MOSCOW, Idaho – New student orientation took place at the University of Idaho Friday. For most, it included lunch on a campus lawn and a band.
Over on the practice field outside the Kibbie Dome, though, new members of the Vandals football team got a different kind of orientation for a Football Bowl Subdivision team not quite two weeks away from its first game. This one didn’t involve lunch and musical entertainment.
Coach Paul Petrino did not hesitate to toss players out of a drill or to send one running laps for alignment or execution shortcomings. Mostly it was new guys, but it had less to do with what Petrino was seeing on the field than the fact Idaho opens the season with Sacramento State on Aug. 31.
“I was just grinding on them a little bit harder,” Petrino said.
Because students were returning to campus, the Vandals worked only twice this week, Tuesday and Friday. They have their final fall scrimmage Saturday at 10 a.m. in the dome.
Early next week, Petrino said coaches will make final adjustments for the Sacramento State game plan that has been in development since last spring.
A period at the close of practice was devoted to young players, but most of the repetitions went to players who are likely to be on the two-deep roster.
In the 11-on-11 periods, Petrino may have seen more freelancing than he wanted. At the close of the workout, he made a point of telling the players to do their job as hard as they can every single play and trust the man next to them to do his.
The theme will carry over to Saturday’s final dress rehearsal, when Petrino said he is looking for “effort and assignment. I want to see 100 percent grades on assignment.”
One thing the Vandals are this year is united, as one play illustrated. After freshman wide receiver D.J. Lee caught a short pass, redshirt freshman defensive back Vaughn Daggs closed and instead of giving him a bump inadvertently followed through and dumped Lee.
“Sorry, my fault,” he said.
“No, you’re OK,” Lee replied.
There have been no big practice fights. While there is plenty of cheering after a good play, the Vandals aren’t split along an offense-defense fault line.
“I have been a part of teams where it has been defense versus offense,” said defensive line coach Luther Elliss, a two-time Pro Bowler who played 10 years in the NFL.
But Petrino sets a tone that the Vandals are a team and not a collection of units, Elliss said.
“No matter what happens, we need to support each other,” Elliss said. “We need the offensive line to play well. If we push them to play well, that makes us better on the defensive line.”
Among practice highlights, senior wide receiver Jacob Sannon outfought a defender to make a leaping catch of a Matt Linehan pass for a touchdown.
The Vandals players joined Idaho volleyball and women’s basketball players to meet fans in the afternoon at the Eastside Marketplace.
Idaho football players also sent messages of support to former Washington State player Riley Sorenson, who is battling a recurrence of cancer. Petrino noted his team’s experience with Jace Malek, a Vandals player who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after signing with Idaho and who transitioned to becoming a student-coach after he lost a leg to the disease. Malek served in that role for a year before dying in early 2016. A slogan, “Malek strong” decorates a wall in the Kibbie Dome.
The Vandals are especially sensitive to people battling cancer, said Petrino, and they understand the value of supporting those like Sorenson in that fight.