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Idaho bolsters big-play potential, adds numbers in the trenches on first day of NCAA early signing period

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 19, 2018, 9:52 p.m.

MOSCOW, Idaho – With 13 early football signings, Idaho football sought to bolster its big-play potential and to address a need for a more robust pass rush.

By signing the Idaho 5A player of the year, running back Nick Romano from Rocky Mountain High, and Noah Gunn, a 5A first-team offensive lineman in 2017 from Coeur d’Alene High, the Vandals also served notice they intend to be a real presence in recruiting their home state.

At least five of Idaho’s new players could compete for roles as starters next year.

These include Gunn, 6-5, 290, who played at the Air Force Prep Academy in 2018. “He’s big, athletic, strong, and he plays with great pad level,” said Petrino.

“We recruited as hard as we could to get him last year.”

Gunn was rated the sixth-best prospect in Idaho for 2018 by 247 Sports.

The Vandals could also get immediate help from Satchel Escalante, a 6-0, 182-pound safety from Scottsdale Community College in Casa Grande. Arizona, and Siliweinusi “Vei” Tomasi, 6-1, 310, and a defensive lineman from Laney College in Oakland, California.

A “big-time hitter,” with a high football IQ, according to Petrino, Escalante gives the Vandals size in the secondary to play the run and to challenge bigger receivers, which supports a pass rush. Escalante was a second-team All-Western States Football League selection and second-team all-region player as a senior. He led the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference with an average of 12.3 tackles per game.

Tomasi helped Laney to the California Community College Athletic Association title last season and made 22 tackles, including a sack, as a nose guard. He also competed for the U.S. Rugby U-20 team.

Two more junior college transfers could also start for the Vandals on defense. Austin Holt, 6-3, 255, is a edge rusher from College of the Desert, California, where he was first-team All Mountain Conference last year.

“On film he looks about 220 because of how fast he plays,” Petrino said.

Jalan Jenkins is a 6-1, 209-pound linebacker from Butte College, where he made 87 tackles and had five games where he made double-digit stops. From Evanston, Ill., he played his freshman season at Indiana State.

“He has a great motor. If you’re around him for 10 minutes, you’ll love him. He’s got something about him,” Petrino says. Jenkins is projected as a middle or weak side linebacker.

The Vandals signed a freshman BUCK, Coleman Johnson, the younger brother of preseason All-America offensive lineman Noah Johnson. From Fayetteville High School, in Fayetteville, Arkansas., he is a 7A all-state player and 247 Sports two-star recruit. He made 119 career tackles, with 47 for loss and 20 sacks. He plans to graduate early and enroll the spring semester.

“He’s really good off the edge. He’s quick, and he plays the run well,” Petrino said.

At 6-1, 245, he is smaller than his brother. He claims to be able to outperform his older brother in the bench press, squat and power clean.

“He likes to tell you he is stronger than Noah,” Petrino said.

Idaho stayed in the region for another freshman linebacker, Tanner Brooks, 6-2, 217, from Mt. Spokane High School. He is an All-Greater Spokane League first-teamer with 56 tackles, including 13 for loss and 7.5 sacks. As a junior, he was an All-GSL tight end.

The Vandals looked for explosive potential on offense with their incoming class. Romano, 5-11, 201, a 247 Sports two-star prospect, rushed for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior and ran for 309 yards and two scores in the state championship game.

“Getting the top player out of the state anytime, that’s good for us,” Pertino said.

Idaho signed two more young running backs. Marquese Albert, 5-8, 185, is from John Curtis Christian High School in New Orleans, Louisiana. And Kiahn Martinez, 5-8 190, is from Regis Jesuit High School in Denver.

247 Sports rates Albert a three star prospect and the number 29 all-purpose back in the country, although he missed the majority of his senior year with an injury. Petrino said Albert is a powerful runner for his size and likens him to the Vandals’ All-Sun Belt performer and 1,000-yard rusher Aaron Duckworth.

Martinez ran for 1,110 yards as a senior and added 498 receiving yards. Petrino said he can play both in the backfield and as a slot receiver. In Albert and Martinez, Petrino said the Vandals have “playmakers who make big plays and are hard to tackle.”

Sean McCormick, 5-10, 180, from Churchill County High School in Fallon, Nevada, is an All-Nevada selection and a 247 Sports two-star performer. He rushed for 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior, but his role with the Vandals will be as a receiver, both in the slot and outside.

Camren Thomas, 6-1, 185, from San Pedro High School in San Pedro, California made 29 catches for 629 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior.

Idaho signed one quarterback, freshman Nate Cisco, 6-4, 180, from Independence High School in Franklin, Tennessee. Petrino cited his big arm and athleticism and said the Vandals became aware of him when he attended an Idaho football camp as a junior.

The Vandals will go with their quarterbacks from 2018. Colton Richardson has recovered from injuries that cut short his season, according to Petrino. Mason Petrino, whom Richardson shared the position with last year, returns as does Nikhil Nayar, the Mercer island freshman who got in for a few plays in Idaho’s final game against Florida.

Although Idaho finished 4-7 last year, 3-5 in the Big Sky, Petrino is heartened by the Vandals’ comeback against Montana State that fell one point short, 24-23, and the fact the Bobcats went on to make the FCS playoffs and win a first-round game against Incarnate Word.

Idaho’s other signings include: Camren Thomas (WR, San Pedro HS), Sean McCormick (WR, Churchill County HS), Kiahn Martinez (RB/Regis Jesuit HS), Nate Cisco (QB/Independence HS), Marquese Albert (RB/ John Curtis Christian HS)

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