All three starters – Vobora at weakside, Brandon Ogletree at outside, and Joartis Ratti in the middle – were seniors with extensive experience. These three linebackers combined for 306 tackles last year (Vobora led the WAC with 148 tackles), and finished 1st, 2nd, and 5th on the team. They were the heart and soul of the Vandal defense last year, and they gave an otherwise extremely young unit some maturity.
This year the Vandals must rebuild the linebacking unit, and fortunately they have some experience coming back. The returner with the most experience is outside linebacker Joseph "JoJo" Dickson, who finished 10th last year on the team as a true freshman with 34 tackles in 11 games, including a pass breakup and blocked punt with two starts on the year. He played on several special teams units and saw his playing time increase as the season progressed.
On this inside, at weakside linebacker, Justin Allen – a former Texas Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year – played extensively on special team last year as a true freshman who also saw his playing time increase as the season progressed. In 10 games he finished with seven tackles and recovered a fumble.
These two sophomores provide 2/3 of the foundation for a linebacking unit in 2008 that has 12 athletes, nine of whom are sophomores or freshmen.
Jonathan Faraimo lines up at defensive end against USC in 2007.
Not bad for a 5-foot 11-inch converted high school All Star linebacker who played immediately as a freshman against USC.
In 2008, Faraimo makes the move back to middle linebacker, and by the end of spring camp this year had secured the starting job. Last year he played at a stout 256-pounds, and is shedding much of that weight to get back into linebacker form. Dipping below 240-pounds during spring camp, Faraimo was a dominant force in the Spring Game and is an emerging leader on the Vandal Defense.
Jonathan Faraimo came to Idaho a little bit beneath the radar screen, in part because his high school career was hampered by injuries. Despite the injuries however, when he was on the field he was a force. Jonathan was recently voted to Western High School's Coach Howell "All Decade Dream Team," and was described by Coach Howell as follows: "If not for unfortunate injuries, could've been the all-time best [run stopping linebacker]!" The Dream Team list is impressive, and includes Idaho starting left guard Mike Iupati, plus TE Will Price (Oregon State), and Fili Moala (USC) among others. Faraimo was invited to play in the Orange County North/South Prep All Star Football Game after his senior season.
Considered one of the top Orange County prospects coming out of high school, Faraimo committed to Idaho during the 2006 recruiting cycle, but opted to grayshirt and delay his enrollment until January of 2007. Despite the late enrollment, most close to the program knew a gem was on the way.
Below, Faraimo talked to GVN after the Spring Game about his move to middle linebacker and the linebacker unit heading into the 2008 season.
From left to right, linebackers Joseph "JoJo" Dickson and Jonathan Faraimo, safety Shiloh Keo, and defensive linemen Fonomanu Sekona and Marcus Pedro make up part of Idaho's nucleus of Polynesian athletes.
PAT HAUGE: So, how does it feel to be back at middle linebacker after playing defensive end last season?
JONATHAN FARAIMO: "It feels, you know, a little awkward moving from Buck on the D Line and getting caught up in the program and everything. But it feels a lot more free. I'm moving a lot faster; I'm losing my weight; so that's everybody's concern on that."
PH: So are you down below 250 pounds now?
JF: "Yeah, I'm down below 250. I'm down to 240 right now."
PH: So what do you think about the linebacking corps around you? You've got Jo-Jo [Joseph Dickson] on your left. He played quite a bit last year. You've got Allen [Justin Allen] on your right.
JF: "Yeah. My two linebackers on each side of me, Jo-Jo and Allen, they're both quick and fast; so I'm just happy they're there because they can close the gaps real fast leaving me free so I can run around and make some plays; them as well too. It's kind of hard for the O-linemen to catch those fast guys; so that's a good thing that we have in there."
PH: So what do you think about your D-line in front of you? So much of the linebacker's success is dependant on success up front. Describe your D-Line for us.
JF: "We've made so much improvement from last year to this year. We're moving a lot faster, quicker. We're much stronger; so I have trust in my D-line. I believe they can make plays, and they believe I can make plays, and that's what it all comes down to - Trust."
PH: So when the Idaho Humanitarian Bowl Championship team of 1998 returned to campus for a reunion at the Spring Game, did you get a chance to meet Vandal linebacker Chris Nofoaiga from that team?
JF: "Yeah. He gave us a speech. Pretty intense!"
PH: What did he tell you guys?
JF: "You know, it was very inspiring. Inspirational. He was just talking about how they were in the bottom rankings [preseason]; so they had something to prove to the world. They had to shock the world. They wanted to change the whole program around, which they did, and I give them a lot of credit for that which inspires us as well. We're going to try to follow in their footsteps and change something around here."