MOSCOW, Idaho – Capital High School football coach Todd Simis gets it. He understands the angst that many Idaho football fans feel about the Vandals transitioning to the Big Sky Conference in the fall of 2018.
Simis, who’s coached at the Boise school for 12 seasons, knows the pride that comes with playing at college football’s top division. Like so many others, he was impressed with the Vandals’ 9-4 season and bowl victory over Colorado State in 2016.
He can’t help but feel, however, that UI’s impending move to the FCS will help – not damage – the Vandals’ recruiting efforts, at least with players like his son Makena, who ended up choosing Montana in 2013.
“I think in some ways – this may sound crazy – but I think it may help with some kids,” Simis said.
In recent years, he’s had one former player (center Steven Matlock) succeed at Idaho and another (linebacker Tarik Littlejohn) not last because of poor grades and an injury.
On Wednesday, Capital tight end/wide receiver Harrison Ashby – a converted basketball player who spent just one year on the varsity football team – is expected to sign a letter of letter of intent with the Vandals on National Signing Day.
Yet Simis’ thoughts went back to his son’s recruitment as a gauge for where the Vandals stand one year before going from 85 to 64 full-ride scholarships as a member of the FCS.
“He didn’t really want to look at Idaho,” he said of Makena, who will be a senior for the Griz this fall after redshirting in ’13. “And it had nothing to do with location or anything like that.”
When Makena Simis signed with UM, the Vandals had just hired Paul Petrino after an 1-11 season under Robb Akey and interim coach Jason Gesser. The program was one of the most uncompetitive in the FBS, which made it easy for Simis to look elsewhere.
“His attitude was, ‘I don’t want to go to Idaho because you’re just going to get waxed as a Division I school at the lower rung,’” Todd Simis said. “Yes, you’re playing Division I football, but it’s going to be tough to win games and you’re kind of a bottom feeder.
“And I think now if he was a senior at Capital, just knowing him, I would think he would take a strong look at Idaho knowing especially that they’re winning games and they won a bowl game and had a great year. … They’re kind of turning the program around and they’re going to be in the Big Sky and they may see it as an opportunity to dominate the Big Sky … and play for national championships.”
This will be Idaho’s first recruiting class since the school announced last spring that it would become the first school in the nation to drop from the FBS to FCS. It will spend one more season in the Sun Belt Conference before venturing to the Big Sky.
Petrino said in October that “you always notice an impact” in recruiting because some players don’t want to play in a lower division. As National Signing Day approached, opposing coaches likely used the Vandals’ dropdown as ammo against UI in conversations with recruits.
But two Idaho commits – Lewiston quarterback Colton Richardson and Valor Christian High (Colorado) athlete Christian Elliss – said the Big Sky move had no effect on their decisions.
Richardson took his official visit to UI a few weeks ago, and he was struck by how every recruit who was on campus (all 10 of whom committed, he said) felt that Idaho was a great fit.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in the FCS or the FBS,” he said. “We want to play at the highest level, and it would be nice to stay up, but whatever. We just want to be Vandals and we just want to win.”
Richardson had offers from Idaho and Montana Western, an NAIA school in Dillon. Elliss, the brother of UI linebacker Kaden Elliss, chose the Vandals over four Big Sky programs: Weber State, Eastern Washington, Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
“For me, the name of the school doesn’t mean anything,” Christian Elliss said. “Alabama, Ole Miss – all these schools that have a big name, they don’t mean anything to me. That’s different for other athletes, it’s different for every person, but … the NFL is going to find you wherever you are. It doesn’t matter.”
Ashby is likely to grayshirt, Simis said. The coached labeled him as an athletic, versatile 6-foot-4, 225-pound pass-catcher. … Christian Elliss said he will play linebacker at UI like his brother. The 6-2, 205-pound athlete hopes to grow another inch or two and get up to 250 or 260 pounds. “The thing I love about my family is that I got more of my dad’s genes than Kaden,” said Christian, whose father, Luther, was a 6-6, 318-pound defensive lineman in the NFL for a decade. “He’d probably be mad that I said that.”