The Idaho Vandals were greeted to hot but agreeable weather and a small but loyal crowd for their first practice of fall. I've filed a story about the first day, centered on the rehab of receiver Preston Davis.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – In the best of scenarios, Preston Davis would be back in early October, perhaps late September. That’s what the doctors told the University of Idaho wide receiver this spring after major knee surgery.
But Davis had a much earlier return date in mind back then. And as fall camp opened Thursday, he’s still pushing toward it.
“I’m really ahead of schedule, but it’s just a matter of if I can be ready by Sept. 2,” Davis said, pointing to the day the Vandals start the season against North Dakota. “I mean, that was my goal from day one. We’re just still working towards that. We’ll see what happens.”
Davis, a junior in the mix to start at wideout if healthy, was in shorts and a jersey like the rest of his teammates during UI’s first practice. He’s still wearing a brace around his left knee, four months after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament.
He moved nimbly during early drills and said his knee felt fine afterward.
Coach Robb Akey said Davis could be as much as a month ahead of schedule. That would give him a chance to play in the Vandals’ opener like he’s planned all along.
“I think it’s a hopeful goal, but I think there’s potential for it,” Akey said. “And I’m glad he’s got that in his mind. Maybe that will keep pushing him to that point.”
Davis is best known for hauling in the game-winning two-point conversion in last year’s Humanitarian Bowl. The pulsating grab against Bowling Green capped a 33-catch season for the Las Vegas product.
But on March 30, before the Vandals’ first spring scrimmage, Davis sustained an ACL tear and had surgery about a week later. The typical recovery period for an injury of his severity is six months – meaning Davis wouldn’t be back until early or mid-October – but Akey had a suspicion he might make rapid progress.
“There’s part of me that thought with that kid it’s a possibility because he is a worker,” Akey said. “He approached it very, very well. I think our (doctors) and rehab people handled it well. He did a great job of working.”
Davis spent the summer in Moscow rehabbing twice a day. Eventually he built up the strength to run on a daily basis on the Idaho practice field, and he’s steadily improved since then.
“I don’t see why Sept. 2 isn’t obtainable,” he said. “With the dates and timelines with injuries like this, I actually accelerated them quite a bit. I cut back on a lot of things so I would be ready by the first game.”
OPTIONS AT OFFENSIVE LINE
The Vandals’ first-team offensive line on the first day of fall camp consisted of lone returner Matt Cleveland, two backups from last year — Tevita Halaholo and Tyrone Novikoff – as well as Sam Tupua and center Clell Hasenbank.
Those five “are in the mix and will continue to be in the mix,” Akey said.
But they aren’t the only ones.
Junior college transfer Charles Wiley will vie with Novikoff for the starting right tackle spot, and true freshman Mike Marboe of Wenatchee has impressed Akey since he joined the team before spring practice.
“The young Marboe, you think he’s a freshman, you want to redshirt him,” the coach said. “But he did a hell of a job in the spring and we’ll see what can do when we get through camp. He might end up in that core of guys, so he is in play. I think we’ve got some options.”
UI will grayshirt freshman defensive tackle Tyler Kuder, Akey said. In his place, the coaching staff moved running back Calvin Thompson to the roster. Thompson, who originally was going to grayshirt, will fill the void left by Corey White’s departure. … Akey said JC defensive back Thaad Thompson has yet to join the team while waiting for a grade to come through.
Here are some extra quotes that didn't make the story. Davis' comment on knowing how to win is interesting.
On whether there's a different feel to the start of camp ...
It does for me. Obviously I feel more comfortable. I don’t feel like there’s as much stress because we know how to win now. Hopefully we can work on not coming from behind and playing one half of football.
I think there’s a sense of now we know how to win, so let’s win big.
Quarterback Nathan Enderle:
On first day ...
It was fun. It started a little slow, they usually do. I thought it went real smooth for a first day. A lot of good things.
On summer ...
We had a good turnout this summer, and we had a good completion rate for our conditioning test. Those are a few good measures of how you work over the summer, and how many people are here.
Personal goal for the year ...
It’s mainly going the same course as last year, and that’s just to have the best season possible, play as good as I can and try to put us in a position to win games
On the O-line ...
They’ll come along fine. Coach (Dan) Finn’s a really good dude; he knows a lot about football. I’m not worried at all about they’re going to mesh. And it’s really about how they play together. It’s not a worry about how talented they are — it’s more them kind of getting a feel for each other.
On the defense ..
They’re flying around a lot more. They’re playing better, they’re playing faster. You can tell that they understand their assignments more. They try to mess with your eyes a little bit, and before they were doing their assignments and lining up right where they had to be and now they can play with it a little bit. It’s a lot more difficult to kind of read what they’re going to be doing.
On team's expectations ...
We’ve really got to keep the same mindset as last year, and that’s not to worry about where we are in the polls and what other people are thinking because that really won’t matter at all. That’s all good and fun for fans to discuss … but that doesn’t really matter until the first game’s played.
We got a taste of (winning) last year, and hopefully that keeps us hungry for more bowl games. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of guys got to experience that never had before. … We don’t need that defining moment where we’re eating steaks out of bowls and being really inconvenient to kind of get that in our heads.
On Preston Davis ...
You know, recovery happens a lot faster for athletes sometimes because they’re bodies are just more prepared to deal with that kind of trauma. But he’s definitely got his work done in the offseason, and that’s important to get your training and your treatment (done) to try to get back on the field as quick as possible.