Seniors hope to make bowl game to cap turnaround
MOSCOW, Idaho – It’s been in the back of Adam Juratovac’s mind for several weeks now. The senior offensive lineman knew his University of Idaho football career was barreling to a conclusion, so last week he allowed himself a rare moment of nostalgia.
During the Vandals’ bye week, Juratovac stood inside the Kibbie Dome and thought back to 2005. The right guard was a redshirt freshman in Nick Holt’s final season as coach, and the program was in shambles.
The Kibbie Dome had yet to be renovated, UI’s third head coach in four years was soon to be announced and three other freshmen – Mike Iupati, Bryce Sinclair, and Irvin Stevens III – teamed with Juratovac to form a quartet of greenhorn linemen.
“Over the past five years it’s just been amazing to see the things improve here,” Juratovac said, “(from) the support of our boosters and alumni as well as what coach (Robb) Akey has done to make this place more of a home atmosphere.”
Juratovac and his three teammates in the trenches are all senior starters now, and they fully understand the weightiness of their final home game. A win Saturday against Utah State (2 p.m., ESPN Regional) will position the Vandals to land their first bowl invite since 1998 – a nice reward for 11 seniors who endured 29 losses in the previous three years.
“This senior class has been through so much,” said Akey, whose team is 7-4, 4-3 in the WAC. “And they’re a group of guys that wanted to leave here having accomplished something and having left a mark. And I really do believe that eighth win in the regular season, that’s a hell of a mark.”
Key seniors for the Vandals include leading receiver Max Komar and No. 1 rusher DeMaundray Woolridge, but perhaps the class is best embodied by the four linemen who have formed the foundation for a superb offense.
Along with sophomore left tackle Matt Cleveland, the senior-heavy group has missed only a handful of snaps this season and has engendered all sorts of respect from fellow teammates.
“I love them; they love the running backs,” Woolridge said. “They are a big group. They work hard. They know what they’re doing, and that makes it a lot easier for us to make reads and make plays for them.
“Even if they did make a mistake, our running back corps wants to run hard, break tackles and make plays for them because we know the next play they’re going to go as hard as they can to make up for what they did. And they rarely make mistakes.”
Iupati, a 325-pound left guard and finalist for the Outland Trophy, made it clear how emotional he will be come Saturday. The American Samoa native said the other senior linemen have grown to be like brothers to him over the past five years.
“I’m going to miss them a lot,” Iupati said. “It’s going to be hard for me not to cry on Saturday.”
Idaho’s bye week came at an ideal time. Quarterback Nathan Enderle (shoulder) has recovered nicely after missing two games and he’s expected to start Saturday while safety Jeromy Jones (collarbone) should also be back.
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