Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Fatherhood has slowed the days when Beau
Baldwin was a roller coaster enthusiast or would jump off a bridge or a cliff
into water or would find some other kind of rush.
Still, there remains plenty of risk taking in the Eastern Washington
University football coach.
His team's schedules seem to be getting tougher by the year.
"I don't mind taking risks," says the sixth-year coach, whose first two games
at EWU in 2008 were against Texas Tech and Colorado.
"I don't think I would have as much success if I didn't have a little bit of
that mentality through the last so many years of my career."
This year's 12-game regular-season schedule - the first in EWU history - has
Hannibal Lector's fingerprints all over it. Included in the first four games
are visits to two FBS opponents, Oregon State and Toledo, as well as
a Sam Houston State program that has reached the FCS championship game each of
the last two seasons, including a win at EWU in the national semifinals last
Highlighting the Eagles' Big Sky Conference schedule are more difficult road
games against Montana and Cal Poly, and a home matchup against Montana State.
It's possible EWU could dig an early season hole and not get out of it, as the
Eagles did in an 0-4 start two years ago following their 2010 FCS national
championship season, which was 2-2 at one point because of yet another tough
opening stretch of games.
"To me, I think the tougher you make your schedule, a lot of times that does
prepare you for the (playoff) situations," Baldwin said. "I think if you just
set your schedule up so you can have a great regular season, I don't think it
necessarily prepares you like you truly need to be or want to be to truly make
a run in the playoffs. Plus, those are defining-type football games you can go
after. Whether it be for us the last couple years with the University of
Washington and playing WSU (Washington State) and Idaho. And then this year,
obviously, Oregon State, Toledo and also Sam Houston, those are the type of
football games that you say, man, you're making the schedule that much
but those are also defining-type games, those are moment-type games."
The Eagles, who were part of a three-team share of the conference title and
finished 11-3 with the No. 4 national ranking last season, open spring
on Thursday with the goal of readying a team that lost a lot at wide receiver,
linebacker and defensive end. Besides losing seniors, record-breaking wide
receiver Brandon Kaufman and quarterback Kyle Padron, a co-starter last year,
departed as juniors to the NFL Draft.
There are 48 letter-winners returning, and 33 of the players have combined to
make 301 career starts, which certainly gives the Eagles the expectation they
can overcome the losses and their difficult schedule.
"We look at (the spring) as the first 15 practices of 44 before we play our
first game," Baldwin said. "The main thing we want to do is just hit those
fundamentals early, making sure we are finding out how good certain football
guys are, keeping it as simple as we can, evaluating them playing football and
fundamentals, not whether or not they can pick up a whole bunch of stuff. It's
a pretty generic style, our springs have always been that way. But it's
us I think to play fast and to really evaluate how guys play football."
The returning lineup features dual-threat quarterback Vernon Adams, who was
of the better freshman in the FCS last season; a solid running back corp to
work behind Steven Forgette and a veteran offensive line; defensive tackle
Andru Pulu, linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, cornerback T.J. Lee III and safety Allen
Brown on defense; and standout punter Jake Miller.
The losses at wide receiver are the most glaring. Kaufman set the FCS single-
season record last season with 1,850 receiving yards and joined fellow
Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd in a trio that combined on a staggering 601
receptions for 8,713 yards and 83 touchdowns over their careers.
This year's group won't have the size of its predecessors, but might sneak up
on opponents with its raw talent. Senior Ashton Clark (83 career receptions)
the most seasoned receiver from a unit that includes senior Daniel Johnson,
junior Cory Mitchell, sophomore Shaquille Hill, and redshirt freshmen Cooper
Kupp and Keylin Huddleston.
"So other guys at other positions need to pick up what they're doing," Baldwin
said. "And we do, we have veterans coming back on the offensive line, we have
veterans at tight end, we have veterans at running back and we have a young
quarterback, but a young quarterback who has not just game but big-game
experience. So there's good pieces around them. Same thing on defense.
Linebacker is where we lost the most bodies, but we have enough veterans
back at D-line and secondary to help that transition period for the younger
players that are playing new positions."
The difficulty of Eastern Washington schedules hasn't stopped the Eagles from
being big winners under Baldwin. Each of his first five teams has finished
with winning records both overall and in the Big Sky.
They expect to do that again during this year's regular season, and then
parlay it into postseason success.
What a rush that would be.
The Sports Network