While the Broncos open their season with the Bengals, Idaho State plays a warm-up game against Montana-Western August 30th.
Led by former Bronco linebacker Larry Lewis (a member of the 1980 national championship Boise State squad), Idaho State is coming off its best season since winning the Division I-AA national championship itself in 1981. The Bengals finished 2002 with an 8-3 mark, 5-2 in the Big Sky, tied for first in the conference and ranked 17th in the final ESPN/USA Today I-AA poll. Despite the great season, the Bengals were left out of the I-AA playoffs when co-champion Montana State (7-6) and 6th-ranked Montana were selected instead.
Lewis is in his 5th year at ISU following assistant coaching positions at Weber State and Washington State. The Bengals run a Multiple Receiver offense and a 4-3 Defense. ISU's three losses last season were to Utah State, Portland State and Montana. 22 players from that squad received accolades from the Big Sky, 7 on the first team. 8 offensive and 8 defensive starters return, along with 1 specialist. No less than 4 first team and 4 second team All-Big Sky players return in 2003; the team lost just 7 starters. Not only is this year's team a talented one, but extremely experienced as well—10 seniors lead the charge into 2003.
Idaho State outscored opponents last year by an average of 30 to 17. The Bengals' aerial attack was a major reason for the 8-3 record, as ISU amassed 3074 yards through the air to just 2316 allowed. Idaho State converted on 41 % of third down conversions. One hint of vulnerability—Bengal ball carriers fumbled 28 times.
Two big losses were quarterback David Baughman, who threw for 2,638 yards in 2001 and was All-Big Sky and wide receiver Eugene Mirador. Returnee Caleb Eastman is battling junior college transfers Mark Hetherington and Roman Ybarra for the right to succeed Baughman as ISU's starting signal caller. Whoever emerges as the starter, Coach Lewis is confident in his quarterbacks. Running Back Mitchell is the returning star of the Bengal offense after rushing 182 times for 968 yards and 12 TD's, a 5.3 average. Mitchell's career yards are up to 1,653, and he is 7 touchdowns shy of breaking Merril Hoge's school record of 31. He's an explosive back; Mitchell broke away for an 82-yard TD run against Southern Utah in 2001. The Pocatello product rushed for 2,011 yards and 27 TD's as a senior for Pocatello High School, averaging 8.9 yards per carry. The top returning receivers are Davenport (34 catches for 348 yards and 2 TD's), Mitchell (32 for 329 and 1) and Sale' Key. Don't expect a lot of mistakes from the Bengal line, as 4 of the 5 starters return. Tackle Steve Burch and Guard Robert Poleki were named second team All-Big Sky.
Preseason I-AA All-American Jared Allen (6-6, 275) leads 8 starters returning for Lewis' defense that ranked 13th in I-AA with the 17 points per game allowed. Allen is a 2-time All-Big Sky player and is listed by ESPN.com as one of the top defensive linemen for the 2004 NFL Draft. Allen recorded 63 tackles, 18 for loss, 10 ½ sacks, 7 pass deflections and 4 forced fumbles a year ago. Lewis made the California All-Star Squad playing for Los Gatos High School. His father Ron played 2 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Allen has plenty of help returning, including Senior linebacker Josh Whitworth (5-11, 200), who racked up 83 tackles, 15 for loss, and 9 pass deflections in earning All-Big Sky honors. Whitworth was ranked by the Sports Network as the 14th best returning linebacker in I-AA. Joining Allen and Whitworth on last year's All-Big Sky team is another star in Mark Weivoda (6-2, 295). Weivoda was credited with 40 tackles, 15 for loss, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 2 blocked kicks last season. All four members of the Bengal secondary return, led by All-Big Sky cornerback Ernie James (6-1,181), strong safety Quinton Freeman who had 6 interceptions playing as a freshman, and Cornerback Emery Beckles, who picked off 3.
Beckles is an incredible punt returner, racking up a 14.22 average with a touchdown last season. Placekicker Jeremy Hershey also returns for Lewis.
2003 Depth Chart
QB 16 Roman Ibarra (Jr.—6-2,195)
2 Caleb Eastman (Jr.—6-3,215)
13 Mark Hetherington (Jr.—6-2,220)
RB 28 Isaac Mitchell (Sr.—5-10,220)
2 David Beverly (Jr. —6-0,190)
LT 77 Steve Burch (Jr.—6-5,315)
Xavier Simms (Jr.—6-3,275)
LG 55 Robert Poleki (Sr.—6-2,300)
72 James Ward (So.—6-3,280)
C 51 Dustin Fitzpatrick (Sr.—6-4,285)
58 Cody Sullivan (Fr.—6-4,265)
RG 61 David Garrett (Sr.—6-3,280)
57 Kyle Kidd (Jr.—6-4,275)
RT 73 Jamar Ikpi (Sr.—6-3,295)
59 Mike Havens (Jr.—6-5,270)
WR 6 Sale Key (Jr.—6-5,210)
10 Jermain Anderson (Sr.—6-1,200)
WR 9 Shedrack Okoebor (So.—6-0,190)
81 Dane Simmons (Fr.—6-3,190)
WR 14 Brett Fowler (Jr.—6-2,205)
81 Akilah Lacey (Fr.—6-3,195)
TE 86 Edwin Thompson (Sr.—6-5,262)
87 Pat Henry (Sr.—6-5,245)
DE 41 Jared Allen (Sr.—6-6,275)
54 Jeremy Mowe (So—6-5,270)
DT 62 Nick Poppleton (So.—6-2,267)
97 Shannon Lucas (Fr.—6-2,255)
DT 44 Mark Weivoda (Sr.—6-3,300)
92 Karl Kuhau-Liftee (Sr.—6-3,270)
DE 82 Mike Rose (Jr.—6-3,250)
29 John Fanene (Fr.—6-1,247)
LB 49 Matt Proffitt (Sr.—6-4,220) or
23 Cedrick Dawson (Sr.—6-2,205)
LB 52 Zach Raphael (Fr.—6-3,230)
36 Kris Krosch (Fr.—6-2,210)
LB 37 Josh Whitworth (Jr.—5-11,200)
39 Atelea Raass (Fr.—5-11,220)
CB 7 Emery Beckles (Sr.—5-9,170)
5 Atari Callen (Sr.—5-8,200)
SS 11 Na'Jai Rankin (Sr.—6-1,200)
Kinte Haynes (Jr.—6-2,190)
FS 8 Quinton Freeman (So.—6-0,205)
Marcell Lagrone (Jr.—6-2,190)
CB 27 Ernie James (Jr.—6-1,195)
22 Chaz Brewer (So.—6-2,185)
K 12 Jeremy Hershey (Sr.—6-0,190)
P Kyle McQuown (Fr.—5-11,180)