MOSCOW, Idaho – In the middle of getting bombarded – by his standards, at least – with reporters’ questions this week, Rayce Bird tried injecting a touch of humor into the impromptu press conference.
Asked why he decided to act on a late-blooming impulse to play college football, Idaho’s 26-year-old scout-team linebacker said, “I don’t really know. I’m pretty old. I probably shouldn’t be playing.”
The true reason, though, was easy to understand: He had watched his brother Jayson take the field so many times for the Vandals that he got the itch to give it a shot himself.
Surely, though, Rayce couldn’t expect that a year after walking on to UI, he would see his brother across the sideline, decked out in the black and orange of Idaho State. Yet that’s what will happen Saturday afternoon, when the Vandals host the Bengals at the Kibbie Dome.
After four years and 1,551 rushing yards for UI, Jayson opted to skip his final year of eligibility because of a knee injury. Having already graduated in Moscow, the tailback enrolled at the Pocatello school – 40 miles from the Birds’ hometown of Shelley – to start work on his graduate degree.
Rayce thought his younger brother was “just done” with football. But it didn’t take long for him to get “that ache to play again,” he said.
After UI granted his release, Jayson got an exemption from the NCAA, which waived the mandatory one season a player must sit out to transfer from a Football Bowl Subdivision program to a Football Championship Subdivision team.
His new coach, John Zamberlin, said he hasn’t noticed any problems with the fifth-year senior’s knee. In his first game with ISU last week, Jayson rushed for 30 yards on five carries in a 49-7 loss to Boise State.
“I’m glad to hear that his knee is better,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “So that’s a good thing. And I think with one year left of eligibility, he probably wanted to see what he could do with it.”
Jayson insisted that there will be no hard feelings when he takes the field Saturday. Although his playing time diminished last year before sustaining a season-ending injury, he said, “I had good times there and I’m having some good times here.”
The Birds have never been on the field at the same time. Rayce is four years older (he’s married with three children), so he was done with high school before Jayson starred at Shelley High.
“Hopefully, we meet up,” Jayson said. “… That would be quite entertaining.”
Their parents, Brian and Carolee, will be attendance at the Dome when the in-state foes face off.
It’s a good bet they’ll be wearing neutral colors.
Everything at stake
In his weekly teleconference, Akey made it clear that he understands how many Idaho followers were agonizing over last week’s 70-0 loss at Arizona. The fans’ stake in the program, however, doesn’t compare to what the players and coaches have invested, he said.
“It means an awful lot to them,” the second-year coach said. “But for those guys that played on that field and the coaches that are here, it’s our entire livelihood. It’s those players’ career. It’s the only thing that matters to them. And with this coaching staff, our ability to feed our families depends on the job we do. So there’s is not one thing that will be taken lightly in the way we’re going about doing things.”
The lopsided score of Saturday’s game wasn’t the only thing that led to the Vandals getting heckled.
The Idaho Statesman reported Thursday that Idaho has removed the logo from the back of its uniform pants after the new look was the focus of jeering from Arizona fans.
Athletic director Rob Spear told the Boise newspaper there was miscommunication between the school and Nike, the Vandals’ new uniform provider. UI’s new logo on its helmets and uniforms features a large “I” with “Vandals” in script.
Starting Saturday, the logo won’t appear on the players’ backsides, Spear said.
“I was disappointed with the look and the appearance,” Spear said. “We didn’t realize how noticeable it would be until it was on our players.”