What a Christmas it was for high school football players in the South Sound.
And for Eastern Washington University.
First Andrew Boston. The All-Area selection from Emerald Ridge verbally committed to EWU as a wide receiver on the eve of Christmas Eve.
Then Mount Tahoma’s Ira Branch. The cornerback and return specialist announced his verbal commitment to Eastern on Twitter the afternoon of Christmas Day.
And EWU had already received commitments from Steilacoom wide receiver Marques Hampton Jr., Lakes linebacker Cale Lindsay and Olympia defensive lineman Amir Matheney — all were selected to The News Tribune’s All-Area team.
Archbishop Murphy’s Anfernee Gurley and Kamiakin’s Darreon Moore, who were both selected to the TNT all-state team, joined Branch in committing to Eastern on Christmas. Both announced their commitments at 1 p.m. on Twitter.
This was no Christmas coincidence.
“I wanted to wait until they did — so it was all pretty connected,” Branch said.
“We all have that mentality — to bring a national (Football Championship Subdivision) title back to Eastern.”
Branch said he had spoken to Hampton, Boston and Gurley, especially before choosing to commit to Eastern. Branch was a first-team all-3A Pierce County League selection as a defensive back and kick returner and returned three kicks for touchdowns — the only three times teams kicked his way.
He said his commitment came down to the relationship he built with EWU cornerback coach and recruiting coordinator Cherokee Valeria.
Branch said he’s hoping his scholarship offer is an example to others who come from struggling programs. Mount Tahoma finished 0-10 when Branch was a freshman and the T-Birds won five games in his four years, but Branch stuck through it and was still able to play his way to a college scholarship.
“Coming from Mount Tahoma, I was trying to set a trend,” Branch said. “We have some athletes that people need to recognize. I just had the mentality of: ‘Don’t ever lose faith. Always keep working, always keep grinding. Someone is going to notice you.’ ”
Boston continues a different kind of trend.
EWU has dipped into the South Sound for All-Area receivers the past few years, and now adds to that pool with verbals from Boston and Hampton. It already has Gig Harbor’s Kyle Olson-Urbon, Lincoln’s Jayson Williams and Kentwood’s Terence Grady at receiver and Tumwater graduate Zach Wimberly at tight end.
You can imagine Boston’s excitement heading to an EWU offense that averaged 42 points per game this year and threw for 5,614 yards.
Eastern’s receivers coach is Foss graduate Nicholas Edwards, himself a former All-Area receiver.
“I was talking with Coach Edwards and really, to this point, I’m not really waiting on any other school,” Boston said. “This is a place where I think I can go and develop myself and chase championships.”
Boston was a first-team all-4A SPSL wide receiver after catching 69 passes for 859 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also returned a kick 92 yards for a TD against Puyallup.
Boston said he first met Edwards at a USA regional development camp at Archbishop Murphy his freshman year, just after he had moved to the Puyallup area from Idaho.
That’s where Boston also met Gurley, and he said Gurley had also been talking with Branch and Hampton about his college decision.
Boston echoed Branch’s championship sentiment.
“All of us have that same mindset — we’re going out and chasing that title,” Boston said.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677