Eastern Washington visits Washington State on Saturday in the opener for both teams. EWU players J.J. Njoku, Jordan Dascalo and Matt Meyer began college life in Pullman before transferring.
No hard feelings, but life is better in Cheney for two former Washington State football players.
For a variety of reasons, they will be back at Martin Stadium in Pullman on Saturday — playing for the Eastern Washington Eagles in the season opener for both teams.
“It was a great experience to be at WSU … and I’m definitely looking forward to going back there,” said Eastern roverback J.J. Njoku, who played special teams for the Cougars when they beat the Eagles 24-20 back in 2012.
Former WSU punter Jordan Dascalo will be back as well.
Despite starting all 12 games in 2014, he wasn’t able to earn a scholarship and decided to go in a different direction. North.
They aren’t the only ones.
Matt Meyer, who is from Lynden, was a grayshirt and a 2014 WSU redshirt, but will start at guard for Eastern on Saturday.
They are continuing a tradition that began a few years ago with transfers from Washington State to Eastern Washington by offensive lineman Jake Rodgers, wide receiver Blair Bomber, punter Jake Miller and defensive lineman Zackary Johnson.
Dascalo’s story is perhaps the most poignant. He said he was recruited to Pullman by a promise from then-special teams coach Eric Russell: Make the starting lineup and you’ll get a scholarship.
Dascalo held up his end of the bargain, averaging 41.6 yards a punt two years ago to rank sixth in the Pac-12.
Then the unthinkable happened.
WSU committed a season’s worth of special-teams failures in a 60-59 home loss to Cal.
Russell was fired the next day and Dascalo never got the scholarship he was expecting.
“That was going to be tough on my family, so I had to move on,” said Dascalo, who connected with EWU coach Beau Baldwin, got the financial help he needed and started every game last year.
Dascalo said he had a good time in Pullman, while it lasted. “But going back, I’m just going to do my job. I’m so grateful for what I have now.”
More than anything, Dascalo appreciates Baldwin’s involvement in special teams.
“He’s hands on, interactive with me, and I appreciate that,” said Dascalo, a junior.
Meanwhile, Njoku, the Eagles’ backup roverback from Lakes High in Lakewood, struggled in the spring of 2013 with his commitment to football; he even took a quarter off from school.
Without blaming the Cougars’ program, Njoku said, “It got to the point where I got to dislike football … I got in a rut and I decided it (WSU) wasn’t the right fit for me.”
Njoku eventually contacted the Eagles. He played on special teams last year and should see plenty of action at rover this fall.
“When (Baldwin) said we were playing WSU in the first game, I got super excited,” Njoku said. “It’s going to be fun.”