MOSCOW, Idaho – The first practice was complete, and Jeff Cotton and Cutrell Haywood came off the field Saturday in the early Palouse twilight with the satisfied air of people who had put in a hard day of work.
“Getting right back to it,” Haywood said.
“It was the first day, but there was more good than bad,” Cotton added.
As the Idaho Vandals try to improve on last season’s 4-7 campaign, their accomplished and experienced receivers will have a featured role. Last year, Cotton caught 49 passes for 656 yards and seven touchdowns. Haywood added 51 catches for 489 yards and six scores.
They looked in midseason form in the Vandals’ first workout. Despite a handful of overthrown passes, Cotton and Haywood ran precise routes and caught whatever came their way.
Cotton, at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, brings speed and length to a play. Haywood, also 205 but a more compact 6-0, cuts through the defensive backfield with a running back’s physical presence.
This year, the two see themselves as leaders. Cotton, a senior, embraces that responsibility.
“I’ve got to be on my Ps and Qs every day and be a vocal leader,” Cotton said. “It’s something I like doing.”
Haywood, a redshirt sophomore, is looking to Cotton as a role model this year, because he expects to inherit the leadership role next season.
“We’ve got to hold each other accountable,” Haywood said of his teammates. “If there’s a dropped ball, it’s all good. Come back and get the next one.”
Coming into the start of this season, Cotton sees a Vandals team with about a half-dozen receivers with game experience who bring an air of maturity to the field, have increased trust in their coaches and play for each other.
“It’s up to us to be as good as we want to be,” Cotton said.
When Cotton was matched up with senior cornerback Lloyd Hightower, they went at each other with notable speed – a cut above the other competitions between receivers and defensive backs.
With the players in shorts, jerseys and helmets, the full football experience was lacking. That will change Thursday, when the Vandals don full equipment.
“That will be more fun,” Cotton said. “Let the pads talk.”
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