Soaring Upward

Eastern enters the NCAA playoffs with a long-haired bookworm delivering big hits

The long-standing image of the “dumb jock” is alive and well on many college campuses, thanks to a long line of athletes who view classes as little more than necessary evils blocking their path to the pros.

Fortunately, there are plenty of college athletes like Eastern Washington University football player Jeff Minnerly. Despite the time demands of football, Minnerly carries a 3.78 grade point average, majors in finance and may add a second degree in electrical engineering.

“Jeff would study all day, all night, but he always managed to get time with his friends and football,” says teammate and former roommate Nicholas Edwards. “He does time management really well. You could see him studying all the way up until 3 o’clock in the morning, but still be able to get up and go to weights.”

Minnerly, a senior free safety, has a long history of winning on and off the field. He was a 4.0 student at Spokane’s Ferris High School, and in his two seasons as a varsity player, the Saxons lost three football games and not a single basketball game.

“You kind of get sick and tired of talking about it, honestly,” Minnerly says in his refreshingly candid manner. “But I do think you appreciate it more (as the years go by). I mean, I’ve always been very blessed. Even when I was a little kid, we were always winning.”

Interestingly, Minnerly says all that winning can have its drawbacks.

“You’re very fortunate to win all the time and be on great teams,” he says, “but it’s almost a bad thing, because it doesn’t teach you how to lose responsibly or maturely until too late of an age.”

Minnerly’s winning ways have continued in college, including a national championship in 2010 in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. This year, the Eagles are 9-2 and seeded second in the FCS playoffs after tying Montana State and Cal Poly for the Big Sky Conference championship.

Minnerly has been a starter or key reserve at safety the past three years, during which he has never cut his hair due to a friendly wager with teammates. Minnerly says he’ll finally visit the barber after the season and donate his hair to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hair to young people who suffer from medical hair loss.

“Jeff is as competitive a person as I’ve ever been around,” Edwards says. “He doesn’t like losing, and he doesn’t like being number two.”

Minnerly was a distant number two at quarterback behind Bo Levi Mitchell in the spring of 2010 when he was asked to switch to defense.

“I wasn’t thrilled about it,” Minnerly admits.

He was quick to add, “I didn’t have Bo’s arm strength or (quick) release.” He also had very little experience at safety — none since early in his freshman year at Ferris — but he said teammates like Edwards, Chase King, Grant Williams and Evan Cook “helped me get through that time, because it wasn’t easy.”

Minnerly briefly considered transferring, “but ultimately, I couldn’t see myself leaving Eastern, primarily because I love my teammates too much. I would rather be in a less-than-ideal situation individually and be with them than in a better situation individually somewhere else.” 

NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs: Eastern Washington (9-2) vs. Wagner • Sat, Dec. 1 at 3:05 pm • Roos Field at EWU • Streaming on and ESPN 700 AM radio • $10-$20 • 359-6059 or (866) GO-EAGS,