MOSCOW, Idaho – Where the University of Idaho’s athletic programs – most notably, its football team – will land after the collapse of the Western Athletic Conference has been left unresolved since early May.
That’s meant nearly three months of persistent questions for UI football coach Robb Akey, who’d rather talk about the depth of the Vandals’ linebacker group or potential at wide receiver than the program’s likely move to independent status.
Starting today, the focus shifts. Idaho players report for fall camp, and with the first practice Thursday, Akey can fully devote his time to football.
“It will be a nice change-up,” said Akey, entering his sixth season at Idaho.
The Vandals will hold the first of 20 fall camp practices at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. After school begins on Aug. 20, the Vandals will start full preparations for their Aug. 30 season opener with Eastern Washington at the Kibbie Dome.
UI has yet to announce its intentions for the 2013 season. It’s possible that it will become an independent, which would force athletic director Rob Spear to find Football Bowl Subdivision opponents willing to come to Moscow during the conference portion of their schedules.
Paralleling the conference uncertainty is the string of unknowns on the field. UI enters camp without a starting quarterback – it will either be Dominique Blackman or Taylor Davis – and with two of five starting spots on the offensive line locked up.
In preseason WAC polls, the Vandals were selected to finish fourth by the media and fifth by the coaches in the seven-team league. In both, they flip-flopped with New Mexico State, which also has an uncertain future at the FBS level.
The conference scramble kicked into gear just days after the Vandals wrapped up spring practice, when the Mountain West and Sun Belt Conference spurned UI and NMSU in favor of other schools.
“I’ve got a football team, I’ve got a coaching staff, I’ve got a guy I look in the mirror everyday that’s sitting here,” Akey said, “and I’m kind of tired of people telling me we’re not good enough, we’re not wanted, we’re not going to do this, we’re not going to do that.”
UI went 2-10 in 2011 after winning 14 games the previous two years. Akey has since announced the hiring of two new offensive assistants – receivers coach Mike Levenseller and line coach Gordy Shaw – while elevating Jason Gesser to offensive coordinator.
The changes have already made an impact, Akey said. It helped that nearly every scholarship player and walk-on was in Moscow for what the coach described as a “tremendous summer.”
Receiver Justin Veltung (turf toe) will participate in non-contact drills only to start fall camp, while several offensive linemen who also missed spring camp are ready to go, Akey said. Guard/center Guy Reynolds (knee) is the only linemen yet to be cleared. … Akey said running back Trae Armstrong, part of this year’s signing class, has elected to pursue track and field and won’t attend UI.