It is the ultimate tribute to the Eastern Washington University football team that the Eagles have managed to put together a winning record despite playing all season with just 10.5 players on defense.
Quick -- somebody get out the NCAA manual. Better yet, check out the state law books. Playing a 5-foot-7, 150-pound kid at cornerback has got to qualify as cruel and inhuman punishment.
Fortunately for the Eagles, Isaiah Trufant dishes out far more punishment than he endures. The Eastern player with the biggest name (brother Marcus starts at cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks) and smallest body weighs only half as much as many college football players, but it appears that Trufant's 150-pound body includes a 149-pound heart.
"He plays very fast; he's always where he needs to be," Eastern coach Paul Wulff says. "And he plays very physical. He's a PHYSICAL player."
"He has very quick hands, and very strong hands, and he has good football sense," Eastern secondary coach Jimmy Lake adds. "He's not just a fast athlete; he's a good football player."
Many undersized athletes play with a giant chip on their shoulders, but not Isaiah Trufant (Eye-ZAY-uh Tru-FONT). Even after his senior season of football at Wilson High School in Tacoma, Trufant was leaning toward a track-and-field career in college until longtime Wilson football coach Don Clegg convinced him that he was big enough and good enough to play college football.
"I had a little bit of doubt," Trufant admits.
"There wasn't a coach here who didn't question his size," Wulff says.
"A lot of schools were scared because of his size," Lake recalls.
A lot of schools? Try ALL schools. Even Eastern gave Trufant only a partial scholarship his first year, when he redshirted (i.e., he practiced but did not play, to save a year of eligibility).
Only Eastern offered Trufant a scholarship out of high school, when he figures he played at 135 pounds (even now, he admits to being slightly smaller than his listed 5-7, 150). He played just two years of varsity football at Wilson -- most of his athletic laurels came as a 46-foot triple jumper and nearly 23-foot long jumper. Trufant's only all-league football honors came his senior year, when he made the all-Narrows League second team... as a running back.
Trufant, soft-spoken and humble like his older brother, says he was a "solid player" at Wilson. Clegg disagrees.
"He was as fine a football player as his brother," insists Clegg, fully aware that Marcus was Seattle's first-round draft pick after earning second-team All-America honors at Washington State last year. "He's got a great heart. He's great with people, like Marcus. He comes from great stock."
College football coaches may have had their doubts about Trufant's size, but no one has ever questioned his character or that of his parents, Constance and Lloyd.
"His parents are great people," Clegg says.
"Kudos to the parents," Wulff agrees. "They deserve a lot of credit."
"Excellent parents," Trufant chimes in -- and don't all parents hope their grown children will say the same thing about them? "They really didn't have to discipline us. We never really got in much trouble."
Indeed, the three Trufant children (including 13-year-old Desmond, whom Isaiah predicts will "probably be the best out of all of us") were too busy playing sports to find time for trouble. They weren't too busy to study, however. Trufant, a business major, carries a 3.4 grade point average and made the all-Big Sky Conference academic team last year.
Trufant has started full-time both seasons at Eastern along with another diminutive cornerback from Tacoma, 5-8, 155-pound Jesse Hendrick. Trufant is Eastern's fastest player -- he's run the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds -- and he has a remarkable 39-inch vertical leap. He bench presses 280 pounds.
"You could immediately see his athletic ability," Lake says.
Trufant has intercepted three passes each of his two seasons at Eastern, and he returned his most recent pick 67 yards for his first college touchdown two weeks ago at Sacramento State. Trufant ranks second in the Big Sky with 11 passes defended, and Clegg wonders aloud if Trufant might follow his brother into the NFL if he adds some size.
"He sure has proven everybody wrong," Wulff says.
"I quickly saw I could do it," Trufant says. "It's a lot faster in college, but I'm a pretty fast learner."
"He's very coachable," Lake says. "You only have to tell him one thing the first time, and then it's a done deal and he'll remember it the rest of the time he'll be here. He's hard-working, a tough competitor. All that, and he doesn't say very much. He doesn't trash-talk a lot."
What? A cornerback who doesn't trash-talk? Why, there hasn't been a player like that in these parts since... well, since some kid named Marcus Trufant played at Washington State way back in 2002.
The 5-4 Eastern Washington Eagles close out their home schedule Saturday against 7-2 Montana State in Eastern's annual Governor's Cup game at Spokane's Joe Albi Stadium. Game time is 12:37 pm (KAYU 28) for the Football Network's national telecast. A pep rally will be held from 5-6 pm Friday at the River Park Square Atrium; "official" tailgating starts at 10:30 am Saturday at Albi; and a free dance (casual dress) will be held at 9 pm Saturday at the Davenport Hotel Ballroom. Eastern fans are encouraged to wear red to the pep rally and game.