CHENEY — Life is moving faster than an oncoming tailback for Albert Havili, who is embracing them both.
Two months out of high school, Havili celebrated his 18th birthday on the first day of fall camp at Eastern Washington. Three weeks later, he was on the field at Oregon State, one of six true freshmen to play for the Eagles this year.
“The coaches told me I needed to step up,” said Havili, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder from Federal Way, Wash., who’s not only in the mix, but in the middle of it all. Sharing time at middle linebacker with veteran Cody McCarthy, he already has 33 tackles.
“Albert’s a smart kid,” Eastern linebackers coach Josh Fetter said before Tuesday’s practice at Roos Field. “With freshmen, usually they’re mentally ready but not physically, or the other way around, but Albert happened to be ready for both.”
He’s not the only one. A trio of true freshmen are seeing action on the defensive line, which assistant coach Ryan Sawyer said is unusual before adding that “they’re ahead of where a lot of freshmen are.”
Sawyer and head coach Beau Baldwin see only positives down the road. In the short term, a bigger rotation “makes it easier to save the veterans for crunch time later in the season,” Sawyer said. Long-term, the Eagles are building quality depth for seasons to come.
“They’ve earned it,” Baldwin said.
At defensive end, true freshman Samson Ebukam already has two sacks, reminding a few people of graduated sack master Jerry Ceja. At 6-3, 230, the Nigerian-born Ebukam “is not as fast as Jerry, but he’s bigger,” defensive coordinator John Graham said.
“It’s going to be exciting to see him develop,” Graham added.
Ebukam, who played high school ball in Portland, said the college game “is a lot harder than I thought,” and said he didn’t know until the final week of camp that he’d see action.
Like Ebukam, interior linemen Joe Douglas (6-3, 240, from Richland) and Matthew Sommer (6-5, 290, from Salem, Ore.) are seeing about 20 snaps a game while spelling the upperclassmen.
Sommer said that not long after letter-of-intent day, the Eastern coaches said that hard work might pay off big.
“It was great that I could earn that role, and have the opportunity,” Sommer said.
Building depth for the future is only one reason cornerback D’londo Tucker is on the field.
Another Federal Way product, the 6-0, 170-pound Tucker made one big play after another during fall camp and now is a devoted understudy to All-America cornerback T.J. Lee III.
“The coaches asked me (before the Oregon State game), ‘are you ready?’ And I said, ‘I’m ready,’?” Tucker said. “T.J. and (cornerback) Ronald Baines and the coaches have both done a great job teaching me,” Tucker said.
The sixth true freshman, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne of Milwaukie, Ore., already has five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Baldwin discounted any talk of a revenge game this week against Southern Utah, which last year knocked off the top-ranked Eagles 30-27 in Cedar City, Utah.
“The team from last year is gone, and so is ours,” Baldwin said. “We know what we have in front of us.”
Two injured players are back in pads, including offensive tackle Jake Rodgers (knee sprain) and running back Jabari Wilson (shoulder).