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Jay-Tee Tiuli leads group of Eastern Washington players ready to bounce back from injury-filled 2017 season

UPDATED: Thu., April 12, 2018

Eastern Washington DL Jay-Tee Tiuli tries to get a glove on Northern Iowa QB Aaron Bailey in the first quarter, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Cheney, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington DL Jay-Tee Tiuli tries to get a glove on Northern Iowa QB Aaron Bailey in the first quarter, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Cheney, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Jay-Tee Tiuli, all 330 pounds of him, walked slowly but purposefully toward the practice field on Wednesday afternoon.

The purpose: to raise a little havoc.

Like several of his Eastern Washington teammates, Tiuli is eager to make up for lost time, for a 2017 season that was over soon after it began thanks to a shoulder injury.

“I’m just excited to get out there with the guys I’m going to play with every day – it’s going to be a great year,” Tiuli said.

Greatness was supposed to happen last year. Tiuli was coming off a breakthrough season at nose tackle in 2016, making first-team all-Big Sky Conference and ready to go out with a bang.

Instead, his season ended with a pop, a shoulder injury in week two that sent him to the sidelines until spring ball.

“It was frustrating, but the rehab was great,” Tiuli said in a nod to the Eastern trainers. “I feel solid, but I came out last week a little rusty, so I got a little frustrated.

“But my game’s going to come back.”

Who could disagree?

“He had a great offseason,” defensive front coordinator Eti Ena said. “He’s one one of those guys who know how to go about his work and know what it takes to succeed.”

Tiuli isn’t the only one. Several Eagles are looking for redemption after losing part of their seasons to injury. Wide receiver Terence Grady, offensive linemen Matt Meyer and Kaleb Levao, and cornerback D’londo Tucker all hope to join Tiuli in raising a little havoc this year.

Tucker – who missed all of 2014 plus a big chunk of last season – is still waiting approval from the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, but the others are on the field with an attitude.

Meyer started three games at right guard before an arm injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Two surgeries later, Meyer said he hopes to make it through spring and earn back his starting spot.

“But if not, I’m going to be coming off the bench and give ’em some hell,” Meyer said.

Going into his senior season, Meyer also is giving some pointers to the younger linemen while helping the Eagles “figure out what’s best for this offense.”

Another player with something to prove is senior Grady, who played as a true freshman in 2014 and the following year.

With Cooper Kupp, Kendrick Bourne and Shaw Hill atop the depth chart in 2016, Grady agreed to take one for the team and burn his redshirt in the middle of his career.

The payoff came in last year’s opener at Texas Tech. Grady was the shining light in a 56-10 loss, catching caught seven balls for 91 yards and scored the Eagles’ lone touchdown.

A week later, it all came crashing down as Grady suffered a broken collarbone. He returned earlier than expected, but saw only spot duty late in the season.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Grady said. “But this spring our offense is really clicking.

“This spring I want to be the guy that my team relies on – I have a lot of confidence in this team and this offense.”

In case that confidence flags, Grady and the other comeback kids at EWU can take inspiration from one of their own.

Kicker Roldan Alcobendas missed two of his first four seasons at Eastern, the last one in 2015. Two surgeries later, he returned in 2016 and set a school record for consecutive extra points.

Last week, the NCAA approved his petition for a sixth year of eligibility.

“It’s pretty special to be keep playing here,” Alcobendas said.

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