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Last week, Clemson-Alabama got most of the college football attention. Deservedly so.

But folks at Eastern Illinois were also paying attention to the FCS championship game on Jan. 5. Super-power North Dakota State won another title, beating Eastern Washington 38-24 in Frisco, Texas.

There is a strong local connection with the Eagles, who finished 12-3. Offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder, in his second season, started his college playing career at Wyoming before finishing with the Panthers. He is also the cousin of Sullivan grads Stote and Chet Reeder, who coach boys basketball at Jerseyville and Teutopolis respectively. 

No. 3 seed Eastern Washington rolled to the final with wins against Nicholls State, UC Davis and Maine.

"It was so fun," said Reeder, a Mahomet-Seymour grad. "I'm just awfully proud of our group and what we did. We earned it."

Reeder's unit helped make it happen. The Eastern Washington offense finished third in the FCS in total yards, averaging 528 per game. It was fourth in scoring with 43 points per game.

Those kind of numbers get you noticed. Which is exactly what happened for Reeder. Earlier in the week, rumors circulated that he was on his way to Oklahoma State as offensive coordinator.

But Reeder is apparently staying in Cheney. The 32-year-old and his wife Ashley are expecting their first child in June.

"She's super happy where we are," Reeder said. "I love my boss. I love the players I'm around. We win a bunch of games. It would take something very special for me to leave.

"It's gorgeous here. We really fell in love with the West. It's different. When the corn's down, you can look outside of mom and dad's back window and you can see the town five miles away. That's not the case here."

Reeder should have many more chances to move up to the FBS during his career.

The Eagles figure to be good again in 2019. Quarterback Eric Barriere has two more years of eligibility after throwing 24 touchdown passes and running for eight more.

He threw seven touchdown passes in the semifinals.

The Eagles need to replace their leading rusher and receiver, but there is plenty of talent remaining on the roster.

"I think we'll be really good," Reeder said.

Quick climb

Reeder has been in coaching less than a decade. He got his start at Eastern Illinois in 2010, working as a graduate assistant for the late Bob Spoo.

Reeder first considered becoming a coach during his junior season with the Panthers.

"I knew what I wanted to do," Reeder said. "I had a great college experience at Eastern Illinois. My head coach was a tremendous man. I wasn't the only one he had great influence on. He just made an environment of love and caring for the players. It was like a firm, stern love. He made me want to get into that."

When Reeder asked Spoo if he could work as a graduate assistant, he got a quick "absolutely. But it has to be on defense."

Spoo wanted Reeder to learn more football. To see how the other side lived.

"That was such an eye-opening experience," Reeder said. "That's the best thing that's ever happened to me. It made me such a better offensive coach."

Reeder recommends it for all coaches. Especially early in their careers.

Reeder moved to Division III Wisconsin-Stout for four years, serving the last three as offensive coordinator.

Next, Oklahoma State was looking for a quality control coach to work with the quarterbacks. Reeder got the job.

"That was my big opening," Reeder said. "I loved it."

He spent three seasons in Stillwater before moving to Eastern Washington in 2017.

"I knew how successful they were and I knew their reputation they had with offense," Reeder said.

Reeder favors a balanced offense. And he wants his guys to enjoy the system.

"I try to be as upbeat and as uptempo as I possibly can," Reeder said.

His long-term goal is to be a head coach. He is ahead of the curve.

"It's a lot about being in the right place at the right time and getting a little bit lucky," Reeder said. "I am not afraid to admit that I've been lucky with the opportunities I've had."

Where would he like to end up?

Well, his parents still live in the area.

"I'd love to be the head football coach at Illinois," Reeder said. "How about that?"

Playoff fan

Unlike the FBS, where just four teams reach the playoffs, the FCS invites 24 teams to the tournament.

Reeder thinks the more, the merrier.

"I really like the format we are in," Reeder said. "I think it's awesome.

"There's a true champion and there's a true climb to the top. We do it with finals and working around the Christmas break. It's pretty special."

Every team that is good enough to win the title reaches the playoffs. That doesn't happen in the FBS, where Georgia and Ohio State had legitimate beefs after being left out.

The FCS playoffs add to the workload for the players and coaches. The schedule isn't as hectic in the FBS.

When Reeder was working at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys had a month off before their bowl game,

"You're just practicing and your guys are getting healthy," Reeder said. "It's a chance for your young guys to get a lot of reps. It's more of like a spring ball atmosphere."

In the FCS playoffs, the higher seeds host until the title game. That cuts down the travel and the academic issues for the players.

That won't ever happen in the FBS.

"They're not going to let Alabama host every round," Reeder said.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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