Eags stay close to home with 2014 recruiting class
Posted on February 5, 2014 at 8:32 PM
Updated Wednesday, Feb 5 at 8:57 PM
CHENEY -- For the Eastern Washington University football program to keep its perch near the top of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, it takes lots of talent.
And the Eagles believe they took a step in that direction with the addition of a large class of recruits Wednesday, as head football coach Beau Baldwin announced the signing of 26 high school players to letters of intent to attend EWU and play for the Eagles.
Eastern, which advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the past four years, lost 23 seniors to graduation from its 2013 team. But the next class includes 22 players from the state of Washington, including 11 All-State selections. Four highly-touted and honored out-of-state players are also in the recruiting class, and signing four players out of the Greater Spokane League was the cherry on top.
“With the big class of seniors, we had a lot of holes to fill,” said Baldwin. “We’re excited to do that at a level that covered our entire roster top to bottom at all positions. We did it with a high, high percentage of in-state players and more local talent than we’ve signed in the past. It was a great year for us in that way.”
The four GSL players – safety Cole Karstetter from Ferris (pictured), defensive end Jonah Jordan from Mead, wide receiver/defensive back Stu Stiles from Mt. Spokane and linebacker/defensive end Marcus Saugen from North Central – are among the 22 products signed from the state of Washington.
Karstetter set a GSL rushing record with 1,442 yards and scored 20 touchdowns as a senior. His father, Jerry, is a former Eagle men’s basketball player, while Cole’s brother, Kurt, is a linebacker at fellow Big Sky Conference member Idaho State and his other brother, Jared, was a wide receiver at Washington State.
A fifth local product, offensive lineman Jack Hunter from Gonzaga Prep, will join the Eagles and has been admitted and confirmed his attendance at EWU.
The out-of-state players signed include twins Simba Webster and Nzuzi Webster out of Deer Valley High School in Antioch, Calif. – the same school that produced former Eagle All-American and current Oakland Raider Taiwan Jones. Simba was recruited as a wide receiver, but was dynamic in high school as a quarterback with senior season statistics of 1,544 yards rushing, 2,026 passing and a total of 60 touchdowns accounted for. Nzuzi started on both offense and defense, and is being recruited as a safety after finishing with 181 tackles, 12 interceptions and 24 passes broken up in his career.
“They are similar in a lot of ways,” said Baldwin. “Both are incredible football players, along with having great character and high motors.”
Offensive lineman Nick Ellison from Moscow (Idaho) High School was signed, and his background reminds Baldwin of former Eagle and Tennessee Titan All-Pro offensive tackle Michael Roos had when he was a high schooler. Like Roos, the 6-foot-7, 245-pound Ellison played only one year of high school football, but is an outstanding basketball player with exceptional height, development potential and quickness on his feet.
The Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington, quarterback Reilly Hennessey out of Camas (Wash.) High School, signed with the Eagles along with his favorite target, the appropriately named Zach Eagle. Hennessey passed for 6,188 yards and had 64 touchdown passes the past two years, with Eagle catching 142 for 2,356 yards and 37 TDs those same seasons.
Among the other All-State selections EWU signed were defensive end Nick Foerstel from Tumwater (Wash.) High School and tight end Conner Baumann from Newport High School in Bellevue, Wash. Foerstel had 10 sacks as a senior, while Baumann was recruited as a tight end after rushing for 3,145 yards, 36 touchdowns and an average of 11.3 yards per carry in his high school career.
Kody Beckering, an All-State linebacker from Sunnyside High School in Fresno, Calif., had nearly 500 tackles in his high school career, including 168 stops, 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles as a senior.
With three cornerbacks and three total starters in the secondary lost to graduation, defensive back was a point of emphasis in this year’s class, as well as the offensive line. The Eagles signed six defensive backs and five players who could play on the offensive line.
“We started our recruiting knowing we were losing some senior cornerbacks, so we wanted to sign some players who could fit into our defensive back roles,” Baldwin said. “We’ve been able to move guys around a little bit at safety and corner anyway, so we were just trying to fill the secondary in general with a lot of great, quality players.
“Offensive line is always a position we emphasize, and it was again this year,” he added. “We were definitely able to sign a number of players at that position, and several who we know have a chance to be either an offensive lineman or defensive lineman. You let that play out during a young man’s career.”
Although only time will tell the quality of the class, Baldwin came away impressed – not only with the talent level but the number of early commitments the Eagle received. And he knows the reason – football is fun in Cheney at Roos Field and high school players are anxious to get a taste of the red turf at “The Inferno.”
“We’ve spent more time recruiting juniors than we did four or five years ago,” he explained. “That’s allowed us more of a chance to invite more of these young men to campus in the fall during actual football games. Now that they’ve come to our summer camp and a football game, they’ve received more of a taste of Eastern. In the past, their first real taste of Eastern may have come during their official visit in January.
“That has enabled us to recruit these players a little bit earlier and get more early commitments,” he continued. “I credit everybody involved with our game-day atmosphere, and what takes place both pre-game and post-game as well. The recruits get a feel of a ballgame here and truly get a chance to see what that atmosphere is like.”