Looking for a location about halfway between the schools that didn’t include the Owyhee badlands southwest of Boise, NAIA schools Carroll College and Menlo College will kick off each team’s football season opener Saturday on the red turf of Roos Field in Cheney.
The traditional powerhouse Saints from Helena will play the Oaks at 1 p.m. on the home field of Eastern Washington University, which will be on the road to play the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis.
“We tried to get Joe Albi (Stadium), but there was a conflict,” Carroll head coach Mike Van Diest said. “I’m not sure what happened with our athletic directors, but we wanted to meet halfway.”
Geographically, that would have put them in somewhere in the sage brush and dust near the Idaho-Nevada state line. Instead, Van Diest will bring his team to Spokane under a corporate sponsorship deal with Red Lion Hotels.
“With our recruiting base in Coeur d’Alene, North Idaho, the Spokane area and Tri-Cities, hopefully the alumni will be excited and come out and support us,” Van Diest said. “And hopefully, there will be some athletes who come out to the game and at least know that we are in the neighborhood.”
Six-time national champion Carroll College finished 7-4 in 2012, which broke a dozen years of either winning or sharing the Frontier Conference title.
The Saints are picked to finish at the top of the conference along with Montana Tech, and just ahead of Southern Oregon. Those two schools finished 8-2 and tied for the conference title.
Menlo, located between San Francisco and San Jose in Atherton, is part of the California Pacific Conference. The Oaks finished 4-6 last year after starting the year ranked in the NAIA top 25. Their roster has four players from Western Washington.
The Saints, however, have several local athletes who went east to play in Helena.
They include redshirt freshman defensive back Ryan Gregory (Gonzaga Prep); freshman defensive back Ty Irving (Ferris); junior offensive lineman Alex Kastens (Coeur d’Alene); freshman offensive linemen Tim and Todd Pays; (Sandpoint); sophomore offensive lineman Josh James (Coeur d’Alene); and sophomore offensive lineman Riley Schell (Tekoa).
With the sponsorship from Red Lion, both teams will stay at different hotels in Spokane. Van Diest said his team will arrive on Friday afternoon to give the players some time to acclimate to the red turf.
“It’s hard to duplicate that. Maybe I should have had them play with rose-colored glasses,” he said. “Hopefully, we will get out on it Friday and have the novelty wear off by the time Saturday comes.”
While the coach doesn’t expect time to host recruits, he hopes several high school players notice.
“We consider it just like home,” Van Diest said of Spokane. “It’s been a great recruiting base for us. Hopefully, we can cultivate it … and I hope seeing us there generates some interest in our school.”