[Vandal] [Bulk] Vandals Are Eager For A Return To Normal

robiegruss at aol.com robiegruss at aol.com
Wed Jul 28 10:07:06 PDT 2021

>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoWednesday, July28, 2021
Vandals Are Eager For A Return To Normal
Idaho football team reviews spring season, looks ahead to fall
By Colton Clark
SPOKANE — Three months removed from the most unusual and challenging season of any he’s been a part of, Paul Petrino is glad to be turning the corner.
“So many things will be a lot nicer,” he said of this fall.
Joined by two of his stars in linebacker Tre Walker and fullback Logan Kendall, Idaho football’s ninth-year coach looked ahead to the coming campaign and reviewed the most recent one during Monday’s Big Sky Conference media day at the Davenport Grand.
Coaches, athletes, university administrators, conference personnel and media members from around the region gathered in one place for the first time in two years. It all felt somewhat pre-coronavirus.
So it was an encouraging primer for what’s shaping up to be a traditional season, unlike the six-game spring, which was scraped together to replace an axed 2020 schedule.
“Just getting to do things in person is going to be great,” Petrino said. “Having our position meetings in person, as opposed to on Zoom, is going to be great.”
To be sure, COVID-19 still will be relevant. Questions revolving around vaccination rates and potential game cancellations remain.But restrictions on athletics are easing considerably and all of the Big Sky’s 13 teams have returned to the fold after five opted out of the delayed spring season.
Like his peers, Petrino can’t wait.
“We’re really looking forward to getting out there,” he said. “With so many guys coming back with experience and with the guys we added, I think we’ve put ourselves in position to have a great year.”
The COVID-19 vaccine was a common subject at media day, and without providing an exact figure, Petrino said his team is “in a good place” in that respect.
“I’ve recommended (the vaccine),” he said. “You teach guys individual choice. But we have a good percentage of our team that has been, and hopefully we can continue for that to be improved.”
Earlier Monday, conference commissioner Tom Wistrcill announced that contests will not be postponed or altogether called off because of coronavirus concerns on one of the teams. Instead, the program that cannot play will take a forfeit. In contrast, the spring season featured makeup dates for such issues.
Petrino doesn’t expect the Vandals to back out of any games, joking that Walker and Kendall could play both ways if need be.  “It’s just going to be if you don’t want to play,” he said. “Last year, you had to have a certain (number of players available). We’re going to play the games.”
Short-handedness because of COVID-19 exposures was a hurdle for the Vandals en route to their 2-4 spring finish. Only once did they enter a game with a complete roster.
Idaho trotted out an all-freshmen offensive line in Week 2 against UC Davis. Throughout the year, four quarterbacks had significant reps — and one, Zach Borisch, was a converted running back.
Save a few secondary lapses and bad instances of offensive stagnation, Idaho was nonetheless competitive, with its worst loss coming by 10 points.
“When you watch the tape, our guys played their hearts out,” Petrino said. “At the end of the year, our slogan was, ‘We’re that close to being undefeated.’ Just gotta get better every single day and I feel like we’re going to get it done.”
A benefit from electing to participate in the spring lies in experience. Although they might not have the fresh legs that their opted-out counterparts do, the Vandals are confident in their depth.
“If somebody goes down here or there, we have a bunch of guys ready to go,” said Petrino, later adding that those extra reps in the spring might make for more position battles in Idaho’s fast-approaching fall camp.
“The biggest thing that pushes a player is competition, more than a coach hollering at him or anything else. We have good competition across the board.”
Speaking on the upside of this past season, Kendall noted the team chemistry has improved by virtue of last season’s challenges.“It made us all so much closer. That’s super beneficial,” said Kendall, a first-team All-Big Sky pick and third-team All-American.
Walker said the Vandals used the spring, above all else, to fine-tune against real competition. He also touched on the subject of mental durability.
“It taught us how to work through adversity. It taught us to continue to chase our dreams no matter the situation we’re put in,” said Walker, who shined in four games last season to garner All-America honors and now, the Big Sky’s preseason defensive MVP nod.  “It taught us to not stress about something that’s not in our control.”
Petrino commended his players for their commitment.
“One of the biggest things about sports is teaching you how to get through things in life,” he said. “There were a lot of obstacles, and I’m so proud of our players for how much they sacrificed to be able to do it.”
Idaho opens the year hosting Division II Simon Fraser on Sept. 4 before back-to-back road games against power-conference opponents Indiana and Oregon State.
Petrino plans to have his depth chart settled when the Vandals play their Big Sky opener Oct. 2 at UC Davis.
As is usually the case, the quarterback position will be one to watch. It’ll apparently be a four-man battle between graduate Mike Beaudry, freshman CJ Jordan, sophomore Nikhil Nayar and Borisch.
“All of them played (in the spring) and played well at times, so it’s open right now,” Petrino said. “I could see in the first few games playing a couple of them.”
When asked of newcomers that had caught his eye during summer drills, Petrino mentioned a pair of pass-catchers. Idaho recently added former Football Bowl Subdivision receivers in Terez Traynor (Western Kentucky) and Mekhi Stevenson (UNLV).
“They look the part,” said Petrino, who expects the Vandals to be led overall by Walker and a seasoned front seven that has been a strong suit since Idaho rejoined the Big Sky in 2018.
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