Adams and Kupp take top Big Sky honors, 25 Eags named All-Conference


by EWU Athletics

Posted on November 26, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 26 at 7:58 PM

Eastern Washington University head coach Beau Baldwin has coached the best – record-breakers and Payton Award winners included. But the 2013 performance by sophomore Vernon Adams tops them all.

Adams has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year in a vote by the league’s head coaches, winning the honor for the 10th time by an Eastern player, including eight of the last 13 years.
The honor was announced Tuesday (Nov. 26), and also included the announcement of Eagle freshman sensation Cooper Kupp as the league’s Freshman of the Year. Both he and Adams were the only unanimous selections on the All-Big Sky Conference first team, earning first team votes on all 12 ballots. A total of 25 Eagle players were honored on first team (5 selections), second team (5), third team (4) and honorable mention (11) squads.
Adams, who is now 18-3 as a starting quarterback at Eastern, led the third-ranked Eagles to a perfect 8-0 finish in the Big Sky and a 10-2 regular season record overall. He has already set the league record for total offense (4,550) and passing touchdowns (46), and is on pace to set the Big Sky record for passing efficiency (185.7, including a completion percentage of .664 and 4,059 yards).
Other recent winners of the award include Eastern quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell (2011), Matt Nichols (2007 and 2009) and Erik Meyer (2004 and 2005).  Mitchell and Meyer went on to win the Walter Payton Award given by The Sports Network to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
“I don’t want to take anything away from players like Erik Meyer, Matt Nichols and Bo Levi Mitchell, but Vernon’s season this year is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been a college football coach,” said Baldwin. “He’s earned this award and there is no question about it. He went after it and it’s been fun to see his progress.”
Adams, who is from Pasadena, Calif., and is on the ballot for the Payton Award, is ranked No. 1 in the FCS in passing efficiency (185.7). That mark currently ranks fourth all-time in the FCS, and he is also leading the FCS in total offense per game (379.2).
“He worked hard to improve his skills as a quarterback, such as how he is going to beat the blitz and how he is going throw down the field with things crashing around him,” Baldwin continued. “Plus the little things, like how he’s going to lead. He’s taken a lot of hits and has had times when his body isn’t feeling great, but he’s played through it.”
Eastern’s season continues on Dec. 7 when the Eagles play their first game in the FCS Playoffs at home at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., against the winner of this weekend’s Northern Arizona-South Dakota State game.
“The ride this year isn’t even close to being over in our minds, and the same is true of the ride in terms of the growth we can make as a team and Vernon’s growth as a quarterback,” added Baldwin. ‘His mindset is that he wants to keep getting better and there is still a very high ceiling he can go after.”
Kupp ended the regular season as the leader in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision with 18 touchdown catches for the season, and owns sole possession of the FCS record for consecutive games with a TD reception. The 2012 graduate of Davis High School in Yakima, Wash., has caught at least one TD in all of the games he has played in his 12-game EWU career. He is the favorite to win the Jerry Rice Award given by The Sports Network to the top freshman in FCS.
“It was unanimous with the coaches in the conference, and deservingly so,” said Baldwin. “In a conference rich with receiver talent, he was the best as a freshman. He the best receiver in this conference – not just the best freshman – and he was in the top three or four nationally in terms of what he’s done statistically.
For the season, Kupp has 77 catches for 1,378 yards to break the FCS record for receiving yards for a freshman. He is just four catches from the FCS record for catches by a frosh.
 “Bigger than (the statistics), he maximizes every ounce of his talent,” said Baldwin. “We all see he has talent – lots of talent – but he has a great work ethic for video study, off-season work and preparation. He understands what teams are doing defensively, how to work a release and knows our entire offense. That allows us to put him in different positions. He understands the concept of every play, not just the receiver position he is playing. We can move him around, and teams can’t plan for him to be at one spot all the time – he’s everywhere within our offense.
