Consider it the perfect marriage.
Eastern Washington’s group of big, strong and experienced receivers and a first-year receivers coach from the Missouri Valley Conference, a collection of tradition-rich FCS programs that prides itself on physicality.
But Pat McCann, plucked away from the same position at Northern Iowa this spring, has no intention of deviating from Eastern Washington’s brand of speedy, yard-accumulating pass catchers.
McCann wants sizable, sure-handed targets who are happy to block downfield in third-year coach Aaron Best’s run-driven schemes, but also the electric, over-the-top-of-a-secondary types EWU fans have enjoyed on an almost annual basis.
He believes he has both.
“There’s a bunch of guys with a bunch of different skill sets,” said McCann, 33, who grew up in Olympia and played collegiately at Western Washington. “And they all get genuinely excited about playing football.”
In eight of the past nine seasons, EWU has produced one – sometimes multiple – 1,000-yard receivers, including Nsimba Webster, who racked up 1,379 yards and 11 touchdowns last season before signing an undrafted free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Rams, where he’s now alongside FCS record-breaking receiver and former EWU star Cooper Kupp.
So who will be the Eagles’ next big-time target?
Andrew Boston, who hauled in 43 passes for 531 yards and four touchdowns last season, is a viable option, but it’s nothing the sophomore is thinking about.
“Nobody is really focused on who is going to be the next 1,000-yard receiver,” said Boston, who did most of his damage last season in intermediate routes. “ Just on making plays and getting better.”
Between Boston (6-3, 200), physical slot receiver Jayson Williams (6-1, 205), Talolo Limu-Jones (6-5, 225) and tight end Jayce Gilder (6-4, 250), gifted junior quarterback Eric Barriere has a number of veteran targets who combined for more than 1,600 career receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.
“A lot of experienced guys, like Jayson Williams,” McCann said. “He prides himself in blocking, which isn’t normal for the receiver position.”
Smaller, speedier targets like Dre’Sonte Dorton (214 career receiving yards, three touchdowns) and Johnny Edwards (270 yards, four touchdowns) have Webster-like explosion and have looked good the past two weeks, according to Barriere.
“There’s been a lot of receivers that have been stepping up in camp, like Johnny Edwards, and Dre Dorton, who has been improving a lot, making big plays,” said Barriere, a Walter Payton Award candidate who totaled 3,056 yards and 32 touchdowns last season.
Best is also eager to see who emerges, but expects contribution by committee.
“It’s probably going to be a collective effort,” Best said. “There’s going to have to be multiple guys who step up, and a couple of good receivers coming off a redshirt are (freshman) Freddie Roberson and Anthony Stell, guys we’re going to count on at some point.”
Roberson (6-3, 185) and Stell (5-10, 175), both Rainier Beach High School products, impressed during the spring.
“Nsimba obviously presented different obstacles for defenses than some of our guys right now,” Best added. “Jayson Williams is a great slot player, but he doesn’t have the speed vertically that Nsimba had, so we’re going to have to use our strengths and utilize our resources.”
Eastern Washington, which opens its season Aug. 31 at Washington, will scrimmage at 1 p.m. Saturday at Roos Field.