EOU GEARS UP FOR NO. 1 CARROLL
After going 6-4 in 2004, the Eastern Oregon University football team's first winning season since 1998, the Mountaineers start their 2005 campaign against three-time defending NAIA national champion Carroll College Friday at Community Stadium at 4 p.m.
Carroll College is ranked No. 1 in the NAIA after going 6-2 in the conference and 12-2 overall in 2004.
Eastern Oregon University head coach Jim Fenwick said the last week before the season is all about fine tuning.
"We are preparing for the game," Fenwick said. "It's a tough balance between playing and practicing hard and still not getting injured."
EOU will be going for consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the 1979-1980 seasons.
The challenge of facing the best team in the nation for the past three years is just what the team wants, according to defensive coordinator Travis Baker.
"We are all in this business because we love challenges and this group is the same way," Baker said. "We get to find out how good we are right off the bat."
Big bodies A consistent offense is dependent on its offensive line and EOU has brought in Eric Price, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound tackle to lead the new group.
Fenwick said the transfer from Idaho State University will come in and anchor the line.
"Our offensive line is always a concern," Fenwick said. "He is one of the guys we are going to count on for leadership."
Price was attracted to EOU by a few of his friends.
"Some buddies of mine were already playing here and I came to visit and liked it," Price said.
Price has embraced his new role as one of the leaders on the team.
"We've got our game plan down, solidifying strengths and working on our weaknesses," Price said.
Offensive line coach Jeff Cheeks said he likes what he's seen from Price.
"He's been good. He's very athletic and strong," Cheeks said. "He came from a great program and has been a real good leader for us."
The offensive line is still a concern for the Mountaineers, especially with 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior guard Travis Holbrook out for 2-3 weeks with a broken bone in his foot.
"I hope to get back out there for the game after Carroll," Holbrook said.
Since EOU has a bye and will not play their next game until they face Rocky Mountain on Sept. 17, Holbrook's return is not out of the question.
"We should be okay, I just want to get back out there," Holbrook said. "This is ridiculous, I have never been hurt in my entire career."
The loss of Holbrook has been tough for the offensive line to swallow but Cheeks said they have a very capable backup.
"Its tough to lose a guy like [Holbrook]," Cheeks said. "Justin Bosche is inexperienced but could be very good in a few years."
Holbrook hates missing one of the biggest games of his EOU career to injury, noting the extra incentive for him to play against Carroll College.
"There are three guys from my high school on Carroll and I really wanted to take it to them," Holbrook said.
Take a stand Fenwick is counting on some of his younger players to fill the void on defense after losing nine starters from 2004.
"Some of these guys need to step up and realize it's up to them now," Fenwick said, "not the guys they relied on last year."
Mark Persche, a returning starter at outside linebacker, and David Pitts, strong safety, will have to lead the defense while trying to remain healthy.
"We are not a deep team so we need to stay away from injuries," Fenwick said.
Although there are a lot of new faces, Baker said the group is coming together nicely.
"This young group has come a long way, especially in the two-a-days," Baker said. "They are getting the concept of what we are trying to do."
Persche said that the loss of leadership last year is always hard to make up for but the new group is ready to make a name for themselves.
"We lost a lot of guys but we still have a good team," Persche said. "It's time to come out and prove everyone wrong."
Eligibility Another high profile transfer for EOU is Tyrone Gross, a running back from Sacramento State University who was fighting for a starting spot after spring practices.
Only Gross has remained sidelined so far this fall while there are still questions about his academic eligibility.
"He's gotten some things completed this summer but you can't always count on getting stuff done in the summer," Fenwick said. "He will eventually get it done, we're just not sure when, and we have to get other people ready to go."