Now the team sets its sights on joining the Sun Belt Conference this fall.
Last fall Petrino's staff began completely overhauling the mindset of an Idaho team that hasn't been bowl eligible since the 2009 season. Included in that mindset was that no position was "sacred" from week-to-week; every position on the team was embroiled in a position battle from beginning to end. Athletes didn't just have to perform on Saturdays, they were evaluated every day of the week. A breakout performance on Saturday didn't mean a player could coast the following week of practice.
Like most teams, Idaho battled injuries throughout the season. But the offensive line in particular found itself struggling with depth issues throughout the season. Starting quick guard Dallas Sandberg started four games then was lost for the season with an injury. True freshman Steven Matlock went into the season expected to grayshirt, then was activated shortly before fall camp began, and found himself starting at guard (and playing well) midway through the season. When starting strong tackle Jesse Davis went down with an injury, Idaho worked a number of linemen at tackle throughout the season. Even durable left tackle Cody Elenz battled injuries as the season progressed.
With the struggles of 2013 fresh on their minds, Idaho's staff went into the 2014 recruiting season looking to add immediate depth to the trenches. The Vandals signed two junior college prospects during the early signing period, and both of them – tackle candidate Jeff Travillion (joining the program as a junior) and guard Kato Fawkes (joining the program as a sophomore) – are on campus currently and working with the team for spring camp.
Idaho didn't stop there.
With an eye towards the future, Idaho picked up a letter of intent from former Washington State commit Jordan Rose, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound prospect out of nearby Rockford (Wash.).
Seeking another immediate impact lineman, the Vandals focused their attention on a junior college gem in College of the Siskiyous First Team All-California selection Jerett Olson, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound athlete with a relentless motor and a mean streak. An avid outdoorsman, Olson joins the Idaho program with three years to play two.
VIDEO: Jerett Olson (HUDL)
OLSON COMMITTED TO THE VANDALS on Sunday morning, January 19th, during breakfast on the last day of his official visit to the University of Idaho campus. Recruited to the Idaho program by offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich, Olson spent much of his visit discussing his football future with the Idaho coaching staff, including offensive line coach Jon Carvin. As would be expected, he is coming in expecting to battle for a starting job immediately. "Coach Carvin told me I would be playing quick guard," Olson told GoVandals.net. "The way things are going they told me I'm going to come in and play, I just have to stay healthy and just keep doing what I do."
Olson will come in as a true junior and will have three years to play two. At College of the Siskiyous he had an outstanding two year career, capping it off last fall by earning First Team JC Athletic Bureau Region II All-California honors, plus being named a First Team All Mid-Empire Conference selection two years in a row.
With so much to lean on with his career, what does he view as his strengths? "I would say my speed," Olson said, then adding, "And my passion -- I never stop. The coaches here say I have a non-stop motor. I'll be dying out there for air but I'll still be going full speed."
There is little doubt this is likely what attracted the Idaho coaches to Olson the most.
Siskiyous is an impressive program, going 8-3 in 2013 and 10-1 in 2012 (Olson's freshman season). With so much success, what does Olson think he needs to work on the most to prepare for FBS competition. "My pass sets," Olson said with little hesitation. "We were a big time running school at Siskiyous."
SO WHAT WAS IT ABOUT IDAHO that ultimately pushed Olson to commit to the Vandal program? "The Florida Gators were poking around, and the University of Memphis in Tennessee [had offered]," Olson said of the programs he was considering at the end. "I was supposed to go on an official visit the following weekend to Memphis [a trip Olson cancelled after committing to Idaho].
"Mainly it was their consistency with me," Olson said of the recruiting effort put in by Coach Cink and the Idaho staff, and what finally pushed Idaho over the top for the sought lineman. "Coming to see me every week and talking with me every week all the time, whenever they could."
An avid outdoorsman, the location of the Idaho campus probably didn't hurt too much either. Hosted on his official visit by junior fullback Jake Manley, a north Idaho (Riggins) product, the two connected. "He's a lot like me," Olson said of Manley. "He's into outdoor stuff, and he's a really cool guy."
Beyond the football field, Olson also has plans to hit the books in Moscow. "I'm hoping to get into the engineering program," Olson said, following in the footsteps of many Vandal football players ahead of him. "I'm thinking of mechanical engineering or civil. And, if I'm able to, I'd also like to get an architecture degree."
With the new additions, competition should be intense in the trenches this fall, and we'll have more Olson updates after he joins the program and prepares for fall camp.
PROJECTED GUARD COMPETITION
- Sione Maile, 6-1, 293 (senior) - Started 3 games 2013
- Nick Von Rotz, 6-6, 292 (senior) - Started 4 games 2013
- Dallas Sandberg, 6-5, 308 (junior) - Started 4 games 2013, and 11 2012
- Jerett Olson, 6-4, 290 (junior)
- Ben Westrum, 6-7, 301 (junior)
- Kato Fawkes, 6-4, 305 (sophomore)
- Steven Matlock, 6-2, 275 (sophomore) - Started 8 games 2013
- Nick Edenfield, 6-4, 280 (redshirt-freshman)