MOSCOW, Idaho – The future defensive tackle who works out at the Seahawks’ posh training camp facility? The quarterback with a textbook throwing motion who grew up around NFL players? The running back who Nevada tried to lure away at the last minute?
Idaho coach Paul Petrino concedes the Vandals probably would have missed out on all three of these players if they didn’t have UI ties. As it was, Zach Cable, Matt Linehan and Isaiah Saunders signed national letters of intent with Idaho on Wednesday, following the collegiate paths taken by their fathers.
Legacy signings headlined Petrino’s first class, a group of 28 players that includes seven junior college early enrollees. Petrino said the Vandals will also sign two to four grayshirts who will enroll in January.
Signing day came just a little over two months after Petrino was hired to rejuvenate the Idaho football program. His arrival happened to coincide with the final year of high school for the sons of prominent former Vandals such as Tom Cable, Scott Linehan, and Walter Saunders – as well as the brother of successful punter Bobby Cowan.
“I think that’s important,” Petrino said of signing players with family ties to the program. “I think when you just hear the name Linehan, Cable, Saunders, that’s awesome.”
As a former coach’s son himself, Petrino doesn’t mind bringing in players from a coaching family either.
Scott Linehan, who played and coached at Idaho, is the former St. Louis Rams head coach and current offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. Meanwhile, Tom Cable coached Idaho from 2000-2004 and serves as the Seahawks offensive line coach.
Petrino raved about Matt Linehan’s understanding of progressions and calling plays – not to mention his mechanics – and the ability of both Linehan and Zach Cable to be future leaders of his inaugural recruiting class.
“If you can sign a couple coach’s kids in the same class,” Petrino said, “that’s probably going to be a heck of a class because they’re going to be leaders. They’re going to make sure everybody does a little bit more.”
Saunders, whose father played at Idaho when Petrino coached here in the early 1990s, was pursued late by Nevada. But he kept his pledge to the Vandals and shows nice acceleration as a tailback, the coach said.
Trent Cowan, a receiver/punter from Camas, Wash., comes from a family with deep Idaho roots (the team’s basketball facility was named after his grandparents). He chose the Vandals after being reassured by Petrino and his staff that UI was still his best option following Robb Akey’s firing.
“He immediately felt very, very comfortable with the new staff,” said Cale Piland, who coached Cowan at Union High.
Other signees who could turn out to be gems are Dezmon Epps, a zippy returner/receiver, and Josh McCain, a “double-threat, Johnny Football-type quarterback,” Petrino said.
McCain will be one of six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, while UI signed five linebackers and four running backs.
Petrino said it was healthy, even beneficial, to not have months to dissect players’ film.
“I was talking to my brother the other night,” said Petrino, whose brother, Bobby, coaches Western Kentucky. “If you look back, our first year at Louisville and our first year at Arkansas were our best recruiting classes. I think sometimes when you hit the ground running and you’re flying around and trying to sign the best guys you can sign, you don’t overanalyze it and you might get your best class.”