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Dinner and golf with Eastern coaches

Last week, the Eastern Washington University Eagle coaches came to Ritzville for golf and steak dinner hosted by the Ritzville Lions Club.

The event has been going on for a long time and we only missed the June 2020 get together due to COVID-19. We all wanted to hold the event but the so-called "higher powers" said no way.

The last time that I participated was 2019 and I believe that it was also the last time I golfed. It was great to visit with the new Eastern coaches and there are a bunch of them.

Coach Aaron Best likes to bring his new coaches to see how the small communities appreciate Eagle football.

I golfed with the new linebacker coach, receiver coach and director of football operations. I can honestly say that I consistently finished in the Top 4 at each hole with this group. But we had fun and had a lot of good laughs.

I enjoy finding out about where these guys are from and where they played and coached prior to coming to Cheney. I can tell you that to be an assistant football coach, you need to be young and not be afraid to move half-way across the country or farther.

One thing that each coached talked about is how tight the players and coaches are. One of them said there is a good reason that there aren’t any players that enter the transfer portal from Eastern football.

“I heard that EWU football is special, but it was amazing to see players hugging coaches after a difficult practice," he said. "I have a chair in my office that a wide receiver spends a fair amount of time in each day. I’m thinking about putting his name on that chair!”

Coach Best has said on multiple occasions that Eastern looks for "EKG players." EKG stands for Eastern kinda guys.

These players are more than just good athletes. They also have to appreciate the culture of Eastern and the chance to play for each other and what it means to be an Eagle.

That being said, you can also see the same thing with the coaches that have been hired. They too understand the Eastern culture and what guys like Cooper Kupp, Samson Ebukam, Kendrick Bourne, Vernon Adams and Eric Barriere mean to the history of Eastern football and how they as coaches can sell the program to new recruits.

These guys appreciate Coach Best and how respected Eastern football is across the nation. When you listen to them talk, you could almost swear that these coaches went to Eastern or even played there — but only a couple of them have.

The new offensive coordinator/quarterback coach laughed when he said he came to Cheney in January. At the time, he was at University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. Best told him that he needed to dress warm since it was 30 degrees in Cheney. He said that it was -20 in Sioux Falls, so 30 sounded pretty good.

I’ve been fortunate since I’m met every Eastern head football coach in the last 35 years, starting with Dick Zornes, then Mike Kramer, Paul Wulff, Beau Baldwin and Aaron Best. Zornes and Best are Eastern alums and their investment in the program was and is special. Getting back to the new assistant coaches, I asked Justin what he was coaching and he said linebackers. I said oh man, we lost a lot of talent last season.

He said, “Yeah, we graduated some real studs with a lot of experience. But we have some young, raw talent that will make mistakes but are athletic and coachable and will be really good and are willing to learn. I’m excited to see how good they can be.”

He couldn’t make the steak dinner because he was going to meet a transfer linebacker at the airport that he believes can help the Eags this upcoming season. The good thing is that the defensive line is seasoned and the corners and safeties are older and have played in a lot of games. The offense is going to be a bit different this year.

Walter Payton award winner Eric Barriere is now playing in the USFL, but some good running backs and receivers return. The coaches are confident that the quarterback play will be very good this year. There is a lot of pressure on Barriere’s replacement. The Eastern coaches are always welcomed by the local Lions Club and appreciated by WSU, UW and Eastern fans alike. We had fun and are already looking forward to next June’s return visit.

— Dale Anderson is a sports columnist from Ritzville>


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