MOSCOW, Idaho – He’s held the same job for four years – the starting quarterback for a program once in disrepair and now steered in the right direction – and rarely in that time has Nathan Enderle strayed from one of his chief convictions.
“You can’t really play off emotion,” he said.
And so Enderle hasn’t. Not during the drudgery of 21 losses in his first two years at Idaho, or during the relief last year’s breakout season brought.
Nonetheless, 10 days into Enderle’s last fall camp as a Vandal, it’s clear the senior is much more at ease – less reserved even – than he once was.
Consider a revealing moment after last week’s scrimmage.
Surrounded by reporters, he was asked to assess Armauni Johnson after the first-year receiver had snatched a 62-yard touchdown pass. Enderle’s task on the play wasn’t difficult: Johnson has slipped past a confused safety and was alone near the end zone.
That didn’t stop the QB from dryly delivering this one-liner: “That was all the pass.”
A smile came to his face, and he added, “No, I’m kidding.”
Teammates say Enderle has always shown a lighthearted side away from the field. But it seems to be surfacing more – at least publicly – after an 8-5 season in 2009, when the North Platte, Neb., native prospered behind a senior-laden offensive line.
“I wouldn’t say (there’s) less stress, but he’s proved what he’s capable of, so he doesn’t have that monkey on his back,” said wideout Eric Greenwood, a senior who’s developed alongside Enderle.
Now, with the departure of Mike Iupati, Max Komar and other key veterans, Enderle senses that it’s his time to assume even more responsibilities than in years past.
Already, Idaho coach Robb Akey has picked up on the change.
“I’ll tell you what I really liked is the way Nate Enderle is running the show out there,” Akey said after the first scrimmage. “He’s taking command and doing a lot of things that you don’t necessarily just see.”
Enderle, eyeing a pre-med/chemistry-related degree, has always been praised for his shrewdness in quickly learning new schemes and wrinkles to existing plays. But starting last season, when he ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency, he understands much better the nuances of his position.
“It’s mainly protections, run game, knowing which play is going to be a neutral play and which play is going to be a big hit for us,” Enderle said. “From different blitz looks, a lot of quarterbacks know how to check into the right pass play. But some of them don’t know how to check into a big run play. That’s the kind of stuff that really shows through.
“I understand the game better,” he added, “and when we execute the play you call correctly, (your teammates) can make you feel good. So the better we get as a team, the better it makes me look.”
Scouts and the national media are starting to notice. He was named to three preseason quarterback watch lists – Johnny Unitas Golden Arm, Davey O’Brien and the Manning Award – and last week ESPN.com’s Pat Forde included him among 10 QBs from outside big conferences who deserve recognition.
Looking to his post-college days, CBSSports.com ranks the 6-foot-4 Enderle as the 59th-best NFL prospect and fourth-best quarterback in the 2011 class.
“It’s nice,” he said of the attention. “But I really think it goes to show how much we’ve kind of taken strides as a team because if the guys around you aren’t playing very well, you’re not going to have very much success as a quarterback.”
Regardless of outside praise or Enderle showing a more jovial side, fellow fifth-year senior Deonte’ Jackson said he still sees “the same old Nate.”
“He’s a businessman,” Jackson said. “He definitely does his job. … When we step on this green (field), it’s business time.”