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Once committed to Montana, Chris Schlichting nears 50 straight starts for Eastern Washington

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 24, 2019

Luke Dahlgren, left,  pedals a stationary bike next to Chris Schlichting  at an Eastern Washington practice on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, in Cheney. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Luke Dahlgren, left, pedals a stationary bike next to Chris Schlichting at an Eastern Washington practice on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, in Cheney. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Chris Schlichting is a thinker, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound mountain of a man whose free moments are often spent casting flies on North Idaho rivers.

That’s where Eastern Washington’s senior right tackle is alone with his thoughts, away from the inherent chaos that comes with being a decorated Division I student-athlete.

It’s peaceful, serene and a pastime he’s enjoyed since growing up in scenic North Bend, Washington, a small Interstate 90 town on the eastern outskirts of Seattle.

It’s among the reasons the All-Big Sky Conference talent initially chose to play his college football at the University of Montana in Missoula, a school in proximity to some of the finest fly fishing in the country.

“Just committed to the University of Montana for football!” Schlichting tweeted in August 2014. “All glory to God! Excited to be a Griz for my college career! #GoGriz

He changed his mind.

Instead, Schlichting, who starred at Mount Si High School, signed with the Grizzlies’ budding rival, Eastern Washington, a program that’s won the most conference games in the 2010s, a distinction the Griz owned in the 2000s.

He’s since started 47 straight games for EWU (3-4, 2-1 Big Sky), which visits 10th-ranked Montana (5-2, 2-1) on Saturday at loud and rowdy Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Schlichting is aiming to go 3-0 against a Grizzlies team he thought would be his.

“I was all in with them,” Schlichting said of Montana, which has lost seven of its last nine games against the Eagles.

But things changed.

Former Montana head coach Mick Delaney retired from his post during Schlichting’s senior year of high school. The Grizzlies subsequently hired Bob Stitt, from NCAA Division II Colorado School of Mines, known for his innovative misdirection scheme, the fly offense.

“Stitt came in and, nothing against him, but I didn’t like his philosophy as a coach,” Schlichting said. “(EWU head coach and then-offensive line coach) Aaron Best and I just jelled. We’ve been through some stuff since I’ve been here, but that’s my guy.”

Stitt was fired three seasons later, setting up the 2018 return of Bobby Hauck, a head coach whose Grizzlies dominated the Big Sky in the 2000s and advanced to three national title games before Hauck left for UNLV.

Best, a molder of offensive linemen, helped sway Schlichting to Cheney when he realized that Montana wouldn’t be the best fit. Schlichting has considered Best a surrogate father since.

His real father, Daniel Schlichting, was also a reason he chose EWU.

Daniel lived in Spokane Valley while Schlichting was in high school, often making the 250-mile drive to North Bend to watch his games. Schlichting’s mother, Michelle, lives in North Bend.

“Having my dad close (to EWU) was important,” Schlichting said. “It gave us a chance to make up for lost time. We probably go fly fishing twice a month in Idaho and go camping in Montana in the summers. No cellphone service. I love it out there.”

After redshirting in 2015, Schlichting earned first-team reps as a left guard, helping a young offensive line block for a high-octane offense that set several record in the Eagles’ national semifinalist season.

He has played every position on the offensive line, primarily right tackle.

“It was something I expected but was ready for it,” Schlichting said. “Best is one of the best offensive line coaches there is and really prepared me for it. I’m not the most physical guy all the time, but I’m smart, know the playbook.”

He started Week 1 of the 2016 season and has started every game since.

Best considers Schlichting one of the program’s most reliable figures.

“It’s not just luck that you start 47 straight games,” said Best, a former EWU offensive lineman in the 1990s. “There’s a lot of preparation, a little bit of luck to not have the injury bug hit you. He’s been good physically, mentally and emotionally since he’s been here.”

EWU, ranked as high as No. 4 to start the season after advancing to the 2018 national title game, is trying to make up for an unexpectedly slow start, win its next five games and hope it’s enough to receive a berth in the playoffs.

The Eagles, who returned most of their offensive line from last season, have been hit and miss on offense but are coming off a 54-21 rout of Northern Colorado in which the balanced Eagles clicked.

“It’s growing pains in some parts. (First-year offensive coordinator Ian Shoemaker) didn’t change a lot, but there’s certain things that we do this year, we didn’t do in the past,” Schlichting said. “He’s a great coach and a great football mind, but there’s times when we’re out there and we’re flying. But inconsistency has been huge with us in all three phases of the game, and that’s a big thing our team has tried to overcome. You can’t have lulls.”

Coming off a bye week, the Eagles have had two weeks to prepare for the Grizzlies, a make-or-break game for Eastern.

A road win over a top-10 team and rival could help propel the Eagles for the remainder of their schedule, which doesn’t feature another Top 25 club.

A loss would cement the Eagles’ absence from the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Schlichting is already fired up for Saturday.

“I love playing at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, there’s no place like it in the FCS,” he said. “There’s not a lot places where people ages 2 to 82 hate you. They want to see you lose and want to see you suffer – and I love it.”

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