CHENEY -- In just 23 days Eastern Washington will usher in the 2014 college football season With a visit from Sam Houston State. Beau Baldwin has record breakers like Quarterback Vernon Adams and wideout Cooper Kupp headlining a talented group of returners. It is a group that hopes to finish the season where they're starting it.
"We're just trying to work as hard as we can and stay at the top," Adams said. "Let's just get out here have some fun and work our butts off."
Motivation is not hard to come by these days in Cheney.
"It's something that drives these guys, no question about it," Baldwin said.
At their first full practice of 2014 it was apparent, EWU is fueled in great measure by their preseason No. 1 ranking. The Eags have topped three national polls, and are expected to do so again when the Sports Network releases its Top-25 in early August.
"We want to be in this spot," Baldwin added. "It does mean something, because a lot of these guys are a part of what's gotten us to a No. 1 ranking to start a year."
Baldwin is quick to point out, his team doesn't get caught up in the hype. That's understandable given what followed a top spot in the polls this time three years ago.
"For me that's basically it," linebacker Ronnie Hamlin said. "We were No. 1 2011 and it didn't really turn out the way it was. But that's not gonna be the case this year."
"We're not entitled to anything. We're not owed anything. Nothing is gonna just happen for us, and 2011 is a great example." Baldwin said.
And then there is even more recent history, semifinal losses the last two years - to SHSU in 2012 and Towson in 2013.
"It's on my mind all the time," Hamlin said.
More heartache. More fuel.
"I want it to drive them to attack each day of the process, not just to think about the end result of that ball game or that moment," Baldwin said. "Because you might never get there again if you don't handle the stuff along the way."
But if they do match expectations, their ultimate goal could again be within reach.
"It has to be the National Championship," Kupp said. "It's always the National Championship."
"Have fun and win a 'Natty', I think that's the only thing you can do," added defensive lineman Dylan Zylstra.
"Win it all, get that 'Natty'," Hamlin said. "But a lot of work, we've got a long ways to go."