[Vandal] Vandals Are Controlling What They Can

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Sun Jan 31 10:18:31 PST 2021

>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoSunday, January 31, 2021
Vandals Are Controlling What They Can
Idaho stages first practice ahead of delayed spring season
By Colton Clark
One of Idaho football coach Paul Petrino’s often-voiced sentiments perhaps is more applicable now than ever before.
“Control what we can control,” the eighth-year boss tells his Vandals regularly. “Don’t worry about what we can’t control.”
It’s what he said to relieve some of the uneasiness that was sprouting recently around the Kibbie Dome, when the total number of Big Sky programs to opt out of the delayed spring season grew to five.
Three of Idaho’s opponents — Montana, Portland State and Northern Colorado — were lost because of various coronavirus-related concerns. But the conference quickly revised its six-game schedule, not long before the Vandals’ first official practice, which took place Friday.
“It was a little concerning. We just hoped enough (teams) stayed in so we got to play,” Petrino said via Zoom after the session.
“You do whatever the league tells you, and you’re excited about it and happy about it. I don’t think our guys really cared who it was that we were going to play, or when we were going to play.”
Half a year late, the Vandals are set to finally open their season Feb. 27 at home against local rival Eastern Washington.
Another of Petrino’s controllable factors this year will be maintaining his same routine. It’s far from a regular or complete season — a couple dozen other Football Championship Subdivision teams also have dropped out — but conference titles and a national crown still will be awarded.
“We’re going to treat every game like we always have,” said Petrino, whose team last season went 5-7 in its second year back in the Big Sky, “and do our very best as coaches and players to prepare to go win every single game, and try to win a championship.”
The Vandals were more competitive in 2019 than they’d been the previous year, but injuries foiled them multiple times. Asked of this shortened season’s upsides, Petrino highlighted health.
“It just gives you a better chance of everybody staying healthy. It’s a better chance when you don’t start out the year with a couple of Power Five teams,” he said.
Standout sophomore running back Nick Romano, a Meridian, Idaho, native, spoke to the added exposure this year for Division I football’s second tier of play, noting “it’ll be nice to get people to see the talent at the FCS level.”
Preparation-wise, Idaho’s players and personnel say this one will be pretty typical of any normal preseason — save the fact that practices mostly will be split up because of COVID-19 precautions. Offensive players train earlier in the day, then defenders afterward. It allows the offensive-minded Petrino to have more one-on-one time with his defensive unit.
“I like that,” he said. “Our 15 days of practice in the fall, we probably did eight of them like this.”
Overall, Petrino commended his team’s first day of practice, which followed a two-week span of fall exercises and some player-led workouts in between.
“I thought our intensity and attention to detail was good,” he said.
“Our guys have been super excited. The atmosphere around the building has been great.”
Today, the Vandals will sport pads for the first time, and run through drills pitting starters against starters.
Asked which of his position groups is in need of the most sorting out, Petrino pointed to the secondary and offensive line. His defensive backfield lost several players to either graduation or transfers during the offseason, but Idaho reeled in a nice haul in recruiting.
The Vandals inked late-addition transfer corners in Josh Jones, a junior who played for Tyler Junior College (Texas) and Texas-San Antonio, and Marcus Harris, a freshman who hopped over from Oregon State. Also, senior cornerback Jalen Hoover is back on the roster after exploring transfer options.
Four O-linemen of note — including four-year starter Noah Johnson, an All-American — have departed.“Those are probably the two places where there’s the most battles still going on for starters,” Petrino said.
Other positions feature considerably fewer question marks. Petrino has settled on UConn graduate transfer Mike Beaudry (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), a rocket-armed pocket-passer, as his No. 1 quarterback. Aundre Carter, Idaho’s leading rusher last year, no longer is with the program, but Romano, junior Roshaun Johnson and senior Dylan Thigpen all are tested backs.
“We’re going to go into it like we do every year — ride the hot hand,” said Romano, a versatile weapon who surely will see his workload increase. “I think we have a lot more team chemistry (on offense). That’s going to drive us.
“... Just counting down the days to the first game. We’ve got that energy flowing.”
Two-year starter Cutrell Haywood, a junior who’s on track to collect a number of program records, will replace All-American Jeff Cotton — now of the Los Angeles Chargers — as the veteran leader of a loaded pass-catching corps. Other receivers Petrino mentioned include sophomore Hayden Hatten (a former tight end), sophomore Sean McCormick, JC speedster Jermaine Jackson, senior New Mexico transfer Elijah Lilly and developing sophomore Michael Noil.
“I think our depth out there is good and we have a chance to have a couple of guys that are really good,” Petrino said.
The coach has made clear the Vandals’ strength will lie in their front seven, which features a ton of experience, and All-American candidates at linebacker in all-leaguers Christian Elliss and Tre Walker. The entire defensive line returns, captained by edge-rusher Charles Akanno, who led the Big Sky in tackles for loss before sustaining an Achilles injury in October 2019.
Akanno said he has taken the extra time off to fully recover.
“He’s just an unbelievable athlete that has great quickness and can really change directions,” Petrino said of the senior. “We need to have him out there on that field every game, and if he is, he’s gonna make a lot of things difficult for opposing quarterbacks — that’s for sure.”
Added Akanno on at last returning to the field of play: “It feels great. It’s been a while. We’ve all been talking about it. Since we had player practices, everybody’s been fired up, ready to get out there.”
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