MOSCOW, Idaho – Recruiting Connor Whitney was an experience that must have assured Idaho football coaches that they knew what they were doing.
The Vandals junior from Spokane’s West Valley High came to college with a lanky 6-foot-3 frame, long-striding speed and athleticism that coaches could envision at any number of positions.
Whitney has settled with playing at about 230 pounds in coach Paul Petrino’s offense, where talent lines up wherever it is useful. Defenses looking for Whitney in the past three season have had to check tight end, slot receiver, wide out and H back. Like many football players, he broke into the game on special teams, was a holder, and is still a target for on-side kick recoveries.
“I’ll go to meetings every day, and I never know where I’m going to line up,” Whitney said. “(Tight ends/fullbacks coach Tony) Spencer will say, ‘Connor, we’ve got a curveball for you.’ It’s nothing new. It keeps it interesting.”
Whitney has caught 48 career passes for 568 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he returned a blocked punt for another score. In Idaho’s abbreviated six-game spring season this year, he had 10 receptions for 119 yards.
This potential was evident early. Petrino said Whitney first drew his attention as a standout at the Vandals’ high school summer camps.
“My dad (Craig Whitney) is the West Valley coach. We went to Idaho’s team camp the summer between my sophomore and junior year and after my junior year,” Whitney said. “I began to develop a relationship with Coach Petrino and (recently retired) coach (Kris) Cinkovich, who recruited this area.”
Whitney was certainly aware of the Vandals, but his father had played as a receiver at Montana in the early 1990s.
“We were a Grizzly household growing up,” he said.
After Whitney established a connection with Idaho through its coaches, he fell in love with the university and Moscow.
“It’s just a great college town,” he said.
Whitney has also thrived academically as a three-time All-Big Sky Conference All-Academic team member, majoring in exercise science.
“My dad would kick my butt if I got a bad grade,” Whitney said.
He quickly adds of Idaho’s academic support “they take great care of us as students here.”
Individual highlights as a player include scoring on the blocked punt against nationally ranked North Dakota as a freshman; scoring his first touchdown, against Montana, as a sophomore; and catching a 2-point conversion in a season-ending 60-53 shootout win for the Vandals against Northern Arizona in 2019. It was one of three catches Whitney made in that game.
In his time at Idaho, the Vandals have beaten nationally ranked North Dakota and Eastern Washington. They’ve played Wyoming within a touchdown (21-16) in a game in which Whitney caught a pair of passes for 32 yards. But what Idaho hasn’t managed to do is string together enough victories to secure a winning season, a Big Sky championship and a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Vandals were 4-7 Whitney’s freshman year, 5-7 when he was a sophomore, and 2-4 last spring when the Idaho roster was regularly ravaged by COVID 19.
Coming out of preseason camp and ready for the opening game against Simon Fraser, accomplishing big goals is in sight.
“We had a great camp,” Whitney said. “Our leaders are getting us ready to go for every game. It’s kind of a mindset. We’re tired of the up and down. We want to be consistent.”
To that end, the Vandals can rely on Whitney, who convinced his coaches he could handle the load from the first time they saw him.