It was the who’s-who of Eastern Washington football, a group banded together to help the program as the athletic department tries to navigate its coronavirus-induced budget woes.
One of EWU’s most prominent alums – Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp – made it happen.
Kupp recently spearheaded a Zoom video teleconference that included more than 100 EWU football figures and current administration to brainstorm ways to help raise funds for the team.
The EWU athletic department was already facing a $5.9 million deficit before the pandemic halted sports in March, ultimately leading to 30% operational cuts to every Eagles program for 2020-2021, as well as significant salary reductions for staff and hiring freezes.
The group of current and former professional players, coaches and involved alumni who played at EWU voiced its ideas through their respective Zoom squares.
The members don’t want to see fiscal problems disrupt one of the top Football Championship Subdivision programs of the 2000s.
“We need to talk, people will listen,” Kupp, who hauled in 94 passes for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Rams last season
EWU athletic director Lynn Hickey and deputy athletic director Devon Thomas had been in touch with some of the school’s most successful graduates, trying to drum up funds for the athletic department during a time when schools across the country are experiencing substantial financial hits.
Kupp told Hickey he’d get a few people together for a Zoom meeting.
“Few” was an understatement.
“I was expecting about eight or nine people,” Hickey said. “There were over 100. Some people got kicked off because you can’t go past 100. (Kupp) was a really good organizer.”
The 90-minute meeting included a spectrum of former EWU standouts that spanned from former Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl offensive lineman Michael Roos to Washington head coach Jimmy Lake.
Even Big Sky Conference foes like Cal Poly defensive and offensive coordinators J.C. Sherritt and Nick Edwards – former players who helped EWU win a national title in 2010 – were in on the conference call.
Many in the meeting exchanged phone numbers and contact information to follow up with each other on ways to help the program.
“For them to take the time to help, that was big,” Hickey said.
Matt Johnson, a safety taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft, was also present.
Johnson, a defensive coordinator at Southridge High School in Kennewick last season, was encouraged by the meeting.
“(Kupp) has a season to worry about, but he made time for this,” Johnson said. “And Lynn did a good job of addressing the needs of the program and we could help.”
Kupp’s younger brother, former EWU linebacker Ketner Kupp, returned to the Eagles earlier this year as a defensive analyst. Their younger sister, Katrina Kupp, is a member of the EWU soccer’s 2021 recruiting class.
“All of us were given opportunities at Eastern that changed our life,” Johnson said. “We want the kids to come up from high school to experience what we experienced.”
Criner earns EWU legacy number
Since 2008, EWU has given the No. 4 jersey to its defensive leader.
Fifth year-senior safety Calin Criner will wear the number this season.
The Boise native totaled 85 tackles in 2019, had four interceptions and broke up three passes.
“It symbolizes the defensive player who most embodies the characteristics of defense at Eastern – grit, toughness, effort, leadership and academic success,” according to EWU.
Dylan Ledbetter (defensive lineman), Mitch Fettig (safety) and Albert Havili (defensive line) were the previous three players to wear the No. 4 jersey.
Eagles ranked 23rd in preseason poll
EWU checked in at No. 23 in the College Football America’s preseason FCS poll.
The annual printed yearbook also ranked Big Sky members Montana (No. 6), Montana State (No. 7), Weber State (No. 8) and Sacramento State (No. 11).
The Eagles have also been recently ranked in HERO Sports (18th) and Athlon (22nd) preseason polls.
Three-time defending national champion North Dakota State, which has won eight titles in nine years, is the prohibitive favorite in every released preseason poll.
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