Seniors Movin' On

With our attention becoming increasingly more focused on this key recruiting season as Idaho embarks on full WAC membership in 2005, we take one last look back at the 2004 football season. For 14 Vandal seniors, including captains <b>Simeon Stewart</b> (22), <b>Brian Yarno</b> (36), and <b>Brandon Kania</b> (86), this was their last opportunity to play intercollegiate football.

It's amazing how things can change in a second. Roll back to the year 2000. Idaho was coming off a Big West Championship and Humanitarian Bowl victory (1998), followed up by a second place Big West finish (1999). Idaho had just beaten Wazzu for the first time in decades, and had beaten them soundly. They came within 7 points and one possession of beating Auburn at Auburn. They'd earned a Top 30 ranking early in the season (1999), and they were led by a 5th year head coach (Tormey). The VAC project had just been launched, and facilities issues were finally being addressed.

Or so it must have seemed to the freshman class that signed with Idaho in the spring of 2000. Instead, the reality of not being invited to join the WAC the FIRST time was beginning to settle in. With the Big West Conference dropping football, Idaho was forced to join the far-flung Sun Belt Conference (with New Mexico State, and eventually Utah State) while Conference realignment around them erupted. Much needed facilities upgrades stalled, the team struggled for wins against teams that few fans in the west had ever heard of before, and attendance dipped.

Then, a year ago this month, the fortunes of the University of Idaho football team changed again. In a remarkable flurry of activity, optimism returned to the program with the hiring of a new head football coach in Nick Holt and crew in December of 2003. A few months later the Western Athletic Conference invited Idaho to join the WAC in all sports starting in the fall of 2005. Sandwiched around that invitation, facilities upgrades were completed which included the Iverson Strength and Speed Center and the NEW Football Locker Room.

Through it all (including the tragic loss of teammate Eric McMillan), this group stayed together and completed their playing career at Idaho. This class, unlike most, hails from all over the United States. From Florida to California, Michigan to Tennessee, Arizona to Idaho, they came to Moscow from a number of different walks-of-life.

Eight in this class were full- or part-time starters. Six came to Idaho from junior colleges. Some impacted the Vandal record book, while others showed impressive determination to complete their career despite very little playing time.

Below is one last look at each individual athlete. Despite the team's struggles the last 4 years, we tip our hats to the senior class of 2004. We, the fans, thank this group for the time, effort, and energy they put into Vandal football. We wish them all the very best in life, wherever the future takes them.

#84 Bobby Bernal-Wood

Bobby Bernal-Wood, Wide Receiver (Seattle, WA)
Bobby Bernal-Wood joined the Vandals in 2003 by way of Butte College (CA), and immediately became an integral part of the Vandal wide receiver rotation. This season, the Seattle native broke one of the oldest records in the history of Idaho football as he recorded 96 receptions for the 2004 season, surpassing the 1969 record set by Jerry Hendron of 95 receptions. Clearly Idaho's go-to receiver this season, Bobby led the Sun Belt in receptions per game and amassed 904 receiving through 12 games.

#29 Curtis Bibolet

Curtis Bibolet, Defensive End (Anaheim, CA)
Curtis signed with the Vandals in the spring 2003 out of Fullerton College as a safety and immediately saw playing time in the Vandal defensive backfield. During the 2003 season Curtis moved up to outside linebacker, where he bacame the primary backup to starter Mike Anderson. With the new coaching staff came another position change, as Curtis moved up to Defensive End for the 2004 season, again backing up Anderson at DE. As a senior Curtis finished the 2004 season with 27 tackles (13 solo), 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 pass breakup through 9 games.

#94 James Coley


James Coley, Defensive Tackle (Walnut, CA)
Senior defensive tackle James Coley saw action in 8 games this season. A JC transfer from Mt. San Antonio College who joined the Vandals in 2003, James worked his way up from the scout team last season to become one of Idaho's backup interior defensive linemen in 2004. For the season, the Criminology major out of El Monte (CA) recorded 5 tackles, including 1 tackle for loss.

#86 Brandon Kania

Brandon Kania, Defensive End (Pasco, WA)
It will be strange to NOT see Brandon lining up at defensive end next season. Brandon joined the Vandals in 2001 and started immediately as a true freshman. That year he was named to The Sporting News Freshman All-American Team, and he started virtually every game since. Despite having a different line coach every single year he was at Idaho, Brandon was always among the top tacklers on the team. For 2004 he recorded 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, a team best 5 sacks, and recovered 2 fumbles. Beyond the stats though, he brought tremendous heart and effort, often when Idaho needed it the most.

#67 Tony Kiel

Tony Kiel, Offensive Guard (Cupertino, CA)
Tony gets our nomination for the offensive line's "Iron Man" award for 2004. The 5th year senior saw limited action during the early half of his career, but worked into the rotation in 2003 and eventually became a starter this year at guard. Aside from playing admirably all year, Tony was the ONLY Vandal lineman to play in every game this year. One of the few athletes on the team with a full-fledged family, the English and History major out of California proved to be one of the most reliable linemen on the roster througout the 2004 campaign.

