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Sports >  Idaho football

Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy wins Jerry Rice Award

Dec. 7, 2022 Updated Wed., Dec. 7, 2022 at 6:06 p.m.

Idaho Vandals quarterback Gevani McCoy (4) throes a pass against the Eastern Washington Eagles in the first half at Kibbie Dome on Sat. Nov. 5 2022 in Moscow, Idaho.  (James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho Vandals quarterback Gevani McCoy (4) throes a pass against the Eastern Washington Eagles in the first half at Kibbie Dome on Sat. Nov. 5 2022 in Moscow, Idaho. (James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo
By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy has parlayed his one scholarship offer to play college football into the Jerry Rice Award, given to the outstanding freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

McCoy outdistanced the 24 other finalists. The 54-member panel that chose the recipient gave McCoy 31 first-place votes and 203 points overall. Albany quarterback Reese Poffenbarger with nine first-place votes and 118 points was second. St. Francis wide receiver Makai Jackson followed with two first-place votes and 105 points.

“This award just means so much. It’s just a great thing to be awarded,” McCoy said. “This award is bigger than me. It means so much to our Vandal family.”

Former Vandals coach Paul Petrino recruited McCoy from Lawndale High School in Baldwin Hills, California. When injuries decimated the quarterback depth chart, McCoy appeared in three games as a true freshman in 2021, completing 15 of 32 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 20 times for 24 yards.

Even then, Petrino saw something beyond the mediocre statistics.

“He’s got the ‘it’ factor,” Petrino said.

As a redshirt freshman this season, McCoy completed 204 of 298 passes for 2,719 yards for an accuracy rate of 73.1%. He also threw for 27 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. He ran 75 times for 89 yards and three touchdowns, and he caught another on a throwback pass.

McCoy led the Vandals to a 7-5 record, their first winning season since 2016, and Idaho finished 6-2 in the Big Sky Conference.

In a first-round playoff game at Southeastern Louisiana University, the Lions edged the Vandals 45-42. McCoy came back from a knee injury that had sidelined him in the Vandals’ final regular-season win against Idaho State to complete 19 of 26 passes for 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

None of this was apparent when McCoy auditioned this year for Idaho’s new coach, Jason Eck.

“It really was crazy,” Eck said. “When we first got here, he was far from the front-runner for the job.”

At 6-foot and a lean 170 pounds, Eck considered moving McCoy to cornerback.

“I just kept my head down and grinded all through spring ball (summer and the preseason),” McCoy said.

“This guy was showing something,” Eck said. “At the end of spring ball, he was playing better, but we really weren’t playing at a championship level.”

In the preseason, however, McCoy edged out C.J. Jordan and J’Bore Gibbs.

“They pushed me every day to be my best,” McCoy said.

Vandals offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Luke Schleusner brought McCoy along, Eck said.

Eck named McCoy the starter a few weeks before Idaho’s season-opening game against Washington State.

“He kept getting better once we named him the starter,” Eck said.

Against the Cougars, McCoy threw for 212 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

One interception came in the closing moments, at the goal line, as the Vandals were driving toward a tying touchdown in a 24-17 loss.

But Eck said he “knew we had something” when Idaho defeated Northern Arizona 27-10 for its first Big Sky Conference win. McCoy completed 18 of 20 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown.

“I can’t say enough about the year he had as a freshman, and he is going to get better,” Eck said.

“It kind of changes everything in your program when you have a great quarterback. Everybody’s life is a little better. The assistant coach’s dog’s life is a little better.”

Eck said he had “a little bit of concern” that McCoy might be tempted to enter the transfer portal.

“The guy who won the Jerry Rice Award two years ago (Cameron Ward, at Incarnate Word) is in Pullman, Washington, now,” as WSU’s quarterback,” Eck said. “We can’t lose sleep over things we can’t control.”

For his part, McCoy seems in no hurry to leave Idaho behind.

“I am so excited just to start spring ball and get to work with all my brothers,” he said.

“I’m still the same dude. … (The Jerry Rice Award) adds fuel to the fire.”

McCoy said winning the award was more than a bit of a surprise.

“I didn’t think that big,” McCoy said. “I was focused on getting the starting job.”

The Jerry Rice Award was first handed out in 2011. In the history of the honor, three other Big Sky players have won it, most notably Cooper Kupp from Eastern Washington in 2013. Case Cookus of Northern Arizona won it in 2015, and Weber State’s Josh Davis won it in 2018.

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