MOSCOW, Idaho – Grantland Rice might have been on to something with his famous Four Horsemen lead, “outlined against a blue-gray October sky.” Settings are important.
At 6:11 p.m. Friday, for a season’s first practice scheduled to start at 6:30, Idaho’s football team was stacked up at the gate to the new practice turf. A rhythmic clap broke out among the players. A minute later, head coach Paul Petrino strode purposefully from the Kibbie Dome to the Vandals and motioned them to the field.
Moscow Mountain, obscured most of the week by smoke, was clear on the horizon. The temperature was a pleasant 81 degrees, the air quality index a “good” 35. A cool breeze blew from the northwest.
It felt like football, not like a heat dome, fire season or COVID, which have taken turns disrupting life on the Palouse for a year and a half.
Petrino and team leaders Tyrese Dedmon, a senior safety, and Logan Floyd, a junior offensive tackle and center, all remarked on the energy everyone brought to the two-hour workout.
“As soon as we all walked out here, stood at the gate you could just tell there is a different kind of energy coming,” said Floyd. “People want to be here. People want to have fun. People have bought into the process. We want to win the Big Sky. Go to the playoffs. Win the ‘chip’ there.”
Even better, from the coach’s perspective, the day’s theme had been taken to heart by the players and applied on the field.
“We had a longer fundamental period. So, the message was we were really going to take every single period and get better at fundamentals so we can carry that over and win games at the end with our fundamentals,” Petrino said.
“The main focus today was just making sure everything was clean, crisp,” Dedmon said. “Keep it simple. Make sure everybody knows their alignment assignment.”
Floyd also reiterated it. He is working with a new offensive line coach, Nick Gilbert.
“He just came in with a few new calls. Other than that, he has been in the system. He’s a good fit for us,” Floyd said.
“I feel like he relies a lot on us (starters). Not only is he teaching us, he is teaching the young guys. So, I feel as an older guy, an upperclassman, we have to learn it faster so he doesn’t have to worry as much about us but worry more about the young guys and getting them right.”
With the Vandals in shorts, jerseys and helmets, the defense, offensive line and running backs had to make do with looking good playing against air. Quarterbacks and receivers, however, got to show off some.
Mike Beaudry, a senior graduate transfer, played in four games last spring and threw for 794 yards on 73 completions in 122 attempts with one passing and one rushing touchdown and three interceptions. Freshman C.J. Jordan, who played once in the spring before being injured, but threw for an impressive 183 yards and rushed for 38 in that outing, took all the first-team reps. Redshirt sophomore Nikhil Nayar, who played twice last spring and threw for 273 yards with three touchdowns against one interception, is still on the roster but was not at the opening practice.
Petrino said Beaudry and Jordan would contend for the starting job through the first three games against Simon Fraser, Indiana and Oregon State, and he would name a starter by the first conference game against UC Davis on Oct. 2.
“I thought both quarterbacks threw the ball well at times (in the opening practice),” Petrino said.
Zach Borisch, who rushed for 283 yards and two touchdowns in a pair of spring games, will also have a quarterback package tailored to his abilities and will play regularly this fall, Petrino said.
Among the receivers, Mekhi Stevenson, a senior transfer from UNLV, showed an ability to run past the secondary and tracked down a long pass on a go rout from Beaudry. Redshirt sophomore Michael Noil was also the recipient of an accurately delivered Beaudry pass.
Petrino noted sophomore Michael Graves and redshirt sophomore Terez Traynor caught his eye and made noteworthy catches.
Overall, it was one of Idaho’s better first practices, Petrino said. Outlined against a setting that finally seemed like the return of regular football and normal life, this was especially true.
“I hope I’m that happy when I watch tape,” Petrino said, “because it felt really good out here.”
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