MOSCOW, Idaho – Evening darkness and cold temperatures hung over the Idaho practice turf next to the Kibbie Dome.
The daily homily from coach Paul Petrino ended football practice, and most of the Vandals surrounding him jogged toward the dome and the locker room.
A half dozen in white jerseys – offensive linemen – hung back. There was no coach present, but the players worked on reacting to a simulated snap and with short, quick steps getting back into pass protection. After a while, there were only two, seniors Sean Tulette and Edwin Grande.
“This is for the freshmen. We’re trying to get them right,” Grande said of the extra work.
A junior college transfer from Monterey (California) Peninsula College, Grande has played two years at Idaho.
“I’m getting the hang of everything,” Grande said.
Grande is Tulette’s backup at quick tackle and also backs up Logan Floyd at strong tackle. With his effusive manner, he seems like the kind of person teammates would eagerly follow.
With Idaho looking at three regular-season game remaining and a possibility of making the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs if it can run the table against Montana on Saturday, then Sacramento State and Northern Arizona to finish 7-5, Tulette and Grande are nearing the conclusion of their careers. .
Leaving young players a legacy of effort and accountability begins to loom in importance.
“I’m going to miss this. I can’t believe it’s almost over,” Tulette said. “Three more games. We’ve got to make the playoffs.”
Petrino this week said Idaho’s game against the Grizzlies in Missoula will be won by the team that can dominate on the offensive and defensive lines. Grande and Tulette were leading by example, doing last-minute polishing to try to make sure the best team up front was going to be the Vandals.
“We can get a lot better,” Grande said. “We want to be great. We say we’re the best offensive line in the Big Sky.”
Blocking for the likes of Aundre Carter (557 yards and seven touchdowns on 96 rushing attempts), Nick Romano (339 yards on 67 carries) and Dylan Thigpen (190 yards on 39 carries), Tulette said Idaho’s line can make a difference.
“That’s the reason we are out here,” he said.
Playing Division I football is an all-consuming experience. Its highs and lows can fashion an enduring bond.
“We have been through some stuff off the field. Nothing bad, personal stuff,” Tulette said of the relationship he and Grande have forged. “After the Eastern Washington game last year, we got super close.”
Some of it is time spent in the weight room. At 6-foot-5, 298 pounds, Grande has the build of a classic offensive lineman. Tulette, 2 inches shorter, came to Idaho from Long Beach (California) City College as a 240-pound sophomore – about the size of his running back, Carter – and he found putting on enough weight to play to be a daunting effort.
He has managed to hang on to 289 pounds this year, in part through working out daily with Grande and in part through dedicated eating, which says volumes about his willingness to make this football thing successful.
“You’ve got to make the effort,” he said. “You’ve got to eat when you’re tired.”
For the moment, there are immediate goals that keep a couple of seniors out after practice trying to get better, trying to inspire younger teammates.
Idaho (4-5, 2-3 Big Sky) is riding a two-game winning streak heading to Montana but hasn’t won a game on the road.
“We’re coming close. We’ve just got to finish,” Grande said. “We’ve got to break a chain and win an away game. That’s going to happen Saturday.”
Poised for the end of his college football career, Tulette looks both forward and back.
“If we can win the last three games,” he said, “this will all have been a good experience.”
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