The Vandals overhauled the defensive coaching staff this offseason, including hiring former Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske as Idaho’s new DC, and with it the Vandals are also overhauling their defensive strategy. Among the changes, Idaho is switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defensive alignment.
The Vandals also put serious recruiting attention on defenders that can come in and play immediately. Defensive backs were the primary focus, but Idaho also put a premium on defensive ends and players that can line up in the new “BUCK” position – a hybrid defensive end / linebacker that has to be versatile enough to stop the run, blitz and drop back into coverage. Newcomers Leonard Hazewood and Kevin White from the JC ranks were in for spring, with Hazewood looking like a candidate to get serious reps this fall at Buck. Also expected to join the team this fall are JC transfer Garren Jackson and freshman Eric Hale out of central Florida.
And there is one more.
Stuart at Colorado.
Idaho signed another defensive end this spring, as Moorpark College standout defensive end Johnny Stuart, a 6-foot-4, 260-pounds mauler, inked with the Vandals in March and accepted a scholarship offer for this fall. Stuart signed with Colorado out of high school and spent a redshirt year with the Buffs before transferring to Moorpark, joining his older brother who is a defensive coach with the Raiders. As would be expected the December graduate had several suitors, including an offer and an official visit scheduled to Ball State. Stuart had planned to commit on his visit to the MAC program, but the relationship soured and he reopened the recruiting process.
Ball State's loss was Idaho's gain as several programs made a push for the defensive lineman this off-season, including the Vandals who made their first contact with Stuart through new Idaho defensive line coach Kenny Holmes. From there the relationship quickly took off.
“I liked the urgency of Idaho,” Stuart told GoVandals.net earlier this week while he was preparing to head to Moscow. “A lot of other schools were talking and talking and waiting, but Idaho wasn’t like that at all so I jumped on it.”
When he picked Idaho he had official offers from Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona, and was fielding a late surge from Pitt. But his decision was made and Stuart stuck with his commitment to the Idaho program.
A VERSATILE 6-FOOT-4, 260-POUND ATHLETE, Stuart is a bit of a ‘tweener. The transfer with two years to play two had a chance to meet with recently announced Idaho DC Breske on his official visit, and was hosted by two year starting linebacker Marc Millan. Stuart definitely picked up on Breske's energy and is looking forward to Idaho’s new look defense. He could line up at defensive tackle or defensive end, and he’s done both throughout his career. Regardless the position, the 3-4 suits him well.
“It fits me better switching to a 3-4,” Stuart said, “because I’m more between a defensive end and defensive tackle, playing the three or five technique. I could play any position on the line except for nose, but I’ll definitely be on the strong side of the line.”
“I like the 3-4; it’s a great defense to play with everyone just getting after it.”
So what makes the 3-4 so intriguing?
“From a defensive lineman’s standpoint, it’s all the different stunts and blitzes we do. It makes the offensive lineman not know what way I’m going to go. It’s just a good run stop defense for sure, because the safeties are always down there – it helps everyone.”
It’s the versatility to play just about any position on the line that may be his strength.
“I want to be physical, versatile, and get after the quarterback,” Stuart said. “That’s how I like to play. At Colorado I was more of pass rusher, but over the last couple years I’ve developed my run stuffing ability, so I’m more of a plug now.
“I’m just trying to be as balanced as possible, trying to master both of them.”
NAMED A SECOND TEAM ALL-SCFA North Division defensive lineman in 2013 as a redshirt freshman at Moorpark, Stuart was also named the SCFA Defensive Player of the Week that season for a performance against Santa Ana in which he recorded five tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and five quarterback hurries. Moorpark finished with a 5-5 record and high hopes for 2014.
But success for Moorpark in 2014 didn’t materialize as the Raiders struggled to a disappointing 2-8 record. Despite the team’s struggles Stuart finished with 23 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, one interception and one pass breakup. Adding a little flash to the season, Stuart was also on the receiving end of a 2-point conversion for the Raiders.
Stuart at Westlake.
That 2-point conversion was reminiscent of his tremendous high school career where he was a 2-way starter – at tightend and defensive end – on a powerhouse Westlake (Westlake Village, CA) High School team.
College programs were looking at the former senior on both sides of the ball, but it was the defensive line that was his strength. As a senior at Westlake High Stuart was a force, garnering recognition as a 3-star prospect by Scout.com, including being ranked the No.97 DE in the country, the No.18 DE in the west, and the No. 8 DE prospect in California. His final season at Westlake was his best (the program went a stunning 40-3 in his three years there, winning two CIF Southern Section Northern Division titles). The senior tallied 46 tackles (25 solo), seven sacks, and three forced fumbles and went on to be named a First Team All-CIF Northern Division selection and a Fourth Team All-State selection by Cal-Hi Sports/ESPN. That ultimately led to him accepting an offer to play defensive end at Colorado. Stuart spent one season in Boulder where he redshirted, then transferred out of Colorado to Moorpark College at the end of the 2012 season when the Buffaloes made a coaching staff change.
Now Stuart has his sights set on making an immediate impact this fall for the Vandals.