The second chapter of the Holt era began last week with the launch of spring drills on the University of Idaho campus. One of the youngest teams in America last season returns, along with the addition of several gray shirts (including WR <b>Tracy Ford</b>) and junior college transfers. As the team gets back into playing mode, we get back into coverage mode with a look at the team...and primarily the offense this week.
"You won't believe the difference in intensity and speed this year compared to last year." It's a common theme for those who have gone to team practices so far this spring. And it's understandable. The team, for the first time in A DECADE
(according to a Moscow-Pullman Daily News
arcticle), didn't lose a single position coach this off-season. Every player coming back knows their coach and their position (well, except possibly for those that changed positions this off-season). Think about it. Brandon Kania played for a different DL coach each of his 4 years at Idaho. This year, same terminology, same intensity, same direction, and higher expectations by a staff that knows their team this year and what they are capable of doing with continued work. Last year at this time, none of the staff had seen more than film of this team. Now they know what areas need more work than others and can focus the spring to build on that. It's huge, and an undeniable foundation for the future.
NEW FACE IN THE CROWD...
Strength & Conditioning Head Coach
The position coaches are the same, but there's a new sheriff in the weight room this fall. Last winter Strength and Conditioning Coach Aaron Ausmus came to Moscow with Nick Holt and rebuilt the Vandal strength program, overhauling the attitude of Idaho's athletes regarding strength training which has resulted in an amazing improvement in the physical condition of the team across the board. Aaron was hired by the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) this off-season, and a search for his replacement ensued. Enter Scott Gadeken
, who comes to Idaho from LSU where he was an assistant strength coach for the football team and the Head Strength Coach for the men's and women's basketball teams.
For those that are worried that there will be a drop-off in intensity or focus during strength training on the Idaho campus, think again. Aside from helping prepare LSU's football team for a share of the 2003 National Championship (where he was an assistant for 5 years), his men's team finished this season with a 20-10 record and 6th seed in the NCAA Tournament, while the women's team went 33-3 this year and was ranked in the Top 5 for much of the season. In 2001, Gadeken was a finalist for the National Strength and Conditioning Association's National Strength Coach of the Year Award. Before LSU, he was an assistant at Kansas State's powerful program for 3 years, and over the course of his young career has developed some of the same philosophies as Ausmus. Continuity between the 2 coaches is expected, and if his fiery personality on the sidelines this spring is any indication, the last thing Idaho fans have to worry about is a drop in intensity under Gadeken. Incidentally, Scott earned NAIA All-American honors as a football player at Midland Lutheran College...as a 270 pound offensive lineman. He's trimmed down to 200 pounds since then, and practices what he preaches.
6-3, 210, Fr
Reports from our scouts at camp indicate 3 QBs are getting the lion's share of the reps this spring with the #1 offensive unit: senior Michael Harrington
, junior Steve Wichman
, and gray shirt freshman T.J. Conley
. Harrington is of course the most experienced QB in this group and it shows. He's had a solid spring, has looked sharp with the #1 offense, and continues to maintain his status as Idaho's top QB. Newcomer Wichman has also been showing nice progress this spring and will definitely be pushing Harrington this season. He has a strong arm and a nice delivery on his ball. As far as the youngster Conley, this has been our first look at the recruit who gray shirted last fall and just began practicing with the team this spring. As a HS senior he threw for over 3000 yards and 35 touchdowns (10,000+ yards for his career and 125 touchdowns), and it shows as he's been running with the #1 unit and looking sharp at times in the process.
The passing attack so far seems to be going deeper down field this spring than it was last fall. And more to the point, we haven't seen as much of the "step back and fire to the WR on the sidelines" routes as we saw in 2004. As the rest of the offensive unit gains in confidence and experience with the philosophy implemented last fall, so too will the quarterbacks.
YOUNGSTERS SEEING PLENTY OF ACTION...
6-2, 285, RS-Fr
As if the loss of Ryan Waage and Eric Nave (injuries), Marcis Fennell (working with the DL this spring), and Hank Therien (may or may not return to the football team) weren't enough, Idaho also lost returning starting center Jarrod Schulte for the duration of spring drills just before camp began. For a unit undergoing a complete overhaul in technique (becoming a more mobile unit than that of the Cable era) and personnel (2 recruiting classes have resulted in 9 new linemen), these losses are substantial. Consequently there is some shifting going on up front. Last week the O ran quite a few running plays, but is transitioning more into the passing game as spring progresses. The first unit OL has primarily consisted of redshirt freshman Adam Korby
at center, junior Jade Tadvick
at left guard and junior Nate VanderPol
at left tackle, with redshirt freshman Kristopher Anderson
at right guard and sophomore Desmond Clark
at right tackle. Aside from the usual strong performances by VanderPol, Tadvick and Clark, redshirt freshmen Korby and Anderson are having a good spring on Idaho's interior OL. These 5 constitute Idaho's #1 offensive line this spring and have been earning most of the snaps.
With the 5 losses mentioned above (Schulte, Therien, Fennell, Waage, and Nave), Idaho fortunately has several walkon linemen who are getting some serious reps this spring. Word on the street is that JC walkon center/guard Jon Verway
has been "a pleasant surprise" so far this spring and could provide some solid depth in the middle this fall. Redshirt freshman guard Brandon Schulte
also continues to develop at guard, while junior Geoff Zuber
works at tackle/guard.
