For the past few years, the Eastern Oregon University football team has run with a “one-game-at-a-time” mentality.
That mindset is still present as the Mountaineers work through their first week of fall camp, but there was another idea being pitched during practice Thursday: being 1% better each day.
“One percent better is our mantra now, and that’s coming out here everyday and getting something done, focusing on something,” defensive lineman Sage Delong said. “And that doesn’t just include football. That includes going out and maybe doing community service or something to better yourself.”
It was what EOU head coach Tim Camp told the players at the start of practice Thursday, and what will be at the forefront of their minds as they prepare for the 2019 season opener.
“We need to build upon our commitment each day to each other and the buy-in factor to focus on us,” Camp said, “and being 1% better each day at something while being quality young men.”
That opener, at preseason Frontier Conference favorite College of Idaho on Aug. 31, is just 15 days away.
“So far it’s only day four, but I think we’re starting off pretty hot,” said quarterback Kai Quinn, who threw for 2,940 yards and 15 touchdowns during EOU’s 6-4 campaign in 2018. “We’ve got some young guys who are eager to be here and are willing to learn. They’re taking in everything, they’re taking in the experience of just being out here. I think we have a great group of leaders who are taking them in and showing them what Mountie football is all about.”
EOU has several key components back as it gets set for that opener, including a two-year starter in Quinn, leading rusher Vic Dias (688 yards in 2018), and a plethora of the top tacklers from last fall, including Eli Teuteu, Isaiah Cranford, Delong and Zack Jacobs, to name a few.
Gone is arguably the best receiver in EOU history, Brenden Kelly, who caught for more than 3,000 career yards, but Quinn said the team has a wide array of receivers for him to distribute the ball to.
“We’re deep right now. We’ve got a great class. I’m comfortable. I’ve got a lot of guys I can count on,” he said.
Also gone are several offensive and defensive line starters, but offensive lineman Luke Thomas said those roles are starting to be filled.
“I think we’re doing pretty good,” Thomas said. “We’re doing a lot better than in the spring, and we’ve got a lot of guys stepping up. A lot of those guys are stepping into big roles and filling big shoes.”
Eastern is also looking to take another step to amp up its high-speed look on offense, which it began to phase in a year ago, when it averaged 300 yards per game through the air and nearly 430 yards total. Offensive drills during practice Thursday — especially when Quinn was at quarterback — were humming at a much quicker pace.
“We’re trying to be the fastest team in the nation, so it’s constant running, conditioning, making sure we’re in the shape we need to be in to run that fast of an offense,” Quinn said.
Camp added the high-speed aspect of the offense is being stressed each day at practice.
“We want to be the fastest offense that we can be,” Camp, who enters his 12th season as head coach, said. “I think it will also help our defense as we face ‘no huddle’ teams in our conference.”
The defense is also undergoing a change with Nate Cress taking over as defensive coordinator. So far, Camp said, the players are taking well to Cress, who has been on the coaching staff since 2015.
“The adjustment and the teaching progression has improved greatly. It is easy to see that he cares deeply for EOU and this program,” he said.
Cranford said the attitude and energy within the team are much higher than a year ago.
“The culture is changing. We’ve built a foundation of high standards. We’re pushing the freshmen to it, (and) we’re (making sure) all the returners keep up to it,” Cranford said.
Delong added that minor details have been a focal point early.
“We’ve been harping on the little things, just small little details that are going to win the first game,” he said.
On paper, EOU will be entering the matchup against the Coyotes as underdogs after being picked to finish sixth in the Frontier
Conference preseason coaches’ poll.
That fact could serve as some extra motivation for what will be a crucial early-season matchup for both teams.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” Thomas said. “C of I is always tough to play at home. Whoever is bigger and stronger will win the game.”