The quarterback pipeline that runs between Eastern Washington and the Canadian Football League wasn’t excavated by Bo Levi Mitchell or Matt Nichols, two of the league’s veteran arms.
Rick Worman, who led a budding EWU program to the 1985 Division I-AA playoffs before a six-year playing career in the CFL, put the shovel in the dirt.
And years before red-clad patrons filled Cheney sports bars on Sundays to watch a popular blonde, congenial wide receiver haul in passes for the Los Angeles Rams, they were pointing at another sure-handed EWU alum on the television.
Jeff Ogden, a receiver who helped the Eagles earn their second Big Sky Conference title in 1997, was essentially the Cooper Kupp of his generation, playing five NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens.
Worman and Ogden are among several inductees in the 2018 EWU Athletics Hall of Fame class. They will be honored at halftime Saturday during the Eagles’ Big Sky Conference opener against Cal Poly, which begins at 1:05 p.m. at Roos Field.
Sixth-ranked EWU, which has earned nine playoffs appearances, seven Big Sky titles and a national championship since 2004, experienced just three Division I postseason appearances before the turn of the millennium.
Worman and Ogden were a part of two of them, helping lay the groundwork for a EWU program that’s not only a FCS Top 25 regular but has grown respect for the talent it sends to the professional ranks.
Eleven EWU alums currently dot NFL and CFL rosters.
“I’ve had NFL coaches and scouts come to me and say, ‘Eastern Washington sure produces some good players,’ ” said Worman, who is a scout for CFL’s Hamilton TigerCats and spent years as coordinator in the CFL and college ranks. “A lot of has changed since I played there, and it’s great to see all the success and talent that now come out of (EWU).”
The right opportunity
Born and raised in the San Jose, California, area, Worman spent his freshman season at Fresno State before head coach Jim Sweeney added his quarterback son to the Bulldogs’ roster.
Worman, knowing he wouldn’t supplant the coach’s kid, decided to take his game elsewhere, and began shopping the Northwest.
When a Montana State coach told Worman a scholarship wasn’t available, he informed Worman about a school that had recently made the jump from NCAA DII to Division I-AA and often played Big Sky Conference schools as an independent.
“Some school in Cheney, Washington,” recalled Worman, who accepted a scholarship offer from the Eagles, whose quarterback coach at the time was Jim McElwain, the Florida head coach from 2015-2017. “I’d never heard of it before. But I’m glad I found it.”
He went on to post a 16-5-1 record in two seasons, setting 10 school records and helped lead the Eagles to their first playoff appearance in 1985, a win over Big Sky power Idaho, a 42-38 first-round upset in Moscow.
“It was great to be part of those foundation years, and helping EWU get membership into the Big Sky Conference,” said Worman, who passed for 354 yards and three touchdowns in the playoff win. “Beating Idaho in the playoffs was a turning point for the program.”
Worman had a nice stint in the CFL as a QB for the Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders, totaling 8,577 yards and 55 touchdowns.
“If we passed as much back in my playing days as they do now, I’d still have some EWU records,” Worman joked.
“My time at Eastern really had a positive impact on my life and my life choices,” he said. “I use that lesson as a coach, in making the the best of the situations that are presented to you.”
Worman, who said he’s humbled to be inducted into the EWU Athletics Hall of Fame, said he’ll making his trip to Cheney this weekend for both business and pleasure, as he said he’ll also be scouting some EWU players.
“Not a single college recruited me”
Since retiring from the NFL in 2003, Ogden, who prepped at Snohomish High in the early 1990s, has had his hands in a few ventures.
Ogden, who works with nonprofit organizations in North Carolina, coached at the collegiate at professional levels before owning a fitness club in Pittsburgh.
He even appeared on the seventh and eighth seasons of “Millionaire Matchmaker” in 2014, where he tries to find a date on the Bravo Network reality show.
“Playing professionally , that was 100 percent unexpected,” Ogden said. “Not a single college recruited me.”
So he didn’t play his freshman year. Not football, anyway.
Ogden went on to throw javelin at Clackamas Community College before his older brother and former EWU football player, Pat Ogden, convinced him to walk on at EWU.
His senior year, the speedster set what then then a school record of 1,147 yards and 13 touchdowns on 53 receptions, helping the Eagles reach the I-AA semifinals.
“I feel like that 1997 team really propelled EWU into the success it’s had the last 20 years,” Ogden said.
The Division I-AA All-American went undrafted in 1998 but signed with the Cowboys as free agent. He went on to appear in all 16 regular-season games that year as a return specialist and wide receiver.
He ended his NFL career playing in 67 games, registering 28 receptions for 304 yards and one touchdown.
Ogden said he has been impressed with the level of wide receiver EWU has had since he graduated 20 years ago, especially Kupp.
“Now I’m like 18th and 39th on these EWU receiving records, so now I’m wondering how I am even in the (EWU Hall of Fame),” Ogden joked. “No, but I really am happy and honored. I am looking forward to being back in Cheney.”
Other 2018 EWU Athletics Hall of Fame inductees honored include former men’s basketball star Alvin Snow (Class of 2004); former volleyball star Kim Maxwell-Dempsey (Class of 2002); former men’s track standout Kurt Kraemer (Class of 2003); the 1998 and 1999 EWU volleyball teams led by coach Pam Parks; and Dick Hannan, Service and Contribution Award.
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