Emotional finale for Idaho Vandals
MOSCOW, Idaho – Nate Enderle settled in at the University of Idaho a semester before the rest of Dennis Erickson’s 2006 freshman class, and it didn’t take long for the even-keeled Nebraskan to set himself apart at quarterback.
Enderle started the ’07 season opener – as a redshirt freshman – at the Coliseum against No. 1 USC. Since that illuminating experience, he’s played in 43 more games and attempted the most passes in program history.
Saturday in the Kibbie Dome against San Jose State, Enderle will be one of 15 seniors playing for the final time as a Vandal. Each will be honored in a pregame ceremony that’s likely to get emotional for a senior class that’s been instrumental to Idaho’s resurgence.
Just don’t expect Enderle to get overly sentimental.
“I feel like we’re just getting ready for another game,” he said earlier this week. “It’s been a fun time and I feel like I’ve done it so many times that I could do it in my sleep now.”
That statement is quintessential Enderle, who even before the biggest moments of his career – last year’s Humanitarian Bowl, a return to play Nebraska this fall, the annual Boise State game – kept the same mellow demeanor as he had before every start.
Still, Enderle acknowledged that his final week of preparation at UI is “obviously sad and bittersweet.”
The Vandals (5-7, 2-5) lost in the final seconds last week at Fresno State after Enderle led a go-ahead drive with 2 minutes left. The defeat bumped Idaho out of bowl contention and compelled coach Robb Akey to say he was sick to his stomach for his seniors.
“That was a long plane ride coming back from Fresno, Calif.,” Akey said. “And that was a quiet locker room after that game. There’s a whole lot of care in here. There’s a lot of love.”
With a victory today against the 1-11 Spartans, in last place in the WAC, the seniors will close their UI careers having won 14 games in the last two years – after the Vandals compiled 18 wins from 2001-08.
One sign that a turnaround was near, Enderle said, was when more than just a smattering of players started to invest in the program. The fifth-year QB pointed to receiver Eric Greenwood – the first recruit to sign with Akey – as one of the key departing seniors who helped nudge teammates in the right direction.
“We were losing and there were still guys on the team that had that passion,” Enderle said. “They loved being a Vandal and they loved working hard, but I think it took a larger (portion) of the team to buy into that attitude. (Greenwood was) the catalyst for it.”
Greenwood hasn’t just helped bring the team together. He’s also promoted Akey’s vision and the program in general to recruiters and outsiders since he first arrived. And he’ll no doubt soak up every moment today in the Dome.
“A great way to end my career here would be singing the fight song to fans,” Greenwood said of UI’s tradition after victories. “And obviously that’s what we’re expecting to do, and I can’t wait.”