by Howie Stalwick & r & Eric Kimble will never forget the first time he played football, no matter how hard he tries. "I put my pads on the wrong way," he recalls sheepishly. "I was putting my knee pads on my thigh pads. I put my butt pad on my hip pad. I put everything on the wrong way. The coach is like, 'Uh, that's the wrong way.'"
Kimble's coach in Tacoma figured things couldn't get any worse once Kimble actually hit the field. His coach was dead wrong.
"For some odd reason, the coach put me at quarterback!" Kimble says in amazement. "I didn't know what I was doing."
Kimble soon moved to running back, and a star was born. Kimble kept right on running until he made it to Eastern Washington University, where he was converted into a wide receiver -- the greatest wide receiver, as it turns out, in school history.
"I'm very grateful the coaches put me at wide receiver," Kimble says. "They knew what they were doing."
Actually, Eric, they didn't have a clue. & ordm;
"We thought he'd be a good player, but obviously, we didn't know he'd be as good as he has been," Eastern head coach Paul Wulff admits. "We didn't think he was a receiver. We thought he'd be a tailback-athlete that might end up on defense."
Kimble redshirted as a running back, played there in the 2002 season opener, then made the move to receiver. Except for the occasional fill-in stint at running back, he's been a receiver ever since, splattering his name all over the EWU and Big Sky Conference record books.
Kimble has his eyes on the NCAA record book as a senior. Jerry Rice, widely regarded as the greatest receiver of all time, holds the Division I-AA record of 50 career touchdown catches. Kimble needs 17, two fewer than he caught last year, to break the record.
"That's my main goal," Kimble says.
Individually, that is. Like all the Eagles, Kimble's ultimate goal is the I-AA national championship. Sports Illustrated ranks Eastern second in the nation behind Furman (S.C.).
"I think we can win the national championship," Kimble says, "because I honestly believe we have the best receiving corps in the nation ... and we have a lot of guys coming back who have experience playing in the national playoffs."
That experience includes last year's upset of top-ranked Southern Illinois, when Kimble capped an 11-catch, 195-yard day by hauling in a 45-yard pass for the winning score with 1:49 left. Only a last-play-of-the-game loss to Sam Houston State prevented Eastern from reaching the national semifinals.
Kimble, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound speedster, earned All-America honors last season by setting school records with 19 touchdown catches (third-best in I-AA history), 1,453 receiving yards (eighth in I-AA history), 89 receptions and 450 punt return yards. He already holds EWU career records of 34 touchdown catches, three punt return touchdowns and 804 punt return yards. Once a nagging hamstring injury clears up, he should soon add the school records for career points, touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards.
"He's dropping jaws in the stands every Saturday with his diving catches and his moves," Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer says.
Kimble was born in Seoul, South Korea, the son of a U.S. Army soldier and his South Korean bride. Kimble spent most of his youth in South Korea, sandwiched around stops in Hindsville, Ga., and Germany, before the family moved to Tacoma and Eric began playing football at age 9.
"He's a wonderful kid," Wulff says. "He's very intelligent. He does very well in school, and he's a very respectful kid. You've got to give the parents credit on this one. They did a good job -- a great job."
Like so many past and present Eastern standouts, Kimble was not highly recruited out of high school. Big Sky rival Idaho State was the only school besides Eastern to offer a scholarship after an ankle injury cost Kimble a good chunk of his senior year at Franklin Pierce High in Tacoma.
Kimble says Division I-A schools like Nebraska, Washington State and Oregon stopped recruiting him after he was injured. He made campus visits to Washington and Oregon State as a senior, but no scholarship offers resulted. Kimble says he turned down an offer to visit USC for basketball after averaging 18 points per game as a shooting guard his senior year.
"I don't care about D I-A anymore," Kimble says. "It's a joke to me ... that's just the way life goes. That's the way God put it. There's a reason for everything. I believe this is where I am supposed to be."
Next year, scouts say, Kimble might be in the NFL. Meyer has mixed feelings about seeing his buddy leave.
"We hang out, and he eats all my food," Meyer says with a smile. "He stays overnight. We're always playing cards, and he always loses!"
Kimble starts to protest, then catches himself. Kimble can catch just about anything, of course, and it's always a good idea for receivers to stay on the quarterback's good side.