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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vandals QB Matt Linehan developed football genes early in life

Idaho QB Matt Linehan looks to lead Vandals over Cougars on Saturday. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Idaho QB Matt Linehan looks to lead Vandals over Cougars on Saturday. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

MOSCOW, Idaho – It was an early August evening, and Idaho’s first preseason practice had just ended. Tight end Buck Cowan, surrounded by cameras, was telling reporters that Matt Linehan was one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

Mid-sentence, Cowan realized Linehan was videobombing him from behind. Cowan smirked, then continued his flattering comments.

Finally, Linehan approached his friend and roommate.

“Here’s that $20 that I owe you,” the QB said to Cowan, trying not to laugh.

It was a quintessential Matt Linehan moment. Yes, the redshirt junior who will lead Idaho (1-1) against Washington State (0-2) on Saturday takes his job seriously. But he also enjoys the lighter side of college football and occasionally goofing off in front of the camera.

He’s so comfortable around cameras and the media that he’ll graduate in December with a broadcast journalism degree. He plans to pursue a sports broadcasting career once he’s done playing football.

Linehan has obsessed not only over football and sports but the art of broadcasting since he was little. When he was 5, he started reading the sports section in the local newspaper. In first grade, when his dad was a coach with the Minnesota Vikings, he became enamored with the team’s play-by-play announcer, Paul Allen.

Allen is still the voice of the Vikings and Linehan still communicates with him.

“A lot of kids when they’re 4 or 5 or 6 years old are watching ‘Barney’ and some of these other shows,” says Scott Linehan, his father. “Matt was watching ESPN.”

Linehan used to play Madden and other sports video games with the sound off so he could announce the games himself. He says he grew up watching CBS’ Jim Nantz and has long been a fan of Gus Johnson and Kenny Mayne.

On Monday night, he tweeted a link to a video of announcer Kevin Harlan’s blow-by-blow account of a fan running onto the field during the 49ers-Rams’ game.

His commentary on the video: “This is one of my favorite things ever”.

What drew him to this world?

“When watching sports, I always thought the call was just as important as the play,” he says. “Because what makes the play memorable is the call itself.”

Linehan’s interest in broadcasting and football wasn’t just cultivated in front of his living room television. He spent hours in NFL locker rooms with his two younger brothers and dad, a former UI quarterback who has served as offensive coordinator for four NFL teams, including his current post in Dallas.

Scott and his wife Kristen encouraged their sons to show up at his work largely so the three boys (their middle son, Mike, is a redshirt freshman linebacker at Idaho, and their youngest, Marcus, plays at Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas) could see their father amid his hectic schedule. Football was and remains a central part of life in the Linehan family.

Instead of being star-struck around NFL players, Linehan used the time to learn. Intent on developing as a quarterback by the time he hit fifth or sixth grade, he became a keen observer of how professional football players, especially QBs, went about their business and handled their media obligations.

“All (of) that was really just soaking in as much information as I could growing up,” Linehan says. “Knowing how to be a quarterback, be a leader, knowing how to make certain throws, how to move in the pocket, how to work certain drills – it was such an advantage to me, and I used it to my advantage every second I could.”

Scott considers Matt’s time in NFL settings “as a gift he was able to embrace.”

“For me, now that’s he a quarterback, I think the fact that he was around so many of these guys, to see them prepare and work and watch them perform, he was able to benefit from that,” Scott says. “He used that as an asset for him as he grew up and as he matured. I think it’s a big part of who he is.”

Linehan’s NFL pedigree is a big part of his quarterbacking, his comfort with the media and the knowledge he hopes to bring to broadcasting. He’s produced a number of pieces for the student-led “Inside the Vandals” TV show, including a profile of Cowan in which he cleverly inserted himself at the end. It was a nod, he says, to Mayne, the ESPN anchor who’s one of his inspirations.

The same charisma that Linehan shows on camera comes out on the field, his teammates and coaches say. The Vandals don’t huddle often in their fast-paced offense, but when they do, he commands the group.

“He just kind of has that energy, that flame,” says Cowan, who was in the same 2013 recruiting class as Linehan. “It just kind of builds off guys. They see it and they want to get going too. He brings that off-the-field charisma into the huddle, and it definitely helps me personally and I think it helps other guys as well.”

Scott emphasizes that the most important thing to Matt is excelling as the Vandals’ quarterback. Broadcasting can wait. But, sure, he is happy his son is setting himself up for a life post-football.

And the fact that his future is centered around broadcasting football and other sports? Not surprising at all.

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