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Aaron Duckworth nears milestone as Vandals look to end season on high note

Former Idaho running back Aaron Duckworth enjoyed his brief NFL stint and is now a student volunteer assistant coach for the Vandals. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Idaho running back Aaron Duckworth enjoyed his brief NFL stint and is now a student volunteer assistant coach for the Vandals. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Eighty-eight yards.

As the University of Idaho concludes a disappointing, 3-8 season against Georgia State on Saturday, the lone remaining team goal is to send the seniors out with a win.

For one Vandals player, however, a significant individual goal is still within reach. With 88 yards, Aaron Duckworth will have a 1,000-yard rushing season.

If Duckworth makes it, he will have the 14th 1,000-yard season in Idaho’s history.

If he can do it in 25 or fewer carries, he will join Russell Davis as the only Vandals player to rush for 1,000 yards in fewer than 200 attempts. Davis went for 1,117 yards on 140 carries in 1981, a season that included a monster game of 345 yards against Portland State.

Duckworth also enjoys a substantial edge as the Sun Belt Conference rushing leader. His 912 yards are 110 yards more than Jalen Moore has gained for Appalachian State. Like Duckworth, Moore has one regular-season game remaining. The Mountaineers play Louisiana-Lafayette at home Saturday. Duckworth closely trails Larry Rose of New Mexico State in total yards from scrimmage, 1,119 to 1,117 yards, and Duckworth and Rose can duel to the end for the leadership in that category. The Aggies finish their season at home with South Alabama Saturday.

“Going into this year, I never thought I would be in this position,” Duckworth said.

“It’s an awesome feeling.”

Duckworth has come to terms with the fact his time at Idaho is winding down.

“I’m ready to give everything I’ve got in this last game,” he said. “The four years have flown by.”

Duckworth arrived in Moscow in 2014 from Orange Park, Florida. He improved steadily, gaining 88 yards as a freshman, 260 as a sophomore and 672 last year.

He is convinced he made the right decision to come across the country and make his career as a college football player with the Vandals.

“The man I became today is because of the decision I made to come here,” he said.

The rushing yards are a partial measure of a greater accomplishment. As he looks back on his senior season, Duckworth is most proud of “the impact I’ve had on the football team this year. Being that leader people can look up to is the biggest thing.”

With only days remaining in his Idaho career, Duckworth was still leading by example at practice this week.

The Vandals are a hurting group. Idaho is 2-5 in conference games, and the five losses have been by a combined 24 points. All season, the brass ring of qualifying for a second consecutive bowl game has been tantalizingly just beyond the Vandals’ grasp.

Now, going into its final game, Idaho will likely be playing with its third-team quarterback, freshman Colton Richardson. Four-year starter Matt Linehan is still recovering from the injury suffered to his throwing hand in the final minute of Idaho’s loss to Troy.

“He’s holding out hope to the very end,” Vandals coach Paul Petrino said of Linehan possibly playing against Georgia State. “But it’s doubtful.”

Backup QB Mason Petrino reinjured the shoulder he hurt in fall camp early in Idaho’s loss to Coastal Carolina last week and is also unlikely to play. Richardson, who came on in relief of Petrino, will almost certainly start his first game.

The game plan has been adjusted to take advantage of the things Richardson does well, Petrino said. Among them is zipping passes on intermediate crossing patterns to the backs.

In practice this week, Duckworth was plucking those passes from the air with a soft, two-handed grab overhead and sprinting to the end zone. His impressive top-end speed and ability to quickly reach it have been distinguishing features for the Vandals’ offense. Duckworth put forth that effort in the repetitions, giving the team the best look possible.

He has become confident in his ability to deliver highlight plays this year. Duckworth’s work in practice was a message to his teammates about what they can still accomplish against Georgia State.

“I plan on having a big game,” he said.

“Eighty-eight. That’s my goal, and sending the seniors out on a winning note.”

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