The first week of football practice still brings a smile to Reilly Hennessey’s face.
After showing flashes of belonging as the Eastern Washington University quarterback in 2015, the 20-year-old from Camas is ready for this new season to start.
“It’s great to be back out with the boys. We finally get to see all the hard work we have been putting in over the last few months start to move forward,” Hennessey said. “It’s just great to be playing football again. Instead of just being in the weight room and throwing routes, we’re actually getting out there 11-on-11 and putting pads on.”
Practice time is important for Hennessey. The sophomore will compete with senior Jordan West and sophomore Gage Gubrud for control of the offense under center.
“No one is entitled. You have to go out and earn it,” Hennessey said. “It’s only going to make us better in the long run. My goal is to get better every day and prove I’m the number-one option for this team.”
Head coach Beau Baldwin believes all three of these quarterbacks have the ability to lead this team to victory.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to who we believe gives us the best chance to win this particular game,” Baldwin said. “And week in and week out, you continue to compete. It’s our job as coaches to figure out who gives Eastern Washington the best chance to win.”
Baldwin said each quarterback brings something special to the table. In Hennessey’s case, he moves swiftly in and out of the pocket and makes smart decisions with the ball. He is also a student of the game.
“That’s the unique part, trying to find the guys who love the 365-day process, and Reilly is defintely one of those guys,” Baldwin said. “We thought he had a lot of the tools coming in that would allow him to compete at the collegiate level. Because he brought a strong mental approach and work ethic, it helped him be successful. A lot of what he did as a freshman just confirmed what we already believed.”
Hennessey made his college debut against the University of Oregon, Sept. 5, 2015, at Autzen Stadium. He completed 14 of his 21 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was the culmination of a lot of hard work,” Hennessey said. “I knew the team inside and out after watching them all summer. It was important for me to be ready whenever that call came.”
Before taking the first snap, Hennessey had to get his head on straight.
“It was a classic case of, coach calls your name and you can’t find your helmet,” he recalled. “The equipment manager came up to me and said, ‘it’s right here.’ As soon as I grabbed my helmet, I was ready.”
Hennessey started flinging the football down the field. Before he knew it, the Eagles were in postion to score a touchdown. Together, they soared into the end zone.
“I remember being really comfortable,” Hennessey said. “It helps when you’re surrounded by a great group of athletes. I just threw the ball and they made the plays. I was so fortunate as a young athlete to get that opportunity and to be able to perform on that big stage I always dreamed of.”
He rolled into the next contest and threw another touchdown, but then a sprained ankle sidelined him for the next six games.
“To be having success and then get hit with an injury like that was frustrating,” Hennessey said. “It was a complete restart. I had to prove all over again that I was the best option.”
After regaining his health and confidence, Hennessey came back even stronger and earned the opportunity to start the last two games of the season.
“Once again, it was on me to be ready. I take pride in that,” he said. “No matter if I’m first string, second string or 10th string, I’m preparing for that game like I’m starting because you never know what’s going to transpire. That was my focus during those six weeks, and I was lucky for it to pay off.”
Hennessey hopes those flickers of success from 2015 are more sustainable in 2016. The Eagles are preparing for a tougher schedule. Eastern Washington opens up at Washington State University Saturday, Sept. 3. Kickoff is at 5 p.m.
“They’re a team on the rise,” Hennessey said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us to start out with. We love being on that big stage and having the opportunity to prove that we can compete with any team in the country.”
Camas football fans hope to see Hennessey play Nov. 18, at Portland State.
“It’s a homecoming for me, but we have a lot of work to do before we get there.”