CHENEY - Returning to his 2010 form after a pair of injuries sidelined him a year ago, junior wide receiver Brandon Kaufman headlines a group of 22 Eastern Washington University football players who have been selected to the All-Big Sky Conference team as selected by the league’s head coaches.
Kaufman, Eastern’s nominee as the league’s Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, was a unanimous choice on the first team. He was an injury redshirt in the 2011 season following a spectacular 2010 season when he earned All-America and first team All-Big Sky honors in helping lead EWU to the NCAA Division I Championship.
Kaufman was joined on the first team by junior cornerback T.J. Lee, a repeat first team selection from 2011. The others on the first team this season were senior kicker Jimmy Pavel, inside linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and senior offensive tackle Will Post, who earned honorable mention in 2011.
Second team selections included sixth-year outside linebacker Zach Johnson, who was a second team choice in 2010 and honorable mention as a freshman in 2008. Junior offensive guard Steven Forgette, an honorable mention selection a year ago, also earned second team honors this season, as well as senior defensive end Jerry Ceja and safety Allen Brown.
Earning honorable mention on offense were junior running back Demitrius Bronson, junior center Ashton Miller and senior wide receivers Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd. Edwards was a first team choice last season, and Herd earned second-team All-BSC honors in 2011.
Seven players on defense earned honorable mention, including senior defensive end Paul Ena, who was a repeat selection from a year ago. Also on the squad were senior inside linebacker Tyler Washburn, senior outside linebacker Grant Williams, junior defensive tackle Andru Pulu, junior cornerback Ronald Baines, sophomore defensive tackle Dylan Zylstra and freshman redshirt safety Jordan Tonani.
Also selected to the honorable mention list was senior special teams standout Chase King and freshman redshirt return specialist Shaquille Hill.
“A lot of our players were recognized, which is exciting and deserving because I know how much hard work they put in,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “I know how many great players there are in this conference, so to be recognized at any level says a lot about the success they had on the field. And adding four more teams to the league makes it that much bigger of an award. It’s an honor to be nominated, let alone win first team honors like five of our players received.”
Kaufman enters the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs with 65 catches for 1,270 yards (19.5 per catch) and 10 touchdowns thus far, including career highs of 10 catches for 192 yards versus Southern Utah on Oct. 27. The 2010 All-American and first team All-BSC selection leads the Big Sky and ranks sixth in FCS in receiving yards per game (115.5), and his 10 TD receptions are ninth in FCS.
He is coming off a nine-catch, 161-yard performance against Portland State on Nov. 17 in which he had two sensational, highlight-reel catches after tipped balls. Kaufman has gone over the 100-yard mark eight times this season and 16 times in his career. Because of hand and knee injuries requiring surgery, Kaufman received an injury redshirt in the 2011 season after playing the first four games of the year.
Kaufman, who is from Denver, Colo., and is a 2009 graduate of Heritage HS, now has 193 career catches (fifth in school history) for 3,151 yards (third) and 27 touchdowns (fourth).
“Brandon has shown up in every game,” said Baldwin. “For a receiver to do that, it’s not easy. Game after game after game he was so productive and made a lot of huge plays. He’s had a great year and it’s been fun to see him come back after being out most of last year.”
Lee has piled up some impressive statistics this season, ranking second on the team with 72 tackles. He also has a team-leading nine passes broken up, 2 1/2 sacks, seven total tackles for loss, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. In his most recent outing versus Portland State on Nov. 17, he had eight tackles (one for loss) and broke-up three passes. He had nine tackles and a sack versus Southern Utah on Oct. 27, and eight tackles, a pass broken up and a forced fumble on a sack that he also recovered versus Weber State on Sept. 22. One game earlier against Washington State, he had six tackles and an interception, as the Eagle defense pitched a shutout in the second half and kept the Eagles in the game. Lee now has 131 tackles, three interceptions, 12 passes broken up and 2 1/2 sacks in his 31-game career (17 starts).
Hamlin has 107 tackles this season to rank 18th in school history, and his average of 9.73 per game ranks 28th in FCS and third in the Big Sky. He has had four performances of at least 11 tackles, including 15 in Eastern’s 27-24 win at Big Sky co-champion Montana State on Oct. 13. He also had a key interception in that game to earn Root Sports Defensive Player of the Week as selected by the Big Sky and national FCS recognition as one of four College Sporting News National All Stars. Hamlin was also honored by the Big Sky as player of the week after finishing with eight tackles and a pass broken up in a season-opening 20-3 victory over Idaho. A 19-game starter for the Eagles, Hamlin has 192 tackles already in his 22-game EWU career.
