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Idaho seniors use Northern Arizona game as last chance to make strong impression for professional scouts

Idaho receiver Jeff Cotton celebrates a play during a game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho receiver Jeff Cotton celebrates a play during a game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – At the conclusion of practice Wednesday, Jeff Cotton and Noah Johnson were dripping sweat.

Cotton was the last guy off the field after catching a few passes from Idaho’s freshman quarterbacks – perhaps to allow them years down the road to say, “Yeah, I threw to Jeff Cotton.”

The Vandals’ standout seniors were surely tending to team responsibilities and giving due attention to preparing for their final opportunity to suit up for Idaho against Northern Arizona on Saturday.

Unlike many of their teammates whose football careers will conclude Saturday, Johnson, an All-America guard, and Cotton, a rangy, 204-pound wide receiver with 70 catches for 911 yards and five touchdowns this season, have reasonable expectations they will be evaluated by NFL scouts next spring.

Neither is a mortal lock to make an NFL roster, though. As such, they are not accompanied by a retinue of trainers and advisers to shepherd them through every step of the NFL draft process.

While they are getting ready to play their last college football game, they also have to develop plans to attempt to become professional football players. To a significant degree, they have to figure it out on their own.

Individual circumstances have them moving in different directions as they prep for job interviews. Johnson plans to stay in Moscow, but Cotton will likely return home to Arizona or go to California.

“If the weather wasn’t so iffy, I’d stay here,” Cotton said.

But there are things they have in common, such as Kaden Elliss’ phone number.

Elliss, an Idaho teammate last year, made the New Orleans Saints as a linebacker. Cotton and Johnson plan to reach out to him for insights on how to take that next step themselves.

Johnson, who has received inquiries from agents on social media, said he hopes Elliss and Idaho’s coaches can give him useful information on how to pick one.

“I plan to hit up Kaden,” said Cotton, who also has a friend from Arizona, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who made the 49ers this season as an undrafted safety and linebacker.

“I want to talk to him about getting an agent, a trainer, and whatever advice he has about taking care of your body,” Cotton said.

Former Idaho receiver David Ungerer, who made the Hamilton Tiger Cats roster this year in the Canadian Football League, is also on Cotton’s list of people to call.

“I will most definitely be talking to him,” he said.

Choosing an agent may be the most consequential decision this winter. But there is no protocol to which they can refer.

“I’ll try to figure out who is in it for me,” Cotton said. “What benefits me the most.”

“I’m not sure how that all works out,” Johnson said.

Johnson is leaning toward working with the same Spokane-area trainer Elliss used. He also hopes to work out this winter with fellow Vandals senior linemates Edwin Grande and Sean Tulette in Moscow. Johnson plans to finish the requirements for his undergraduate degree this spring.

Still, in one respect, things will be different for Johnson this winter. As a member of an offensive line, Johnson is used to being part of a cohesive unit whose members offer mutual support. The last time he worked out individually was early in high school.

Nonetheless, there is still a lot Johnson can do on his own in the weight room and in refining his footwork. Cotton, a receiver, has to find a quarterback to throw to him.

“I have a few friends, but they’re not quarterbacks,” Cotton said. “I’ll just hit up anybody who can throw.”

Johnson and Cotton have an ambitious goal – professional football – and face the daunting challenge of achieving it.

Before setting out on their individual paths, Cotton and Johnson can rely on a sure thing one more time.

“I’ve got to give all my attention to this last game, be focused on that,” Johnson said. “For now, I’m focused on my last game as a Vandal.”

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