Eastern red-shirt junior running back Devin Church had an early start to the game of football thanks to a special role model in his life.
“My father got me started playing football. He played football and was my role model. He got me involved in sports at age eight when I played tackle football,” Church said.
Church moved from Ohio to Michigan during his adolescent years, and football was a constant element in his life.
He started his college football career at the University of Illinois before transferring to Eastern during the spring of his red-shirt sophomore year.
“I became the football player I am today in Michigan,” Church said. “The transition from Michigan to Illinois went smoothly, because I met some of my very good friends at U of I and here at EIU.”
So far in his first season at Eastern, Church has rushed for 482 yards on 86 attempts with six touchdowns. He has received for 127 yards on 16 attempts with two touchdowns. Church has also racked 357 yards in kick returns on 17 attempts.
Church was named Eastern’s student-athlete of the week and Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week after rushing for 125 yards in 17 attempts scoring two touchdowns in the Panthers’ win against Tennessee State last weekend.
“I’m versatile, I can catch out in the backfield, and I bring a playmaking ability to the team. I can catch, so that allows our offensive coordinator to create mismatch plays with the defense,” Church said.
Church said he likes to work on his footwork and catching in the offseason.
Church has set high goals for himself and his team this year.
“I would like to rush for a thousand yards and just continue to help my team get to this OVC Championship,” Church said. “But really, I just want to win. When you are winning, everything is right. The game is fun and life in general is fun.”
The Panthers are 3-3 in regular season games, but 3-0 in conference play this season.
Church said he knows the key to the Panthers’ success as they continue conference play.
“One thing I’ve learned so far in the season is to be patient and stay positive,” Church said. “The holes are going to be there. You can’t be frustrated when it’s not going your way,” Church said.
Church said even though they did not have big, explosive plays against Tennessee State, the team stayed positive and allowed the offense to click.
When things are not going so well, Church said he looks to running backs coach Danny Nutt for some encouragement.
“Coach Nutt is a great guy,” Church said. “He’s one of the best coaches I have ever been around. He’s been the guy who’s just preaching to us to stay patient. It’s easy to believe what he’s saying every day, and the next thing you know we are just racking up touchdowns.”
Nutt said he is proud of the progress Church has made in his short time here so far at Eastern.
“He’s getting better every day. That’s the reason he’s at the Division 1 level,” Nutt said. “What I like about Devin (Church) is that he is not only a good football player, but he goes to school. He takes care of his school work, I never have to tell him twice, and it makes my job easy. When he’s got his stuff in order and just lets me coach ball, that’s every coach’s dream, and he’s awesome,” Nutt said.
As Church continues to improve throughout the season, so does the Panthers’ record in conference play.
“His quickness and his speed and his attitude toward the game are his strengths. He loves the game of football,” Nutt said. “His strengths are in that he’s going to make someone miss. I know on offense you don’t have to block everybody, if a lineman slips down or if the fullback slips down, Devin’s going to make that guy miss. That’s a gift, and not everybody has that.”
Church said he loves the game of football, and he loves to carry the ball.
“Growing up, every kids dream is to carry the ball and be the guy in the spotlight,” Church said. “Growing up my dad was a running back so I thought I would be, too, because he was such a great one. I was always fast so being a running back was the position just for me. I love making hits, I love making people miss-tackle and I love scoring touchdowns.”
Eastern football is back at O’Brien Field for the Homecoming game this Saturday at 1 p.m. against Tennessee Tech.
Maria Baldwin can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]