Trio of Eagle Seniors Earn Associated Press All-America Honors

Trio of Eagle Seniors Earn Associated Press All-America Honors

A trio of Eastern Washington University football seniors – kicker Roldan Alcobendas , center Spencer Blackburn and nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli have been selected to the Associated Press NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America team announced Tuesday (Dec. 11).

“It’s certainly incredible – these acknowledgments are team-based even though they are individually driven,” said Eastern head coach Aaron Best . “Jay-Tee is a fabulous player and the MVP in the conference. Spencer in my humble opinion is the best center in this league even though he was just a second-team all-league player. Roldan is Roldan, and every week he seems like he brings an honor in. When he leaves Cheney he’s going to have to rent a U-Haul to carry home his hardware.”

“They are very deserving of these accolades – they earned them,” added Best. “Even though they are individual awards, it helps to be on a team that won a lot of games and has had a lot of success.”

Alcobendas becomes only the third All-America kicker in EWU’s history as a member of FCS, and the first since Jimmy Pavel was honored as a first team All-American in 2012. Alcobendas was honored one day earlier with the Fred Mitchell Award as the top place-kicker among FCS, NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III, NAIA and NJCAA schools. The 2013 graduate of Camas (Wash.) High School earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors as both a kicker and punter in the 2018 season.

Blackburn earned his first All-America honor after earning second team All-Big Sky Conference honors three-straight seasons from 2016-18. The Eagles have now had 23 offensive linemen earn All-America accolades in 35 years in FCS (1984-2018), including 14 first team All-Americans. They have combined for 72 honors (37 first team, 19 second team, 4 third team and 12 honorable mention).

Blackburn is a 2014 graduate of Meridian High School in Bellingham, Wash., and Tiuli graduated the same year from Federal Way (Wash.) High School. Tiuli was the Big Sky Conference Defensive MVP in 2018 and earned first team All-Big Sky honors. This is also his first All-America honor, and he is the first interior defensive lineman (not including defensive ends) to earn All-America honors for the Eagles since Renard Williams earned honorable mention in 2011 and first team accolades in 2010.

“We had two good players going against each other every single day in fall and spring in practices,” added Best of the match-ups the last four years in practices and scrimmages between Blackburn and Tiuli. “It’s not fun when you look over a 320-pound man against you – the games almost seem like a breather. We like to simulate practices harder than games, and that allows us in game situations to become better because of it. The analogy of iron sharpens iron is certainly applicable, and they are both better off for it.”

More on Alcobendas . . .

The sixth-year senior has been recognized for his perseverance and accuracy as the 2018 recipient of the Fred Mitchell Award. The announcement was made on Dec. 10, just a few days after Mitchell notified him he had won the award, presented for excellence on the football field and in the community. Alcobendas will receive the award in February at the National Football Foundation Chicago Metro Chapter Awards Ceremony at Halas Hall.

Alcobendas earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors as both a kicker and punter for EWU in 2018, and has broken the single season school record for kick-scoring points with 107 and shattered the career mark with a current total of 308. His season total is eighth and his career mark is seventh in the 55-year history of the Big Sky Conference.

Alcobendas is the only player in FCS (minimum of one attempt per game) to be perfect kicking field goals (15-of-15). Alcobendas is ninth in FCS in scoring overall and third in kick scoring (8.9 per game), and is 21st with an average of 1.25 field goals per game. His 45.3 punting average is second nationally, ranking only behind a punter who plays for a school in Florida (Chris Faddoul, Florida A&M, 46.8). The season (45.3) and career averages (45.3) for Alcobendas are both on pace to break school records of 44.9 and 43.8, respectively. His second extra point of the season was blocked, but he’s made all 61 since then for a season total of 62-of-63.

Alcobendas earned Big Sky All-Academic honors in 2016 and 2017, and has a 3.23 GPA as a business administration marketing major with a minor in communications. He recently concluded coursework for his degree.

As a bonus for his past suffering , Alcobendas received a sixth year to complete four years of eligibility because of injuries that cost him a pair of seasons. Alcobendas had to sit out both the 2013 and 2015 seasons because of knee injuries – one suffered while playing in his senior year of soccer.

Earlier this season, Alcobendas moved past Troy Griggs (231 from 1998-01) and Mike Jarrett (236 from 2008-11) for the all-time EWU lead for kick scoring, and now ranks seventh in Big Sky history. His 107 points in 2018 is also a school record for kick scoring, and ranks eighth all-time in the league.

Alcobendas has also established EWU career records for extra points made (203) and attempted (209), breaking the previous records held by Jarrett (2009-11) with 143 makes and 150 attempts. Alcobendas has made 35-of-46 field goals in his career to rank third in school history for field goals made and fifth in attempts. In his career, he has 107 kickoffs for a 57.4 average (6,143 total yards) with 17 touchbacks.

