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Vandals’ spring camp has Spartan feel to it

Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino (8) is in competition with Colton Richardson and Nikhil Nayar for the starting quarterback job. (John Raoux / Associated Press)
Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino (8) is in competition with Colton Richardson and Nikhil Nayar for the starting quarterback job. (John Raoux / Associated Press)

Looking for a sure thing?

Bet heavily and confidently that the Idaho Vandals will be watching “300” for a pre-game movie next fall.

Resilience is the ethos of Idaho football under coach Paul Petrino, who coaches like he believes teams are revealed by hard work and trying circumstances, and the hardy band going through spring football must feel like Leonidas and his Spartans. For the first day of spring workouts Monday, there were slightly fewer than 60 players on the Kibbie Dome turf. By contrast, the spring roster at nearby Washington State includes 93 names.

And the compact corps of Vandals put in a lively two-plus hours working long field, red zone and hurry-up, as well as position drills.

“That’s spring football,” Petrino said with a wry grin. Newcomers won’t arrive until summer, and walk-ons won’t augment the team until preseason camp.

Even without pads, Idaho was going at a quick enough tempo that freshman running back Marquese Albert dropped out with leg cramps, and redshirt junior Dylan Thigpen, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, will not be cleared for contact until June. So senior Jack Bamis and redshirt junior fullback Luke Johnson – impersonating a running back – had to take the remainder of the reps.

“They’ve all got to be really tough and take a lot of reps,” said Petrino. This might be the watchword for the whole team. The receiver rotation was so shorthanded that senior quarterback Mason Petrino stepped in as a pass catcher for a few plays.

As they were last year, Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson are competing at quarterback, and this spring they are joined by sophomore Nikhil Nayar. Paul Petrino said all three will get equal time. Mason Petrino and Richardson shared the job last year as Idaho went 4-7, 3-5 in the Big Sky. Paul Petrino said he is not committed to naming a starter this spring.

“That will show itself,” he said of their competition. “The most important thing is to get all our quarterbacks ready to play.”

Though he is younger than Mason Petrino and Richardson, a junior, Nayar says he doesn’t feel at a disadvantage as a team leader. “Each quarterback has an opportunity to lead. Coach P says we need a team full of leaders. That’s how we win.”

Nayar said the biggest strides he has made between his freshman year and now involve knowing the offense.

His favorite part of it?

“I love throwing the ball deep. I also like to run around a little bit, read a defensive end and run down the sideline for a touchdown.” He also said he is trying to mirror Mason Petrino’s knowledge of the playbook and Richardson’s big arm.

Even in the first spring session, it was clear Mason Petrino has found some miles per hour on his ball. He completed 40-yard passes that approached the flat trajectory of the missiles Richardson launched.

“My shoulder has gotten more healthier,” he said. He played through chronic shoulder problems the past two seasons. “My arm has gotten a lot stronger. It’s the strongest it’s been in the last two-and-a-half years.” It is allowing him to do more on the field than throw under coverages.

“We are really developing the second- and third-level aspects of my game.”

Richardson missed five games last year with head and wrist injuries, and he hopes those are behind him. As a player who was involved in Idaho’s transition from the Football Bowl Subdivision to Football Championship Subdivision, Richardson saw both Sun Belt Conference and Big Sky Conference competition, He has some thoughts on the distinction, and those thoughts play right into the culture Paul Petrino is trying to foster with the Vandals.

“The Sun Belt has better players,” said Richardson. “In the Big Sky they are harder workers – tougher.

“We’ve got to be tough guys. Not back down from anyone.”

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