2017 Season Begin
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Spring is in the air, and now, so are footballs as they fly across The Inferno at Roos Field.
EWU spring football practices began on April 4, and there is a lot of excitement surrounding the team.
Much has changed from a year ago. There are new coaches on the staff, most notably new head coach Aaron Best. Beau Baldwin went to to Cal, and Troy Taylor and Kiel McDonald went to Utah, while wide receiver Cooper Kupp and other substantial pieces from last year have graduated. While a lot of big names have moved on from the team, the winning mentality still remains.
“The number one thing to the team is physicality,” said Best. “We’ve always preached it and we need to do a better job, I think, as coaches to translate that into the players … we need to be a more physical team.”
This year, while the defensive coaching staff stays the same, there is an entirely new staff on the offensive side. Since Best was named head coach, he has added former EWU quarterback Fred Salanoa as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, Bodie Reeder as quarterbacks coach, Jay Dumas as wide receivers coach, Jase Butorac as offensive line coach and Kevin Maurice as running backs coach.
“It’s not going to be a new offense, it’s going to be an adjusted offense,” said Best. “We’re still going to throw the ball; we’re still going to rely on the throw.”
Throwing the ball the past few years has been perhaps the greatest strength for the team. But now with Kupp, Kendrick Bourne and Shaq Hill all graduated, there will be a new core group of receivers.
Nic Sblendorio has the most experience among returning wide receivers EWU and is currently the only senior on the offensive side of the ball.
“The good thing is we have an expectation and a tradition to be excellent at this position,” said Sblendorio. “One thing we’re preaching to every one of our receivers is nothing’s entitled. Just because we’re going to be an Eastern receiver doesn’t mean we’re going to go for 1,000 yards and score a lot of touchdowns. We’ve got to put in the hard work and we’ve got to pay our dues.”
The senior wide receiver from Sammamish, Washington has a lot of faith in the new group of receivers and he also believes in Best.
“Coach Best has really stepped into a nice role, and we’ve been ready,” said Sblendorio. “I’ve been here four years and I’ve known he’s been ready. I knew that if [Coach Baldwin] was ever going to leave, Coach Best was going to take it over at full force, and he’s done that.”
Even the players on defense feel the change in coaching. Junior linebacker Alek Kacmarcik has felt the new coach’s presence.
“I think he’s definitely a little more in your face than maybe Coach Baldwin would be. A little more exuberant all the time instead of just some of the time,” said Kacmarcik. “He talks about being physical … so I think those are kind of the biggest things we’ve seen so far.”
Back on the offensive side of things, junior quarterback Gage Gubrud is ready to roll with the new coaching staff after having a breakout season which saw him finish third in voting for the Walter Payton Award.
“There are changes and there are things that are similar,” said Gubrud. “He’s definitely put his own kind of little twist on things … practices are a little bit more up-tempo with transitions.”
While there have been plenty of personnel changes since the 2016 season ended, the team looks poised for to make another playoff run in 2017 to begin the Coach Best era.
Spring practices go through April 28, with the Red-White Spring Game taking place on April 29 at 2 p.m.