“It’s hard for a freshman to do those things mentally, and then he’s also been tough enough to handle hard hits and play through pain,” Baldwin added. “He’s a strong-minded young man with a lot of talent, but it’s that mental toughness and work ethic that takes him from being a good or great player to one of the best.”
Little did his parents know that T.J. Lee III would stand for three-peat.
The Eastern Washington University cornerback headlined a list of 25 Eagles honored on the All-Big Sky Conference team on Tuesday (Nov. 26) by earning first team honors for the third-straight season.
The 2009 graduate of West Seattle High School became only the third Eagle in school history – and the first on defense -- to accomplish that feat. In fact, only 45 total players in the 50-year history of the league have earned three first team accolades, as well as another three who have four-peated.
Also named to the first team for the Eagles were unanimous selections Vernon Adams (quarterback) and Cooper Kupp (wide receiver), as well as Ashton Miller (center) and Bo Schuetzle (special teams). Adams and Kupp were selected first team on all 12 ballots to earn the league’s only unanimous honors, and were also the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, respectively.
Named to the second team were Ronnie Hamlin (outside linebacker), Ashton Clark (wide receiver), Steven Forgette (offensive guard), Clay DeBord(offensive tackle) and Andru Pulu (defensive tackle). Third team selections were Zack Gehring (tight end), Quincy Forte (running back), Anthony Larry(defensive end) and Tevin McDonald (safety).
Another 11 Eagles earned honorable mention -- Shaq Hill (wide receiver), Cory Mitchell (wide receiver), Cassidy Curtis (offensive tackle), Brandon Murphy (offensive guard), Will Katoa (defensive tackle), Dylan Zylstra (defensive tackle), Evan Day (defensive end), Cody McCarthy (inside linebacker),Allen Brown (safety), Ronald Baines (cornerback) and Kevin Miller (kicker).
The only other players in school history to be honored on the first team three times are offensive lineman Harold Fox (1992-93-94) and return specialist Lamont Brightful (1999-2000-01).
“T.J. has been incredible,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “In this conference with such a rich history and the competition you are up against every week -- and the competition that exists for these awards -- to be recognized as a three-time first team All-Big Sky player is hard to do. He’s gone out and earned it. He’s second on our team in tackles and cornerbacks don’t usually make a lot of tackles.”
Lee now has 238 tackles (16th in school history), four interceptions, 23 passes broken up and 3 1/2 sacks in his 46-game career (32 starts). He owns sole  possession of the school record for most career forced fumbles with seven, and his 23 passes broken up ranks seventh. Three times in his career he has forced and recovered the same fumble, with two of them occurring on quarterback sacks. He had a career-high 14 tackles and the fourth interception of his career against Montana State (11/9/13) in his first-ever start at safety for the Eagles.
“He’s ferocious,” Baldwin continued. “He has cover skills, he can blitz, he can force and recover fumbles and he can flat out tackle. Unselfishly, he went back there and played safety for us when we were in a bind. He averaged double digits in tackles in those two games, including 14 against Montana State. He’s a great, All-America type of player for us. He will surely be missed, but I’m excited to see him hopefully finish things out the right way in the playoffs.”
Eastern’s list of All-Big Sky players includes 14 seniors, meaning 11 should be back in an Eagle uniform in the 2014 season. Together they helped the third-ranked Eagles to a perfect 8-0 finish in the Big Sky and a 10-2 regular season record overall.
Eastern’s season continues on Dec. 7 when the Eagles play their first game in the FCS Playoffs at home at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., against the winner of this weekend’s Northern Arizona-South Dakota State game.
“It’s been an extremely strong group of players both physically and mentally,” praised Baldwin. “They’ve earned it – I keep using that word because you don’t end up as outright Big Sky champs without a lot of work. It’s not just given to you and it’s not just luck, you go out and earn it. The players who were recognized got after it in January all the way through July to put themselves in the position to have this kind of season. I’m proud of them for that and everything they’ve done to get our program to this point.”