Close Games, Tough Moments
After a disappointing 2023, Eagle Football appears poised to bounce back big next year.
It didn’t start out like a season to forget. Yes, there were a couple of tough losses on the road; one to perennial FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, another to FBS mid-major stalwart Fresno State. But the home campaign began with real promise: a decisive win over 19th-ranked Southeastern Louisiana, followed by a 3-point triumph over Big Sky Conference rival UC-Davis — a victory that saw Coach Aaron Best’s squad return to the familiar territory of an FCS Top-25 ranking.
Sadly, that week-four ranking marked the high point of an autumn that saw an Eagle team play hard, play close, but too often come up short. By the time the Eagles dropped their home finale to Northern Arizona, the win-loss tally stood at a dismal 4-7 overall, 10th in the Big Sky Conference.
Still, there were high points, among them a big win over Weber State that put an exclamation point on an inspiring 100th Homecoming celebration. Perhaps more to the point for Eagle fans, the team’s gritty play showed plenty of reasons for optimism as it retools for next year.
“I would challenge people to say we didn’t show improvement from last year,” Collins said, adding that “especially next year, I think we’re set up for success.”
Athletics director Tim Collins perhaps summed it up best in a post-season interview with The Spokesman-Review. “I would challenge people to say we didn’t show improvement from last year,” Collins said, adding that “especially next year, I think we’re set up for success.”
One reason for Collins’ optimism was the play of Efton Chism III, a junior wide receiver who racked up stats not seen since the days of Eastern superstar Cooper Kupp.
Chism spent the 2023 season ranked among conference and national leaders in just about every receiving category. He ended on a particularly high note, with a 3-touchdown effort against Northern Arizona, a performance that anchored a season with 84 catches for 934 yards and 8 touchdowns. Chism now ranks third on EWU’s all-time career receptions list. His achievements made him a unanimous choice for first team All Big Sky Conference honors. Chism was joined on the first team All-Conference honor list by redshirt senior Marlon Jones Jr., a standout defensive back who wraps up his EWU career with 40 career games played, 158 total tackles and 9 interceptions. Redshirt senior tight end Blake Gobel and junior kick returner Michael Wortham, meanwhile, were named to the All-Conference second team, while starting quarterback Kekoa Visperas, a redshirt sophomore, snagged an honorable mention.
Conference honors aside, Head Coach Aaron Best told Learfield’s
Eagle Flight podcast that the lack of wins was difficult to take — as was a season where, despite his team’s very real effort, the Eagles just couldn’t seem to turn the corner. “There were a lot of close games, a lot of tough moments, throughout the course of the season,” Best said. “We overcame some of them, but not enough of them. But I was proud of those guys — especially the way they ended the season — even without the win.”