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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Idaho’s Florida connection jazzed to go home again

What everyone else in college football calls "body bag games" are something entirely different to guys like Richard Montgomery and Jacob Sannon.

Of course, there isn't an underdog out there who thinks he's auditioning to be a victim. 

Click on the link for more on the Vandals. 

But it goes beyond that for those two and five of their University of Idaho teammates, whose game on Saturday at Florida is an opportunity to cut loose some old baggage.

Never mind that the oddsmakers have installed the Gators as 36 1-2-point favorites.

Never mind that in their last five outings against teams from college football's Fab Five conferences, the Vandals have been outscored 305-49.

This small knot of Vandals is going home, and it's not just a chance to reconnect with family and old friends but also exact some respect.

"I've got a point to prove," said Montgomery, "a chip on my shoulder."

It's probably a stretch to suggest the Gators -- or fellow in-state football factories Florida State and Miami -- missed on recruiting Montgomery or the other half-dozen Floridians on the Idaho roster. But Montgomery will do more than suggest it.

"I feel they slept on me," said the sophomore running back, who will see more time at receiver this season. "I thought I put up some pretty good numbers out of high school that deserved a look.

"Whatever. I'm a Vandal now and I'm ready to get after these guys, no matter who they are."

Montgomery was a 1,600-yard rusher as a senior at Atlantic Coast High School in Jacksonville. Sannon was an all-state receiver at Southeast of Bradenton. Running back Aaron Duckworth, defensive tackle Max Martial, linebacker Irving Steele and defensive backs Jordan Grabski and Dorian Clark were also lured across the country by second-year Vandal head coach Paul Petrino, who is determined to make Florida a fertile recruiting pod.

Which makes games like last year's visit to Florida State and this weekend's date doubly important.

"I recruited that area a long time as an assistant coach -- 10 or 15 years -- and have a lot of ties in that area," he said. "It's important for us to go down there and play as hard as we can."

And his Florida posse?

"Those guys should be fired up to have the best game they'll have all year," Petrino said.

Being from just up the road, Montgomery saw a handful of games in person at The Swamp ("I went to see Tim Tebow," he said), and was immediately taken with the atmosphere -- "a ton of fans, all amped up, just a great place to play."

Even if you're a five-touchdown underdog?

"It makes you want to get after it," he said.

Sannon is from farther downstate and has never been to The Swamp ("I grew up more of a Miami fan," he said). His anticipation is similarly high, but for different reasons.

For starters, he may find himself lining up against an old Southeast teammate, Gators cornerback Brian Poole.

"He's a year ahead of me," Sannon said, "but in practice we always went against each other so it'll be nice to match up with him again."

And then there's simply the chance to play in such a football-wild atmosphere, in front of upwards of 90,000 fans in a state that lives for the game.

"In my town, it was all football," Sannon said. "People grew up with it. We were always playing street ball and everyone wanted to be a football player, and everyone around you who doesn't play wants to know how you're doing on the field."

But the Vandals haven't any success in those atmospheres of late. The step up in competition is obviously the biggest factor, but handling the emotions plays into it, too.

"All I'm thinking about is staying relaxed -- acting like a pro, like I've been there before," Sannon said. "You have to make yourself think like it's just like practice -- you're relaxed, you're motivated, if you make a mistake you can't dwell on it. You have to move on. It's the same game."

But a whole different world.

John Blanchette
John Blanchette is a freelance columnist who writes about local sports issues.

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