Day after day this summer, Idaho football players – the ones who stayed in town – stuck to the same routine. They would make their way through the quiet campus streets and congregate at the Vandals’ practice field for workouts and drills and scrimmages.
Twice the Vandals even traveled to Pullman to go against players from Washington State. Another time they hosted members of Eastern Washington University.
No matter the occasion, Idaho’s veterans noticed more players taking part in the summer program than in years past. But more than the number of participants, senior defensive tackle Michael Cosgrove picked up on something else.
“… I think we had the most commitment we’ve ever had,” said Cosgrove, a long-haired defensive captain. “We had more guys coming in on extra time and doing 7-on-7 (drills) or trying setup drills or trying to watch film together.”
The time spent working together in June and July started to pay off Thursday, when UI gathered for its first practice of fall camp. For some, it felt like just another toasty afternoon on the Sprinturf – only much more official.
“There was a lot more (players here) because the guys know it makes a big difference when the majority of guys are all here during the summer,” middle linebacker Tre’Shawn Robinson said after practice. “The camaraderie is a lot better when the guys stay through the summer.”
Robb Akey, Idaho’s fifth-year coach, was pleased with the work accomplished on the first day. Except for a few players who have yet to become eligible, the bulk of the Vandals’ recruiting class – and a host of walk-ons – reported Wednesday and went through conditioning tests Thursday morning.
The most notable missing players were starting defensive end Benson Mayowa and junior college transfers Aaron Lazaro, Brady Lisoski and Su’a Tuala. The coaching staff is waiting on paperwork with Lazaro, a defensive tackle, while the rest are wrapping up classes, Akey said.
Linebacker Jeffrey Bediako, a sophomore from Boise who could see playing time, missed practice with a boot on his right leg because of a stress fracture. He could be out for at least two weeks, or much longer depending on how he heals, Akey said.
If healthy, Bediako and other emerging players will try to take advantage of the next few weeks to make an impression.
“With new faces, we’re going to find out which of those are going to be able to get into the mix and be factors for us this fall,” Akey said. “That’s going to be an ongoing process over the next several weeks.”
The Vandals, who went 6-7 last year and were picked sixth in the preseason WAC polls, kick off the year on Sept. 1 with Bowling Green at home. Several key position battles remain unsettled – namely on the offensive line and at running back and linebacker – but there are enough returners to give the coaches at least some clarity.
Wideout Justin Veltung was one of the stars of spring camp, and he stood out again with a circus catch on a deep route. that prompted Akey to hum the SportsCenter theme – his trademark move after a big play in practice. Veltung will compete with Preston Davis and Armauni Johnson for a starting spot.
“He’s a playmaker,” quarterback Brian Reader said. “He’s a guy (when) we need a touchdown, we can give him the ball. … I feel like all our receivers are like that.”