MOSCOW, Idaho – This is a world away from walking out to midfield, calling heads or tails and shaking hands with your peers from the other team.
For the University of Idaho football captains heading into the Vandals’ final regular-season game against Idaho State on Saturday, there are the traditional responsibilities of calling the coin flip, paying respects to seniors playing what could be their last game, and getting the team focused on securing a seventh win to keep its playoff chances alive.
It is overwhelmed, however, by the shocking, unsolved killing of four UI students a week ago in an off-campus residence – students with whom some of the Vandals were acquainted.
“Being there for our brothers. Just being there for each other, uplifting each other is the biggest concern right now,” running back Roshaun Johnson said. “We are all kind of leaning on each other.”
The Vandals captains – all seniors – include Johnson, linebacker Fa’Avae Fa’Avae, defensive tackle Nate DeGraw, defensive end Leo Tamba, center Logan Floyd and tight end Connor Whitney. At the close of practice Tuesday, they gathered to discuss how they are proceeding as captains.
“I haven’t had anything like this happen to me before,” Floyd said. “This is all new to me. I am trying to get through it.”
The Vandals, as a team, had an extensive meeting Monday about coming to terms with the tragedy. It was led by coaches and involved small group discussions among the players.
“I have lived in Moscow for five years. I never locked my doors,” DeGraw said. “This took our safe space away. The coaches have been doing a good job of giving that safe space back to us. …
It is important we have all had a safe space to address our feelings. It is hard to do that with a group of men like this.”
Tamba also said Idaho’s coaches have helped players work through a loss of life that has shaken the campus.
“It is important that we stay positive for the team,” he said
“We are role models on campus,” Whitney said.
He added that playing the game and finishing the regular season with a win to go 7-4 and retain the Battle of the Domes trophy for which Idaho and ISU compete “is a positive light this week. It is a little three-hour break for the community to not have to think about these things.”
Whitney said the players Monday discussed ways they could support a campus community “that has supported us.” Before heading to Pocatello to play the Bengals, the Vandals had planned to attend as a group a vigil for the slain students. With many students leaving campus early following the tragedy, the memorial has been rescheduled for Nov. 30 .
“The way we can help the football team is to try our best to lock in. We still have a game to play,” Fa’Avae said.
Floyd said the Vandals will take the field at Holt Arena with a sense of life’s fragility .
He summed up the attitude his teammates have begun to embrace this week.
“Be kind to everybody,” he said. “Be helpful to everybody.”
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