MOSCOW, Idaho – By his third day on the job, Paul Petrino had seen enough in the weight room and in running drills to make one definitive judgment: The Vandals badly needed junior-college running backs and linebackers.
Idaho ended up bringing in five early JC enrollees to compete for starting jobs at the two positions. And after Saturday’s sun-splashed scrimmage, the first of the spring, Petrino said it was the best move he and his staff have made.
“Thank God we did,” he said, “because the ones we got are really good players and we would have been in big trouble if we hadn’t done that.”
No junior-college addition stood out more than running back Kris Olugbode, who rumbled for 108 yards, scored four touchdowns and trampled two Idaho safeties in the open field. But he wasn’t the only one who opened eyes.
Running back Jerrel Brown showed a burst of speed and tough running style while rushing for 54 yards and two TDs. Linebacker Juan Martinez had a sack and returned an Austin DeCoud interception 59 yards for a TD, while Marc Millan, a 215-pound outside linebacker, led the team with 11 tackles.
Millan, Martinez and Eric Tuipulotu, all of whom signed less than three weeks after Petrino was hired in December, have done enough through five spring practices to excite the new coach. They formed the first-team linebacker crew Saturday, and they could be starters to open the season at North Texas on Aug 31.
“Between Mark, Juan and Eric, all three of those guys just love to fly around and hit and make plays,” Petrino said “All three of them are really good players, and like to play football. You know what I mean? That’s the best thing about them is that they like to play football.”
Just as a physical as the new linebackers was Olugbode (pronounced O-lou-bow-day). The 5-foot-9, 200-pound tailback twice broke free for long runs and plowed through safeties Bradley Njoku and D’Mario Carter in the open field, much to the delight of fans lined around UI’s practice field.
“He’s a tough guy,” quarterback Taylor Davis. “He’s a little ball, and he just runs over people. He had a really good day.”
Olugbode, who chose Idaho over Old Dominion and Georgia State, was sold on Idaho after visiting the campus with his father – he called UI a perfect fit – and researching Petrino’s resume.
“Everywhere he’s been, he’s won,” Olugbode said. “He’s done a great job. I was lucky that he wanted me to be a part of this team.”
Petrino knows it’s rare to have so many junior-college players make an immediate impact. But not all of his early signees have been a hit. Quarterback Anthony Neyer, a former USC walk-on, has struggled in the spring and didn’t participate in the scrimmage.
Redshirt freshman Chad Chalich (Coeur d’Alene) got the longest look at QB, going 21 of 32 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He and Davis (15 of 25 for 186 yards) appear to have separated from Austin DeCoud, who tossed three INTs.