MOSCOW, Idaho – The Idaho football program has a conference home after a year of FBS exile. It has a coaching staff that’s in its second year together. And because of those things, it has momentum in recruiting.
The best indicator of the Vandals’ progress on the recruiting trail came late on Wednesday, when highly regarded defensive tackle Alfonso Hampton of Southwestern College (Calif.) signed his letter of intent.
Hampton, a 6-foot-5, 346-pound junior-to-be, was rated No. 9 on ESPN’s ranking of the top 50 junior-college players in the country. The 24-year-old didn’t play high school football and only picked up the sport two years ago at Southwestern.
The raw but talented defensive lineman was one of 17 players that coach Paul Petrino signed on national signing day, adding to a group of 10 players who either signed during the early period or grayshirted.
Hampton was courted by some of the biggest programs in the Pac-12 – Washington, Oregon and Arizona State. Florida State also recruited him “relentlessly,” Southwestern coach Ed Carberry said, but he felt comfortable with Idaho.
“He had a lot of attention from a lot of people, but the bottom line is he just really liked the coaches (at Idaho),” Carberry said. “It was a good fit for him. He really liked coach (Bryce) Erickson.”
Hampton has yet to qualify academically, but the coach said he’s on track to do so by May. “He has a plan and he’s very focused on what he has to get done,” Carberry said.
When Hampton arrived at Southwestern, he had to start from scratch with football – including learning how to put on his uniform. But he made a quick impression his freshman year.
During that first season, as Carberry recalled, Hampton bull-rushed a guard, picked him up and threw him into the quarterback before registering a sack.
Carberry described Hampton, who benches over 400 pounds, as “country strong.”
“Even though he’s really good, he’s going to be a lot better in the next two years,” Carberry said.
Like Hampton, the bulk of Petrino’s second class at Idaho is junior-college players – 16 in all. The Vandals likely won’t have such big JC hauls in the future, but Petrino said it was necessary because they needed to find players who could compete immediately.
Still, the quality of Idaho’s recruits has improved from a year ago, Petrino said. That’s partly because the coaches had a full year to develop relationships and partly because UI will join the Sun Belt Conference this fall after being an FBS independent.
“I think being in a conference was a huge difference,” he said.
Two of the jewels of the class are JC receiver Kenny Torrence and 6-2, 217-pound safety Chris Edwards from Butte College. Torrence is one of several burners that Idaho signed, and Edwards is the big, physical safety who can run that Petrino coveted.
Idaho also signed two high school speedsters from northern Florida – cornerback Dorian Clark and running back Aaron Duckworth.
The Vandals stayed in the Northwest to bring in two promising quarterbacks, Coeur d’Alene High’s Gunnar Amos and Jake Luton of Lake Stevens, Wash. Amos will grayshirt before enrolling.
Amos joins Chad Chalich and Deon Watson as former Coeur d’Alene High stars to sign with Idaho.
“It’s always nice from both sides to get a local area kid,” said Shawn Amos, Gunnar’s father and the Vikings’ coach. “I think since Coach Petrino has been on board, he has done a great job of looking for any kid in this area to help him win.”