Big Sky offensive player of the week
Head coach Beau Baldwin simply calls it "phenomenal."
With a 12-catch, 274-yard performance against UC Davis last Saturday, Eastern Washington University senior Cooper Kupp broke the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision record for career receiving yards. His record-breaking performance earned him Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors on Monday (Oct. 3) for the fourth time in his career (three on offense, one on special teams).
In addition, Kupp and sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud both earned honorable mention for STATS FCS National Players of the Week accolades.
Kupp enters next Saturday's (Oct. 8) Homecoming game versus Northern Colorado ranked first in FCS in receptions per game (10.3) and yards per game (163.3), and is second in receiving touchdowns (7) despite missing 1 1/2 games with a shoulder injury. Kupp's 274 yards against the Aggies was one short of his own school record set last year versus Northern Colorado.
"What he is doing is phenomenal, especially considering how productive he can be when everybody knows he's going to get balls thrown his way," said Baldwin, whose team is ranked second in FCS in total offense (546.4) and leads in passing (432.8). "But he'll be the first to say it's hard to focus on just him in our offense with the players we have around him at wide receiver, running back and Gage Gubrud at quarterback having the ability to take off and run."
Kupp's current total of 5,417 yards broke the record of 5,250 set by Elon's Terrell Hudgins from 2006-09. Kupp has a record 63 career receiving TDs, and is second on the all-time FCS receptions list (352, 43 behind the record of 395 set by Elon's Terrell Hudgins from 2006-09). At his current pace of 10.3 receptions per game, he'll break the record on Senior Day at Roos Field on Nov. 12 versus Idaho State.
Kupp has now broken nine FCS records, eight Big Sky Conference all-time marks and 18 school records. His 126.0 average reception yards per game is currently a FCS career record, while his other six FCS records were set during his freshman season. With 5,853 all-purpose yards, he is only 81 yards from the EWU record of 5,934 set by Eric Kimble from 2002-05, a mark which ranks seventh in Big Sky history. The league record is 7,112, and the top receiver on the list is Fred Amey from Sacramento State with 6,343 from 2001-04.
"It's fun and I'm just enjoying every minute of this season of being around him and watching him continue to grow as a leader and person," Baldwin continued. "We're going to ride it as long as we can. He has a competiveness, will and desire to chase perfection. He looks for things he can do better, and it started in the offseason. He wants to understand the whole game of football better and he wants to continue to grow in everything he is doing. That's just how he is wired."
His average of 10.4 catches per game in 2015 was also a Big Sky record (sixth all-time in FCS), to go along with five career marks he set in just three seasons – all ending with first team All-Big Sky accolades. Kupp even passed for a pair of touchdowns in the 2015 season and had another via punt return. Including his 2016 totals, he has scored 65 total touchdowns and has accounted for 67 in his 43-game career (all as a starter).
Kupp's career catches, yards and TDs are all Big Sky records, and he also established a new league record for average catches per game (8.19), which also ranks second in FCS history. Kupp has averaged a TD reception for every 5.6 catches so far in his career. He has scored at least once in 36 of 43 games he has played, with 25 performances of at least eight catches (12 with 10 or more) and 26 with at least 100 receiving yards.
Kupp has helped Eastern win 33 games overall and 22 in the Big Sky Conference in the past three-plus seasons, with two outright Big Sky Conference championships and NCAA Football Championship Playoff berths his freshman and sophomore seasons. Eastern had a six-game winning streak in 2015, but finished the year with a three-game losing streak and final records of 6-5 and 5-3.
Big Sky special teams player of the week
True freshman Antoine Custer Jr. is proof that lightning can strike twice in the same spot, and he has another Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honor to show for it after he was honored by the league Monday (Oct. 1).
Just like he did against Northern Iowa on Sept. 17 when he had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half against Northern Iowa, Custer provided a third quarter spark for the Eagles in EWU's 63-30 win over UC Davis. He opened the third quarter with a 55-yard return this time, leading to a short touchdown drive as part of EWU's 35-point onslaught in that period. The resulting TD pulled EWU within 23-21, and the lead quickly changed hands twice before the Eagles scored the final 35 points of the game.
His 55-yarder was just his second return as an Eagle, and then he followed that with a 16-yard return versus the Aggies. He now has a 54.7 average on three returns. Webster had an earlier 65-yard return against UC Davis, but broke his clavicle in the process. Webster has a 29.8 average per return, and EWU's 27.8 average as a team ranks first in the Big Sky and third nationally.
"He's done a great job, but Nsimba Webster has done a great job too on that unit and I have all the confidence in the world that Shaq Hill can hit one too," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "That whole unit has been fantastic. Coach Kiel McDonald works with that group and has done an amazing job of getting them in the right positions for success. He makes a great plan and makes sure everybody is dialed – that's what it takes."
Trailing Northern Iowa by 17 at halftime on Sept. 17, Custer's TD in EWU's come-from-behind 34-30 win over Northern Iowa helped earn him his first Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honor. His TD return was the first by an Eagle since teammate Shaq Hill had a 90-yarder against Portland State on Nov. 21, 2014. Hill, EWU's all-time leader in kickoff returns and yards, actually provided three blocks down the sideline during Custer's TD return.
Custer has started at running back in three games, including Eastern's opener against Washington State, and scored the first touchdown of the season for the Eagles on a pass from Gage Gubrud. So far this season he has rushed 34 times for a net of 58 yards and two touchdowns, and has caught 11 passes for 78 yards and a score.
"Antoine has stepped in and done well as a freshman," added Baldwin. "He's a mature young man, and for being a freshman he is well above his years in terms of physical and mental toughness. He's not afraid of those big moments and he's come up with some huge ones for us right after halftime. It's been impressive."
In the last 20+ seasons (1996-2016), Eastern has returned 36 total kicks for touchdowns while allowing just 17. Until North Dakota State had one in the FCS Playoffs in 2010, Eastern had not allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in more than 10 years (599 total returns).