Alcobendas has been rewarded three times this season (four in his career) with ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors. His most recent honor came when he scored 11 points for the Eagles – just two from his career high – in EWU’s 59-20 win over UC Davis on Nov. 10. He kicked a 24-yard field goal to remain perfect on the season at 13-for-13. He also converted all eight of his extra points and punted five times for a 39.8 average with four of his punts downed inside the UCD 20-yard line – three inside the 10. The average field position for UC Davis after his punts was their own 15-yard line, including the 5, 7, 9 and 19. Aside from two long touchdown runs of 46 and 69 yards, UCD got to EWU’s red zone just once all day, and the Aggies had to settle for a field goal.

He also earned the honor after he kicked a pair of field goals in EWU’s 14-6 loss at 13th-ranked Weber State on Oct. 13, and also added a punting record to his resume. He averaged 60.3 yards on seven punts in Eastern’s defensive battle, including a school-record 78 yarder with the wind in the second quarter and another of 72 yards with the wind in the third. He also had a wind-aided punt of 63 yards, and a punt into the wind of 60. Two of his punts were downed inside the 10-yard line of Weber State. He now owns two of the top three punts in school history, with the previous record set by Jake Miller against Washington State on Sept. 8, 2012, with a punt of 74 yards. The 60.3 average for Alcobendas versus the Wildcats nearly broke the Big Sky record of 61.5 set by Eddie Johnson of Idaho State in 2002 versus Cal Poly. He kicked a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 27-yarder in the third quarter to remain perfect on the season.

He originally broke the school record for career kick scoring against Montana State on Sept. 29 and received his second career ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player award on Oct. 1 as a result. He suffered a knee injury in 2014 at Bobcat Stadium, then returned two years later and won his first Big Sky POW honor in 2016 after a performance in Bozeman. He scored 11 points in 2016 and had 10 more in this year’s 34-17 victory. In 2018, he converted field goals of 24 and 25 yards versus the Bobcats, converted four extra points and punted four times for a 46.8 average with a long of 60. Three of his punts were downed inside the MSU 20-yard line, including a key 59-yarder in the fourth quarter. In all, the average field position for MSU after his punts was the 14-yard line.

He finished the 2016 season 9-of-15 kicking field goals and made 73-of-74 extra points. He made his last 63 extra points in a row in 2016 to shatter the previous season record of 47. His 73 total extra points made in 2016 were one behind the Big Sky Conference record of 74 set by former Eagle Kevin Miller in 2013. He also averaged 54.6 yards on 44 kickoffs with seven touchbacks.

He missed his first extra point attempt of the game against UC Davis on Oct. 7, 2017, ending his school-record string of consecutive career extra points made at 85. In the 2017 season, he made 46-of-47 extra point attempts and 10-of-14 field goals. He also handled kickoff duties much of the season, and averaged 59.8 yards on 39 kicks in 2017 with seven touchbacks.

Returning to the venue he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2014, Alcobendas made field goals of 48 and 31 yards and had a career-high 11 total points in EWU’s 41-17 victory over Montana State in 2016 to earn Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors. His 48-yarder was the best of his career, and equals the 23rd-longest in school history. He also had a 31-yarder blocked and made all five of his extra point attempts to account for 11 of EWU’s points. In addition, he averaged 64.0 yards in three kickoffs, including one touchback.

More on Blackburn . . .

Blackburn, a second-team All-Big Sky choice the last three seasons, has started 35 of the 37 games he has played as an Eagle, including the last 35. In November he was selected to the Google Cloud Academic All-District 8 Football Team as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). He has a 3.67 GPA in professional accounting.

Eastern is the only school to rank in the top 25 in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in total offense, rushing and passing in 2018. Broken down, EWU is averaging 266.6 rushing (10th) and 271.7 passing (22nd). The Eagles are also ranked fourth in scoring (44.1).

Eastern’s running game has been a mainstay this season, setting school records for most yards (3,466) and rushing touchdowns (39) in a single season. The previous records were 3,130 yards set in 10 games in 1950 (313.0 average) and 32 TDs in 2014. Eastern is averaging 6.78 yards per carry to rank second in FCS, and the Eagles are on pace to break the school record of 6.4. Eastern has rushed for at least 300 yards in five games this season, and featured EWU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2013 in Sam McPherson (current total of 1,288 yards to rank fifth in single season school history).

More on Tiuli . . . .

Tiuli is just the sixth Eagle to earn Big Sky Conference Defensive MVP honors on that side of the ball, joining J.C. Sherritt (2010), Greg Peach (2008), Joey Cwik (2005), Chris Scott (1997) and Jason Marsh (1993). Eastern has won 14 honors on offense, including the first co-MVP tandem in 2016 when Cooper Kupp and Gage Gubrud were honored. That capped a stretch in which EWU won the MVP honor on offense in 12 of 17 years. Tiuli is only the 10th Big Sky Conference interior lineman to win the defensive award since 1974 — 45 years. He’s only the second in the league since Scott from EWU won it in 1997.

Tiuli has been a dominant force in the middle, and through 13 games has 38 tackles, four sacks, two passes broken up, a quarterback hurry, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He has started 24 of the 49 out of a possible 49 games he has played the last four seasons at EWU, and has had 115 total tackles with 12 1/2 sacks, four quarterback hurries, four passes deflected, a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble he recovered for a touchdown. He had to redshirt in 2017 because of an injury, but before the start of that season he earned third team preseason All-America honors from STATS.