CHENEY — Football coaches at Eastern Washington University can't say enough good things about former Heritage High School standout Steven Forgette.
Of course, if Forgette's coaches ever do run out of superlatives, Jim Fitzgerald will gladly fill in the blanks.
"If we had 300 student-athletes like Steven, life would be good. You'd win on and off the field," said Fitzgerald, a former Seattle Mariners executive and scout who now oversees academics for the EWU Athletic Department.
Forgette, an All-Big Sky Conference second-team pick as a redshirt junior this year, has started at left guard since the Eagles won the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 2010. Eastern (9-2), seeded second in the FCS playoffs, faces unseeded Wagner (9-3) of New York City in a second-round contest Saturday in Cheney. Eastern had a first-round bye.
Forgette carries a 3.3 grade point average while majoring in the demanding field of exercise science -- loads of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, kinesiology, etc. He's served as president of the EWU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee the past two years, and he's a lock to make the All-Big Sky Academic team for the second time.
"He's one of the smarter O-linemen we've had," Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said.
"The leadership skills that he has are going to help him out," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald was referring to life after football, but Baldwin said Forgette's leadership skills come in handy on the field, too.
"He's one of those guys," Baldwin said, "if he goes out of the game, sometimes the guys around him might struggle, because he's got that ability to see things and mentally get things right."
As ferocious as Forgette can be on the football field, the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder is a gentle giant — "A big teddy bear," according to teammate Brandon Kaufman — off the field. Forgette lives with his high school sweetheart, Brittany Loggins, and he's been volunteering for charity work since his days at Heritage.
"It feels good to be able to give back and help people out," Forgette said.
"He's definitely a well-respected member of the team and in the community, too," Kaufman said. "He's really a great guy."
Kaufman only wishes Forgette had demonstrated his kinder, gentler side two years ago against Idaho State.
"He was pulling and I was coming across the safety," Kaufman recalled, "and he just got all of me and none of the safety and just completely laid me out. I could feel how powerful of a lineman he is."
"I just leveled him," Forgette said with an evil laugh. "He had to come out a play or two. I felt bad."
Now Kaufman and Forgette, who are golfing buddies in the off-season, find themselves bidding for a second national championship in three years. They were two of many key players off the 2010 team who missed most of last season with injuries.
Forgette is hesitant to make comparisons between this year's team and the 2010 championship squad except to say, "I think the biggest thing (similarity) is we find a way to win."
The time on the sidelines last year makes Forgette appreciate winning that much more. He lines up next to center Ashton Miller, an Evergreen High graduate. Wide receiver Ashton Clark, one of Forgette's teammates at Heritage, is a key receiver.
Forgette was recruited by Washington and Oregon, but those schools did not offer a scholarship. He's delighted that Eastern has provided him with a free education and a memorable football experience, and he's thankful for the support and guidance he has received from his family and his high school and college coaches.
"I couldn't imagine a (better) camaraderie or family feel at a bigger school," Forgette said. "It's awesome to be around the people here, and it's great football."