RUNNIN' WITH THE BIG CATS...
So far we've seen junior tightend Luke Smith-Anderson
and junior H-Back Keith Greer
running a lot with the first unit O, but both units are getting sound rotations as well. Among the tight ends, freshmen Rick Harrison
and Peter Bjorvik
are showing improvement each day, and both are surprisingly good at catching the ball and running with it. In the recent past Idaho's TEs had tended towards the blocking side of their job, but all three are looking like threats through the air as well. In particular is Luke Smith-Anderson, a chisled 6-5, 260 pounder who is looking more and more impressive each year. Last weekend he caught 2 long TDs against the #1 defense.
Greer has been slowed with some bumps and bruises this spring but continues to work his tail off and impress. Senior Tim Bertalot
, who moved over to H-Back from the defensive line this spring, has also been looking good this spring.
6-5, 260, RS-Jr
ROTATE, ROTATE, ROTATE...
6-2, 210, Jr
As we had been expecting since the announcement of Idaho's last recruiting class, several new faces are joining the wide receiver ranks this spring. Consequently there is some heavy rotation going on with the wideouts right now. Among the returners, Wendell Octave
has been slowed a bit as he works through bumps and bruises sustained last season, but has been practicing with the team all spring. Desmond Belton
(had a nice grab and gain in practice Thursday), Ryan Heacock
, and Christian Populis
, are all in this spring and continue to show progress from their freshman season last fall.
Among the newcomers, all are looking good, with JC transfer Matt Askew
appearing to get a lot of reps with the #1 offense. JC transfer Daniel Smith
is showing the good hands we had heard about in scouting reports last fall. This pair is going to benefit immensely from being on the Idaho campus for these spring drills. The talent is obviously there for both, but the jump in required stamina and conditioning from junior college to Division 1-A is immense. Being here now is going to put them FAR ahead of the game had they joined the team in fall instead.
Gray shirt freshman Tracy Ford
has been described by sources close to the program as an "extremely hard worker", an athlete that "plays with a lot of tempo", "a ball of fire" and simply "fun" to be around. Impressive accolades for the Bellevue High School product who has also worked with the kick return team this spring. We've also heard good things about redshirt freshman Lee Smith
who's having a good spring and getting lots of reps.
FIVE SPEED TRANSMISSION...
5-11, 210, Senior
Displacing the true sophomore dynamic duo of Jayson Bird
and Rolly Lumbala
at RB this spring will be a pretty tough task, but a cadre of backs are displaying an impressive effort so far. Bird and Lumbala are getting the first snaps with Idaho's top offensive unit, and both are physically developing into even more of a threat than they were last fall. Frankly, it's easy to forget that both were fresh out of high school yet gained almost 1500 yards rushing between them. If it seemed they ran hard last fall, they're running even harder this spring, and showing their off-season strength training effort as well.
These 2 aren't alone though as Antwaun Sherman
, Ashanti Hicks
and Devon Sturdivant
are all making their presence felt as well. Sherman, a senior this coming fall who also works with the sprinters on the Idaho track team, has worked on kick returns in addition to carrying the rock. This afternoon on the first play of a practice scrimmage between the #2 O and #2 D, Antwaun hauled in a screen pass from Wichman and scored on a long sprint. Hicks, a transfer last fall who sat out the season, and Sturdivant, a gray shirt out of Boise, are getting their reps and will make this an exceptionally solid rotation this spring and fall.
DEFENSIVE QUICK HITS....
6-1, 275, RS-Fr
This week's write-up is heavily biased towards the offense, and to the defensive unit, we apologize. But we won't completely leave them out in the cold.........It has been nice to see redshirt freshman Alex Toailoa
working the defensive line this spring with returning starter, true sophomore Siua Musika
. We've also been seeing a lot of JC transfer Ryan Davis
on the interior DL, while true-sophomore Marcis Fennell
has been solid on the DL as well. Overall, this interior DL has made substantial strides in being a bigger, more physical and deeper unit than what Idaho fielded last fall........Tone Taupule
, a JC transfer who already has been running with the 2s at safety, can bring some heat when he hits - described by several attending practice as "flying around like a missile" .........Mike Anderson
looked good at LB, covering a lot of ground and moving very well. He beefed up last fall to about 250 pounds to play DE, but has trimmed back down to 235 and is getting back into linebacker mode.........As with the new recruits on O, the new defensive recruits are showing serious promise but playing conditioning catch-up with the returning athletes. By the 4th week of spring drills, and especially by next fall, things should get even more competitive across the board as the recruits get more knowledgeable of the systems and even the conditioning playing field.
Although it is really early, Conley has been looking very solid at punter this spring. It hasn't been perfect, but the kid really seems to have a tremendous leg so far this spring. The kicking game appears to be a more spirited competition, with junior Mike Barrow
looking good now that he may not be doing double duty as kicker and punter. Walkon Carl Ott
appeared to be giving him some serious competition last week in drills, while this week Sam Perry
has been making some noise. Bottom line, unlike last year there is some depth in the kicking game setting up for next fall.
RAGIN' HAIR-DO AWARD GOES TO....
6-0, 210, Junior
Without a doubt, this year's winner for most glorious locks hangin' outside the helmet goes to University of Idaho junior and Borah High School alum Ashanti Hicks
. Sometimes a photograph says it all.