CWU vs Ferris State_01

Central Washington University’s head football coach Chris Fisk, right, touches the wildcat statue as they take the field for their game against Ferris State last season at Tomlinson Stadium.

When Chris Fisk replaced former Central Washington University football head coach Ian Shoemaker last February, he vowed to uphold the vision of the program that Shoemaker implemented.

On the National Signing Day for student-athletes all around the country on Wednesday, Fisk stuck with the pedigree Shoemaker built: keeping the recruitment homegrown.

Of CWU’s 27 freshmen players inked, 25 are from the state of Washington.

“One of the big reasons I came up here was I believed in what coach (Shoemaker) was doing and the way he was doing it,” Fisk said before he introduced each athlete signed at a celebration event hosted at the Ellensburg Brewery and Tilted Cidery. “We’re going to continue doing it that way. Our priority is the Washington student-athlete and putting our money, our scholarship dollars back into the state of Washington when possible.”

A lot of those scholarship dollars were used on the men upfront on both sides of the ball.

Fisk’s background comes from the offensive line, so bringing in plenty of talent at that position is a given especially considering their belief that everything starts with the O-line.

CWU signed six with a lot of size as four of them stand at least 6-foot-4. Fisk was exuberant about bringing in 6-foot-5, 280-pound Axel Isackson out of Eastlake and 6-foot-6, 315-pound Alex Krueger out of Meadowdale.

CWU also inked 6-foot, 315-pound LeiBen Tivoli Fesili from the potent Kennedy Catholic. Fesili was blocking for five-star recruit quarterback junior Sam Huard who’s committed to the University of Washington.

“LeiBen Fesili is a dominant physical kid and he’s got a nasty streak in him,” Fisk said. “We’re really excited about him.”

CWU loses only one on the O-line in All-American Nicholas Streubel.

RUN STOPPERS

With CWU having issues stopping the run last season (193.8 yards per game), they emphasized recruitment on the defensive line, signing seven players, the most of any position group (tied with linebackers). And Fisk was looking to add height.

All seven stand at least 6-foot-2 which includes 6-foot-6, 220-pound Chase Loidhamer out of Wenatchee. CWU also signed 6-foot-2, 300-pound Josiah Nikolao of Bellarmine-Prep. He originally signed his letter of intent at the University of Washington as a preferred walk-on, but switched last minute.

CWU stayed local and added 6-foot-2, 240-pound Bryce Messner out of Ellensburg as well. Fisk said they liked what they saw out of him during their summer camp EHS attended and Messner “was continuously putting pressure on the quarterback as a defensive end.”

“I still think games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage,” Fisk said. “And we want all of our classes — not just this year — but all the classes moving forward are going to have a strong presence with our defensive and offensive lines.”

Linebacker was also a heavily recruited position with seven newcomers with one being 6-foot-4, 195-pound Isaac Clark (Puyallup) who’s currently the No. 1 ranked wrestler in 4A for his weight class.

Another pickup is 6-foot-2, 225-pound Lewa Emmsley who’s a three-star recruit out of Kapolei High School in Hawaii. He was ranked No. 30 in the state of Hawaii by 247 Sports. He also had interest from FBS San Diego State.

“San Diego State fell of late and was looking for a home and we flew him out here to the Burg and he had a great time,” Fisk said. “We have a fairly large group of Hawaiian kids and Polynesian culture within our team, and I think he felt at home with the guys on our team.”

CWU returns both linebackers Donte Hamilton and Hamilton Hunt (GNAC first team). Hamilton took a medical redshirt after missing most of last season. CWU lost linebacker Tevin Gray to graduation.

RUNNING BACK DEPTH

Depth at the running back position isn’t a predicament for CWU with one of the best in Division II with All-American Michael Roots, complemented by former Division I backs Rey Green (University of Montana) and Eric Wilkes (Weber State) who are all set to return for the 2020 season.

But CWU added three freshmen backs in Zaire Lozolo (Kennedy Catholic), Jackson McCann (Enumclaw) and Cameron Daniels (O’Dea).

McCann notched 1,654 all-purpose yards his senior season (1,169 rushing) along with 17 touchdowns.

“We had him at camp, seemed like every time he touched the football he scored a touchdown,” Fisk said.

The Wildcats didn’t add any quarterbacks, already rostering five of them with Christian Moore returning for his junior season. But that doesn’t mean they won’t add one in the future.

“I’m not pressured to sign a quarterback this year,” Fisk said. “It’s a position we’re young at and we’re very deep at that position.”

CWU didn’t lose any wideouts but signed two in Tae Mark (Evergreen) and Marcus Cook (Davis in Yakima). Two tight ends will also be future Wildcats: Jeremiah Faulstick (Hockinson) and Titan Philips (Camas).

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR CHANGE

Fisk noted that defensive coordinator Ivan Cordova was released after two seasons with CWU. The Wildcats gave up an average of 399 yards per game in 2019 while allowing an average of 29.6 points per game.

In Cordova’s first season, CWU yielded 24.2 points per game along with 391 yards per game.

CWU hired Nate Johnson as its new defensive coordinator who was the former safeties coach at CWU from 2015-17. He was part of a program that went 11-0, captured a GNAC title and secured the Super Region Four’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. He was recently at Stephen F. Austin State (FCS) in Nacogdoches, Texas for one season as its safeties coach.

“We’re very excited to get coach Johnson back,” Fisk said.

TRANSFERS

Five transfers are headed to CWU: Zach Stecklein (DL, St. Cloud State), Marcus Hee (S, University of Montana), Markus Sulivan (DL, Saddleback College), Issac Crichton (TE, Western New Mexico), and Tytus Timoteo (OL, Western New Mexico).

There could potentially be more in the coming future, but these are the five confirmed.

Hee was a two-star recruit from Roosevelt (Honollulu, HI) and was ranked the No. 33 player in the state of Hawaii by 247 Sports in 2018.

There was a lack of a Polynesian presence at Montana which was one of the reasons he entered the transfer portal. He said he connected with CWU’s Tai-John Mizutani, Justin Genovia, Ryan Ramones and Jonah Miyazawa who all hail from Hawaii.

“What brings me to CWU is how it’s like a home away from home for me,” the redshirt freshman safety said. “Being from Hawaii, it was crucial I find a school where there is a good population of Hawaii locals as well as Polynesia students. And CWU seemed to fit the mold.”

Luke Olson: lolson@kvnews.com; on Twitter: @lukeolsonb.

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