Post has started every game at right offensive tackle in 2012, with a total of 33 career starts in 42 games played. He has allowed just one sack this season (opponents have a total of 24) and consistently grades out in the high 80’s and low 90's according to offensive line coach Aaron Best. Eastern ranks second in the league and 10th in the FCS in passing offense (298.2 per game). The Eagles had a season-best 542 total yards versus Cal Poly and are now fourth in the Big Sky and 20th in FCS in total offense (434.2). Eastern is also 22nd in passing efficiency (142.5) and 26th in scoring offense (31.82).
Pavel made a 45-yard field goal against UC Davis on Nov. 10 to equal EWU’s single season record of 16 set last year by Mike Jarrett. An impressive 16-of-17 on the season, Pavel ranks fourth in FCS with an average of 1.45 field goals per game. His .941 percentage is the best in FCS among kickers with at least 11 attempts this season. Pavel has also assumed part of EWU’s punting duties the last three games, and currently has a 42.4 average on 12 punts with three downed inside the opponent 20-yard line.
Johnson had a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter to help preserve Eastern’s come-from-behind 41-34 victory over Portland State on Nov. 17. He also had three tackles in the game, which clinched a share of the Big Sky title for the Eagles. He has now started every game he has played in his Eastern career – 36 – and has 34 tackles in six games played this year. He has missed much of this season with a hamstring injury, but returned against Cal Poly on Nov. 3 from a five-game absence to finish with seven tackles, a pass broken up and a key third down tackle in the third quarter with the Mustangs at the EWU 1-yard line. Johnson, who has missed 24 total games in his career because of injuries, now has 294 tackles (eighth in school history), five interceptions, 13 passes broken up and 6 1/2 sacks as an Eagle. He is just 19 tackles from moving into seventh all-time at Eastern, and is 47 away from the total of 341 by his twin brother Matt Johnson, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.
Ceja is 11th in FCS and is third in the league with an average of 0.82 sacks per game (total of nine). He has 34 total tackles this season with 11 for loss, and also has four quarterback hurries, two passes broken up and a pair of forced fumbles to help him equal the school record with six in his career. He is ninth all-time in career sacks with 20 1/2, and is only a half-sack from moving into eighth and 1 1/2 from seventh.
Brown is fourth on the team with 69 tackles this season, and is also second on the team with seven passes broken up to go along with a pair of forced fumbles. He has started 23 of the 26 games he has played in his career, with totals of 159 tackles, two interceptions and 12 passes broken up.
Among the honorable mention selections, Bronson has rushed for 380 yards and eight touchdowns on the year. Herd is second on the team with 53 catches for 739 yards and six touchdowns, and Edwards has 30 grabs for 376 yards and three scores. Edwards is now fifth all-time in Eastern history in receiving yards with 2,574, and is seventh in points scored with 196. His 208 career catches ranks fourth in school history (No. 3 has 213) and his 32 TD receptions are second (the record is 46). Herd has 152 career grabs to rank 10th all-time at EWU, and is just five receptions from ninth. His catches have been good for 2,135 yards to rank 13th in school history, and he also has 16 touchdowns (unranked).
On defense, Williams is third on the team with 70 tackles, and Washburn is fifth with 62. Washburn is now in the top 20 in career tackles in Eastern history, currently ranking 14th with 241. Tonani, who replaced Jeff Minnerly when the two-time honorable mention senior safety suffered a broken collarbone, is sixth on the team with 60 tackles, and also has a team-leading three interceptions with five passes broken up.
Baines is seventh on the team with 48 tackles, and also has a sack, interception and pass broken up. Ena has 36 tackles with 2 1/2 sacks this season, and recovered a fumble that tied the school’s career record of eight. Zylstra has 25 tackles, plus had a blocked punt that was recovered for a score in EWU’s win at Montana State. Pulu has 20 tackles for the season, with a sack and three quarterback hurries.
King, a backup linebacker, has nine tackles for the season with 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble. Hill, who had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota on Sept. 6, ranks 28th in FCS with an average of 24.7 yards per kickoff return.