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Idaho football: Tom Hennessey and the value of keeping on keeping on

Tom Hennessey is a Vandal legacy, in that his father -- also named Tom -- was a standout linebacker for Idaho during its stretch as a Big Sky Conference power, specifically in the mid-1980s.

But he'll leave a legacy, too. Though he's played during one of the worst stretches, in terms of the won-lost record, in Vandal history, the one-time walk-on has provided a singular example of hanging tough that some of his younger teammates might want to emulate -- even if the program begins to experience success.

For more on the younger Tom Hennessey and the Vandals, whose homecoming game on Saturday against New Mexico State might seem to be a pretty good opportunity break the nation's longest FBS losing streak, click on the link below.
 

Here's the column that runs in the Spokesman-Review in Friday's paper, and is available on spokesman.com. 

As the Vandals prepare for New Mexico State, the Aggies are readying themselves for Idaho's passing attack -- but as they're one of the worst defenses in the nation against the rush, they also know that they can't just load up against quarterback Matt Linehan, as this story in the the Las Cruces Sun-News emphasizes. But the bigger news is that the Vandals might see a different NMSU quarterback, as coach Doug Martin has opened the position up for competition between the current starter, JC transfer Tyler Rogers, and freshman Andrew Allen. They were two of six quarterbacks the Aggies signed last February. 

A few things that didn't make it into the column on Hennessey, father and son:

-- The younger Tom Hennessey wasn't the only member of the family to show up in Moscow as a walk-on. Younger brother Jake came to UI in the fall of 2012 and joined the football team as a cornerback. But he only lasted a semester before transferring down south to the College of Idaho and joining the baseball team, where he's established himself as the starting catcher. 

But this fall, the Coyotes fielded a football team for the first time since 1977. And Jake Hennessey decided he wasn't done with that sport, and has seen some spot duty as a backup quarterback. The 'Yotes have been an overnight sensation, winning their first two games -- including a home opener that drew more than 5,000 fans -- and compiling a 4-2 record so far, playing in the NAIA Frontier Conference. 

"I think he missed," said Jake and Tom's father, Tom, "and he probably thought playing two sports would be pretty unique and just wanted to be part of the football revival. 

"It's been unbelievable what they've done. I think they have murderers' row ahead of them, but really nobody thought they'd win one game. It's amazing how they've got the community fired up down here. The excitement level is huge. Which is great because maybe they'll take some support away from Boise State."

A little chuckle followed that blast. He might be almost 30 years removed from his playing days, but the senior Hennessey understands the dynamic of the old Boise State-Idaho rivalry.

--- The younger Tom Hennessey had some come-hithers from Division III schools, but said he "didn't really look into those. I could have gone that route or to JC, but I didn't want to play at that level, or at schools that small. We're a Vandal family and that's where I wanted to go to school anyway."

-- When he showed up at UI, the Vandals were coming off their thrilling Humanitarian Bowl win over Bowling Green, and the program seemed on a definite upswing. He redshirted in 2011 when the Vandals went 6-7 and a 23-20 loss at Fresno State knocked them out of bowl contention. Then the wheels came off. Idaho has gone 4-38 since then, the early part of the slide costing coach Robb Akey his job as he lost control of the program, and the last 17 losses coming under new coach Paul Petrino.

Hennessey, meanwhile, went through his own struggles. He was a scout team player in 2011, saw action in three games in 2012 as a special teamer and finally started seeing some snaps in 2013, when he played in 11 games. 

"I have a lot of passion for the game," he said. "I love playing football. And if you don't love what you're doing, it's not going to work out. You're going to go through ups and downs as a player, and with some of the struggles we've had as a team, it's going to be that passion that sees you through the tough times."

-- More Hennessey: "If I can help lead the team and end this year on a good note with a few wins that we can take into next year, and if we see some success down the road and get it turned around when I'm out in the world working, I'll be pretty proud of that -- knowing I was a part of it. In the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy my last five game and this chance to play football."

 

 

 

 




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John Blanchette
John Blanchette is a freelance columnist who writes about local sports issues.

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