[Vandal] Idaho Places 4 On All-Big Sky Football First Team

robiegruss at aol.com robiegruss at aol.com
Thu Apr 22 07:12:48 PDT 2021

>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoThursday, April 22, 2021
Idaho Places 4 On All-Big Sky Football First Team
Pair of Linebackers highlight Vandals’ haul of postseason awards
By Colton Clark
Idaho substantiated its case to be considered "Linebacker U" of the Big Sky, placing two of its stars at the position on the first-team list when all-conference honors were released Wednesday.
Junior middle linebacker Tre Walker and senior strongside man Christian Elliss claimed half of the BSC’s first-team LB spots to highlight the Vandals’ haul of postseason awards.
Receiver Hayden Hatten and fullback Logan Kendall joined them on the first team. Eight other Vandals also were recognized by conference coaches as either second-teamers or honorable-mention selections.
Walker, a fierce and fast run-stopper, posted 54 tackles and 4.5 TFLs. Despite missing two of Idaho’s six games, he capped his year in the Football Championship Subdivision’s top 10 in total tackles.
In the reduced, seven-team Big Sky, he was second in total stops and first in average (13.5). Walker was a unanimous first-teamer a season after piling up a staggering 138 tackles and pulling in second-team accolades.
“It’s unfortunate he had to miss a couple of games, but when he played, he played really well,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said.
The Fresno, Calif., product is a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which will be presented to the best defensive player in the FCS on May 15.
“I gained success in my averages and stuff, but I feel, personally, I need to work on everything,” said a modest Walker. “I can get better in every range.
“I feel like it’s always about the next Tre, the better Tre. I’m working on that day in and day out.”
Elliss, a four-year Vandal stalwart and two-time All-BSC first-teamer, came in fourth in the league at 10 tackles per contest. A 39-game pillar at Idaho, Elliss ranks 18th in program history with 266 tackles.
He’s become known as the Vandals’ defensive tone-setter and among the most pro-ready players in the FCS.
Like his brother before him, Elliss hopes to be taken in the NFL draft, which runs April 29-May 1. Former star Vandal linebacker Kaden Elliss, a third-year New Orleans Saint, was selected in the seventh round in 2019.
“Christian’s been very crucial. He’s a great linebacker,” Walker said. “All blessings and success to him. I feel like we’ll be missing him for sure, missing his spark, his energy on the field. That’s Christian, man.”
Hatten, a sophomore breakout who mostly played a reserve tight end role last season, racked up 613 yards and three touchdowns on 43 receptions in only six games.
The sure-handed jump-ball target from Scottsdale, Ariz., ended his year ranked in the top 10 nationally in receptions and yards per outing (7.17 and 102.17, respectively).
“I’m young. I’ve got three years of eligibility left, and I plan to keep improving every year,” Hatten said earlier this month. “If I’m the guy, and I’m targeted, I plan on making the catch. I give a lot of credit to the guys trusting me with the opportunities.”
Kendall, a 264-pound wrecking ball, was a unanimous selection at fullback. The junior from Cheney, Wash., registered two impressive scores on rollout receptions and consistently was a bruising force in the running game.
“You can’t play a whole lot better than he played,” Petrino said. “He was very physical, got after people.”
Senior Rathdrum, Idaho, native Cade Coffey pocketed second-team honors for his punting efforts and an honorable-mention nod for his field-goal kicking.
The four-year special-teams centerpiece — another in the pantheon of standout Vandal legs — ranked second in the Big Sky in punting average (45.8 yards per try), and his 44-yard net average put him at No. 2 in single-season Idaho history.
But of more significance to Coffey was that he repeatedly created long fields. He finished the season first in the league in boots finessed inside opponents’ 20-yard lines (16).
"That's more of an accomplishment to me than gross punting or any of those stats," he said.
He went 9-for-10 on field-goal attempts, with a career-long of 51 yards in Idaho’s season finale at Northern Arizona.
Coffey said various injuries had limited him during his junior year, but he made good use of the autumn offseason and came into his last campaign fresh and especially fit.
“I think that’s as well as he’s kicked, ever,” Petrino said of the two-time class-designated (freshman, sophomore) All-American.
Added Coffey: “I really believe this is the best season I’ve played as a Vandal.
"All the preparation I put in the past couple of months, it was pretty cool to see it come to fruition."
Coffey, who worked out for NFL scouts at the Vandals’ pro day in March, will explore his prospects at the next level. He's been in contact with some professional organizations, but said he's keeping his options open for other avenues.
“The mentality I'm using is: If it happens, that's awesome, and I definitely want to pursue it," he said. "If nothing happens, it is what it is. I'm happy to wrap up my collegiate football career."
Sophomore Idahoan kick returner Nick Romano earned second-team plaudits after leading the conference in return average (26.5 yards). 
Senior mainstay defensive backs Tyrese Dedmon, a safety, and cornerback Jalen Hoover were recognized on the second team as well. With 79 career games between them, the duo was a bright spot in a new-look secondary.
Tackle Logan Floyd, a third-year starter, was an honorable mention pick. He led a youthful group in the trenches.
Linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avae, a first-year Vandal out of Washington State, was Idaho’s No. 3 tackler (46). Senior captain Rahsaan Crawford, a vocal leader at defensive tackle, and ever-improving fellow tackle Jonah Kim (three sacks) made the cut too. They were instrumental in Idaho’s top-ranked Big Sky rushing defense.
“As far as our linebacker group, our front seven in general, we’re continuing to grow and our pieces are continuing to expand,” Walker said.
A snub from the list was senior edge-rusher Charles Akanno, who was third in the Big Sky in tackles for loss with 7.5.
Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere was named offensive player of the year and Weber State linebacker Conner Mortensen took home the award for defense.
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