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Several of Eastern Washington’s top players are back stronger after injury-plagued 2017

August 11, 2018 GMT

Eastern Washington running back Antoine Custer stood in the 100-degree heat Friday in just a practice jersey and shorts, a much cooler condition than his full-padded, sweat-drenched teammates.

Custer didn’t practice all week, the result of a minor, undisclosed injury, according to head coach Aaron Best. Best said he expects the electric, All-Big Sky Conference talent back soon, however.

“Injuries are part of the game. You can’t control them. You can try to minimize them with a lot of different variables, but you can’t avoid them,” Best said. “There are collisions every play, so your body has to adapt.”

Offensive guard Matt Meyer, defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli and wide receiver Terance Grady know this all too well. So do offensive lineman Kaleb Levao, and cornerback D’londo Tucker.

Down 35 pounds from last season, Tiuli, a preseason All-American, said he feels like he has “a new shoulder” after using a medical redshirt in 2017 and having surgery.

In a week two game against North Dakota State last season, Tiuli attempted to bring down Bison quarterback Easton Stick, but when defensive end Albert Havili came over the top, Tiuli said his shoulder popped out.

After a 2016 All-Big Sky Conference first-team season, last year was supposed to be an encore. Instead, he watched from the sideline.

In practice this week, Tiuli appeared leaner and more explosive at the line of scrimmage.

“At first, it was really rough. But then I felt blessed to use that redshirt year to get better, and get more mentally locked in,” Tiuli said. “I feel good now.”

Meyer lasted all of three games last before invoking his medical redshirt, the result of a nagging elbow injury.

Two surgeries later and now into his sixth year at EWU, he hopes to have a 2016-like season, where he started 13 games. He returns at guard on offensive line drenched in experience.

“It’s working out so far,” Meyer said. “You never know what the future holds, but hopefully it stays like this.

“Sitting out last year was terrible.”

Levao, who started two games last season at offensive tackle, went down after two games following a season-ending knee injury. He’s now part of that group’s depth.

Like Meyer, Tucker, a talented cornerback, is in his sixth year in Cheney. He’d been plagued by a knee injury, but was granted a sixth year of edibility in the off-season.

Cornerbacks coach Cherokee Valeria said Tucker will be a key figure in the position’s success this season.

After an injury-riddled 2017, big-play wide receiver Terence Grady appears primed for a breakout year.

At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, he’s provided a nice target working primarily with the first-string offense. In the first five days of practice, he’s been beating secondaries over the top and coming down with a lot of 50-50 balls.