And for good reason.
As potent as the Vandal offense was in 2009 (ranked 22nd nationally with 31.8 points-per-game enroute to the Humanitarian Bowl victory), a steady decline began in 2010 and culminated with a frustrating 2-10 record last fall, including an offense that failed to score a touchdown (in regulation) during a two-game stretch. Fifth year offensive coordinator Steve Axman retired at the end of the season, and a new look is expected for the Vandal offense in 2012.
With the added emphasis on offense and with an eye towards the future, Coeur d'Alene high school's dual-threat, record-setting quarterback Chad Chalich (pronounced chal · ich) became the first member of the 2012 recruiting class when he made a verbal pledge at the end of November to head coach Robb Akey and the University of Idaho. Named the 2011 Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year, a sampling of Chalich's stellar career honors include the following:
- 5A Idaho State Champions (2010 and 2011Along the way he led the Vikings to a 12-0 record in 2011 (plus an equally impressive 11-1 record as a junior in 2010), and the statistics he accumulated as CDA's starting quarterback for two seasons tell the story behind the accolades:
- 5A Idaho Player of the Year (2010 and 2011)
- 1st team All State Quarterback (2010 and 2011)
- 1st team All conference Quarterback (2010 and 2011)
- 1st Place Inland Empire League (2010 and 2011)
- Offense Player of the Year for the Inland Empire League (‘10 & ‘11)
- IEL Most Valuable Player (2010 & 2011)
- Ranked No.13 nationally as a passer as a senior
- Led No. 29 nationally ranked team as a senior
- ESPN RISE Junior All-American, 3rd Team (2010)
- Broke 13 school records
- 2011: 242-of-331, 3641 yards, 42 TDs, 2 INTsIn 2011 he also added 471 yards rushing and six more touchdowns. He ranks 1 and 2 (for 2010 and 2011) in the CDA All Time record books in a Single Season for passing yards, touchdowns, and completions. He threw just TWO picks in all of 2011, another CDA record. His 6,845 career passing yards and 74 passing TDs top the Viking record books by a wide margin.
- 2010: 209-of-342, 2844 yards, 32 TDs, 10 INTs
In the end, he finished the 2011 season as the No.13 ranked passer in the nation and a two-time Idaho Class 5A Player of the Year.
A threat to run or throw, Chalich has a quick release, passes with great accuracy, and has a clear command of the Viking's spread offense. Combined, these traits will likely leave a long-standing impression on the Coeur d'Alene record books, and could propel him to success at the next level.
FOCUSED ON REBUILDING THE QUARTERBACK DEPTH CHART, Idaho hit the recruiting trail hard. With a prolific signal caller of the caliber of Chalich just an hour and a half away, the Vandals set their sights on the north Idaho star.
"Coach Akey and coach [John] McDonnel came up for a home visit," Chalich said of his late November house call from the Vandals. "They sat down and talked with me and my family about school and everything; what goes into a typical a year, and just everything. I really liked what he said, and I thought it was a good fit for me."
Chalich made the commitment right then and there in the living room.
"He was very happy," Chalich said of Akey's reaction. "He jumped out of his chair and gave me a big hug. He said it made his day -- It was exciting."
With his success on the gridiron the last two years at the varsity level, the topic of redshirting versus playing immediately came up during his discussions with Idaho. "We talked about that a little bit, but I'll probably redshirt to get more mature -- so I can go in, learn the offense and study a lot; get into the college atmosphere, get to know the offense and get to know the team; and workout, get bigger, stronger and faster. I think a redshirt year is really good, so you have that extra year to get more experienced for later on down the road."
For the last two years Chalich has been operating in a spread offensive alignment. For the past five years, Idaho has operated primarily with the quarterback under center. What that offense will look like under a new offensive coordinator remains to be seen, but Chalich has experience in both.
"It's going to be a little bit of a transition," he said of the move to the collegiate level and Idaho's offensive attack in the Robb Akey era. "Throughout my whole career, going back to junior high, we were under center all the time. During my freshman and sophomore year we were under center. It wasn't until my junior and senior years that we were in the spread. It will be a little new, but it isn't something I haven't done before."
ALTHOUGH HE JUST TOOK HIS OFFICIAL VISIT TO IDAHO IN DECEMBER, as is typically the case the recruiting process has been going on for some time.
"I started to talk to Idaho a few months ago," Chalich said. "I went to camp at Idaho [this summer] for half a day and that went good. I got to work with [former offensive coordinator Steve] Axman and that was good. Jason [Gesser] worked with me and I got to know him a little bit this summer.
"Then for my game against Post Falls coach Akey came up and they watched me play, and I thought that was cool. Coach Akey called me [in November] and gave me an offer, and I talked with my parents for a few weeks and we decided that Idaho was the best fit for me."
Location was a factor in his decision as well. "It's close, so my friends and family can get down there to support me for my games. We've got a big community up here who will support me and watch me play. I was talking it over with some people, and they said that U of I was a great place and a great community."
His parents were involved in the recruiting process, but the final decision ultimately came down to Chad. "They left it up to me. They wanted me to be happy wherever I went, and know that they would support me."
And the support doesn't end with his family. "When my head coach [Shawn Amos] found out, he came up and gave me the biggest hug," Chalich said. "My quarterback coach [Ron Nelson] went to Idaho and he was real excited too."
BEYOND THE FOOTBALL FIELD, Chalich has a plan for the classroom as well.
"For my career [after football] I really want to be a physical therapist," he told GoVandals.net. "I'm also thinking about majoring in business so I can start my own practice when I'm older. So, I'm thinking about majoring in business and minoring in physical therapy, just so if later on down the road if I don't want to go into physical therapy I can always go into business.
Having a plan is something that comes naturally to Chalich, and is one of his biggest strengths as a field general.
"Probably my leadership," Chalich said when asked to describe what he sees as his strengths as a player. "How I can control the team and my composure and patience. Guys can look at me and I'm calm. In pressure situations I don't freak out. I'm always calm and precise, so they can look to me and know that things are going to go good.
"I think everything is about leadership."
He added that he understands success on the field isn't just about athletic ability alone. "I'm also a student of the game. I'm watching film all the time -- just knowing what the defense is doing, what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are, and taking control of that. Week in and week out practicing my hardest and going into the games with confidence – knowing I can throw the ball and run the ball."
AS IS OFTEN THE CASE WITH 12-0 TEAMS, Chad isn't the only Viking on the University of Idaho radar. Chalich's "go-to" receiver Deon Watson (son of Idaho basketball legend Deon Watson senior, who still holds the career rebounding record he set in the early '90s), a First Team All-Idaho selection at wide receiver and a Second Team honoree as a defensive lineman, is high on the Idaho recruiting board as well, and has an offer from the Vandals.
Like Chalich, the Coeur d'Alene record books now find the Watson name as well. For 2011 Watson caught 54 passes (No. 6 all-time for a single season) for 931 yards (No.2) and 13 touchdowns (No.1). Defensively, during his two-year career as a starter he recorded 23 tackles-for-loss (No.6) and 12.5 sacks (No.2) from his defensive end position.
Idaho's recruiting class appears to have received the boost the staff was looking for as reports surfaced last week by The -Review that Watson has now made a verbal commitment to Idaho. Check back in with GoVandals.net during the coming weeks as we continue to provide updates on this news and the rest of the 2012 recruiting class.