#3 Jimmy Labita

Jimmy Labita, Wide Receiver (Peoria, AZ)
Jimmy joined the Vandals in 2000 and redshirted his freshman season. He missed the 2001 campaign, then returned to the Vandals in 2002, primarily on special teams. In 2003 his contribution to the receiving corp increased dramatically as he worked into the rotation for all 12 games, averaged 16.8 yards per catch (438 for the year), and recorded the 2nd longest reception in Idaho history (92 yards) against North Texas. In 2004 he again played in all 12 games, caught 1 TD and averaged 11 yards per reception. As a punt returner, he averaged 8.4 yards per return with a long of 45 yards.

#19 Chris Nathan

Chris Nathan, Cornerback (Jacksonville, FL)
Chris joined the Vandals in 2003 as a JC transfer and saw significant playing time immediately. One of Idaho's top CBs going into this season, Chris stepped into the starting cornerback role following the loss of Eric McMillan and played admirably. For the season the Business major out of Jacksonville (FL) finished with 42 tackles in 9 games, a sack, an interception, and 3 tackles for loss.

#8 J.R. Ruffin

J.R. Ruffin, Cornerback (Detroit, MI)
One of the fastest players on the Vandal football team the last 2 seasons, cornerback and kick returner J.R. Ruffin always impressed. He worked hard to earn his eligibility into the University of Idaho in 2003 and never looked back. Majoring in Justice Studies at Idaho, he represented Vandal athletics both on the gridiron and on the track (relays were his specialty). This season J.R. finished a stellar 2004 with 47 tackles, 3 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, and forced 1 fumble. He also returned 34 kicks this season, averaging 21 yards per return with a long of 59 yards.

#39 Willie Sipoloa

Willie Sipoloa, Tightend (Portland, OR)
Willie Sipoloa became an integral part of the Vandal offense this season. Mired by injuries for much of his Idaho career, Willie trimmed about 25 pounds off his frame, hit the weights, and became Idaho's starting tightend for 6 games this season. The Public Communications major from Portland ended the 2004 season with 23 receptions in 11 games for 196 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an 8.5 yards per catch average.

#22 Simeon Stewart

Simeon Stewart, Free Safety (Seattle, WA)
Hats off to starting Free Safety and Team Captain Simeon Stewart, who proved to be a leader both on and off the field. A backup who saw significant playing time throughout his career, he embraced the team's election of him as a Captain for the '04 season despite having limited starting experience going in. He ended the '04 campaign 4th on the team in tackles (61), including 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 interceptions (returned 38 yards), 2 pass breakups and 2 forced fumbles. A leader, by any measure.

#86 Rory Tipton

Rory Tipton, Wide Receiver (Nampa, ID)
The winner of the "Persistence" award this year goes to wide receiver Rory Tipton, a Public Relations major out of Nampa, ID. Rory spent essentially his entire career as a scout team player, seeing what we believe was his first game time in the season finale at Hawai'i. Despite the lack of "glory", he completed his eligibility at Idaho and for that we are impressed!

#91 Michael Togafau

Michael Togafau, Defensive Tackle (Pittsburg, CA)
Michael joined the Vandals in 2000 and redshirted his first season. Battling injuries in '01 and '02 he worked on the offensive line. In '03 Michael made the move back to the defensive line and had a solid season, playing in 11 of 12 games. It was hoped he could be a major contributor in '04, but the nagging injuries finally took their toll and the Computer Engineering major out of southern California saw limited duty in his senior campaign.

#28 Justin Wall

Justin Wall, Runningback (Hendersonville, TN)
Justin joined the Vandals by way of Moorpark Junior College in 2003. A Secondary Education major at the University of Idaho, Justin not only traveled a tremendous distance to get to the UI (he's a native of Tennessee), he also was well-traveled on the Vandal depth-chart, having joined as a wide receiver before being moved to linebacker for the '03 season, and ultimately to runningback for the '04 season. Injured early in the season, Justin finished his senior season with 13 carries through 5 games for 51 yards and a long of 20 yards.

#36 Brian Yarno

Brian Yarno, Tightend / Long-Snapper (Redmond, WA)
Voted a Team Captain in the spring, Brian (majoring in Marketing) played the most significant role of his career in the Vandal offense in 2004. Recruited to Idaho in 2000, he redshirted his first season in Moscow. His playing career saw him earn playing time as a redshirt freshman as the team's long-snapper, and he held that starting role his entire career. In addition he spent most of his career working in the Vandal backfield as a fullback. With the change in coaching staff in 2004, Brian moved from fullback to tightend, the position he played in high school. Through 11 games in 2004 Brian recorded 8 catches good for 46 yards and saw significant playing time on offense all season. But his biggest contribution throughout his career came on special teams, where he was a reliable fixture for 4 years.

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