Since Ketner Kupp has been on the Eastern Washington football team, the culture of the Eagles defense has been in the works of changing. Small improvements have turned into huge improvements this season for a 2018 squad with high expectations.
Kupp, a sturdy linebacker at 6-foot, 225 pounds who leads the team with 53 total tackles, is one of 25+ seniors on the roster who has helped round the No. 5 Eagles into a complete team.
“The big thing is just having such a veteran group," Kupp told HERO Sports. "We’ve all played together for three or four years now and we’ve had young guys step up and make big plays. It’s guys knowing what to do and attacking every play.”
The Eagles have continued their ways of having one of the most explosive offenses in the FCS, even with All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud out for the season. It's the defense that has made the 2018 team a legitimate threat to make a run in the playoffs, which the Eagles expect to return to with a 6-2 record.
Since playing as a true freshman in 2015, Kupp has been a part of up-and-down defenses. The points allowed per game looked like this:
- 2015 – 39.5
- 2016 – 26.5
- 2017 – 33.4
This year, the defense is allowing 22.1 points per game, but more importantly, is giving up just 15.8 points against Big Sky opponents, which is No. 1 in the conference by 6.4 points.
Experience has helped this improvement, but so has adjustments defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding and Aaron Best, in his second season as head coach, have made.
“Nothing really changed as far as scheme," Kupp said. "Something that’s been in the works since I’ve been here is trying to make the scheme a little bit simpler, just so guys aren't thinking as much and are flying around. And I think that’s something that coach Best and coach Schmedding wanted to do as our defensive coordinator to help our guys fly around.”
“It’s something that defensively, we wanted to change the culture here at Eastern," Kupp added. "My first year here the seniors wanted to put that in place and talked about changing the culture. Every senior class has tried to uphold that and turn the idea of what our defense is about around. This year it’s starting to come around and we’re starting to turn some heads.”
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And yes, if you're wondering or waiting for it to be acknowledged, Ketner is the little brother of Cooper, the former EWU All-American wide receiver who's now in the NFL. But Ketner has put his own stamp on the program and has carved out his own name instead of being "Cooper's little brother."
He was named a captain this season and has gained some buzz as an NFL prospect at inside linebacker.
Kupp's improvements throughout his career, which currently totals 206 tackles, has helped this defense turn its culture around.
“I just wanted to be a part of a winning team and part of a team that was able to achieve their goals and right now we’re working toward that," Kupp said. "It’s just really cool to have an impact on a team like this. It’s something I’m really proud of … We’ve been really excited since the offseason started last year with the potential this team has. We know what the expectations are and guys are coming every day ready to attack their role and attack the goals for this team.”