Eagles kick-off spring football

Eagles win 52-51 thriller over Bobcats

The Eastern Washington University football team is hoping its late-season surge last fall – and the depth and experience that resulted from it – will be on full display this spring.

The Eagles concluded an injury-plagued 2011 season with six wins in their last seven games, and will continue preparations for the 2012 season when the Eagles open spring practices on April 3. The Eagles will get all of their allotted 15 practices in during the month of April, with the annual Red-White Game taking place on Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m. at Roos Field.

Eastern recently completed its winter conditioning program, and spring break takes place the week of March 26. Spring quarter classes start on April 2, and spring ball begins the very next day.

Eastern kicks off spring football

“We need to hit spring ball running,” said Baldwin. “It will be two days back on campus and then we start. There will not be any time to get ready, so they have to come back from spring break ready to go. If how hard they worked this winter is any indication, we anticipate seeing great things right away in spring ball.

“We worked really hard this winter,” he continued. “Our players grinded in the weight room, and (strength coach Nate) Brookreson did an amazing job of taking them to another level. We were impressed with some of the max lifts they were able to hit in a short time from January until now. That’s a product of a lot of hard work through our conditioning. We stayed competitive through the whole process, so it was not only hard work, but it was fun for the players.”

Baldwin, who enters his fifth season at the helm, is expecting to have about 80 players participating this spring, including 53 returning letterwinners. Among the returning letterwinners are eight starters on each side of the ball, as well as the school’s punter and long snapper.

A year ago, a total of 14 starters – seven on each side of the ball — suffered injuries that kept them out of the lineup – including seven players lost for the season. Eastern started 46 different players in the 2011 season – 24 on offense and 22 on defense – with only five players starting all 11 games. A total of 21 players made starting debuts during the season.

“Injuries are always frustrating because you know how hard players work to prepare to play in games. It hurts,” Baldwin explained. “But there is always a silver lining in that you get to see some young players and backups get an opportunity to step up and do great things. Some of them never thought they would get that opportunity, and when they do, it’s fun to see as a coach. The other silver lining is that you are that much stronger a year later because you had players get experience that they might not normally receive. That creates an overall depth that helps us improve – we become better on special teams and we become better in case we do have injuries again.”

Among the injured players returning were seven lost for the season early in the 2011 season — wide receiver Brandon Kaufman (knee/hand), wide receiver Tyler Hart (knee), guard Ashton Miller (Achilles), guard Steven Forgette (broken fibula), guard Jase Butorac (knee) and linebacker Zach Johnson (knee). Those players, along with several more, will be limited this spring, but their rehabilitation is going well, according to Baldwin.

“There will be a number of them who won’t get full-speed reps, but all of them one way or another will be back,” he said. “The plan is for all the players we lost last year to be involved one way or another this spring, but then all of them will be back by mid-summer and ready to go in the fall. It doesn’t look like any of the injuries will prevent them all from being ready in August.”