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Idaho Football

‘This works, so let’s all buy into it’: Enthusiasm surrounds Idaho football as Vandals open preseason camp

Idaho wide receiver Hayden Hatten catches a pass during a practice on Monday, July 31, 2023 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.  (Geoff Crimmins/For the Spokesman-Reivew)
By Colton Clark For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – After the Idaho Vandals wrapped up their first day of fall camp, star receiver Hayden Hatten highlighted a couple of team strengths that have developed greatly over the past year – “comfort” and “unity” within the program.

Idaho’s 58 returning players, entering Year 2 under coach Jason Eck, enjoy a deeper understanding of the playbooks. They’re now comfortable with Eck’s schemes, so the Vandals can hit the ground running in 2023.

“We have an entire season with this coaching staff under our belts,” Hatten said. “Last year, we were very fresh, very new.

“We just feel more comfortable as a team. Last year, it was so unpredictable.”

There’s bound to be some uncertainty when a new coaching staff takes over, Hatten acknowledged. During the lead up to the 2022 season, it was hard to know what to expect from the Vandals.

But Eck led a resurgence at Idaho, which earned a berth to the Football Championship Subdivision postseason – the program’s first FCS playoff appearance since it rejoined the classification four years prior.

The Vandals got a taste of success and began to realize their potential, and Hatten said that’s only brought them closer together.

“There’s a sense of, ‘This works, so let’s all buy into it,’ ” Hatten added. “It honestly gives us a greater sense of unity. We’re all going to buy into this program. We saw what that did last year. We saw how quickly we can turn things around.”

With an invigorated outlook and high expectations surrounding them, the Vandals opened their preseason Monday morning at the Kibbie Dome.

“It was a fantastic start,” Hatten said. “Going into camp this year, a lot of (players) are back and we have a mastery of the offense. You could see how clean we were today with the small things.”

Idaho’s talent-rich receiving corps and sophomore quarterback Gevani McCoy were the standouts of the padless, two-hour practice session.

“I’m very comfortable, and I’m just getting more and more comfortable each day,” said McCoy, who won the QB job ahead of the 2022 season and ended up as the FCS freshman of the year. “The main thing I worked on this offseason was just mastering the offense.”

McCoy shined during a 7-on-7 drill, firing several accurate passes downfield to receivers in stride. Hatten, an All-American last season, hauled in a one-handed reception, while falling, for 30 yards. Slotback Jermaine Jackson, also a 1,000-yard receiver in 2022, brought down a juggling, one-handed catch near the sideline. Redshirt freshman Jordan Dwyer snagged a perfectly placed deep ball from McCoy down the middle of the field for a 40-yard gain during the period.

“We expect our skill guys to be a little further along than our linemen on the first day,” Eck said. “I was pleased with that. Their timing was good. Hayden has great hands, so if you put it close, he’s probably gonna come down with it.”

Idaho boasted one of the nation’s best passing offenses last season, and McCoy and the Vandal receivers stayed in Moscow throughout the summer to refine the aerial attack, improving their chemistry and timing.

“We sacrificed our summer to be here, working out together, and it’s going to show in the long run,” Hatten said. “When you have those connections, it builds a sense of unity and pride in the team. It gives you a purpose to win – you wanna win for those guys – and it makes it easy to translate it onto the field.”

The Vandals will introduce shoulder pads Wednesday and begin fully padded practices next week. Until then, it’ll be difficult to gauge the offensive line, defensive front and ground game.

Eck will spend most of the week focusing on “assignments, execution and chemistry,” but he devoted time on Day 1 to some “more in-depth teaching” for the starters.

“It’s not just the basics, and that’s the growth you want to see from your veteran players,” he added. “You still want to keep it pretty basic for your young guys so you’re not overloading them, but we were able to do a little more on the details and higher-level things. … Everyone knows the expectations a lot better.”

Still, the Vandals have 52 newcomers on their roster – several of them are transfers who will be asked to adopt significant playing roles.

“You gotta do a really good job in the first seven or eight practices of projecting who can help us,” Eck said. “There are obviously some transfers that we really want to accelerate in that, but for the young guys, we gotta decide who are gonna be the guys that we’ll push into that two-deep (depth chart).”

The Vandals return seven starters on offense and five on defense – four in the secondary. Overall, Idaho’s defense is a bit of a question mark, but the unit had a few bright moments during team drills Monday. Nickel Mathias Bertram and defensive tackle Aamarii Notice forced fumbles. Cornerback Kyrin Beachem stretched out for an interception.

Idaho will conduct 16 camp practices over the next three weeks, including scrimmages on Aug. 12 and Aug. 19. The Vandals will tweak their schedule when school begins Aug. 21, and begin preparations for their opener Aug. 31 at Lamar.

“There are a lot of high hopes for this season,” cornerback Marcus Harris said. “There’s just a lot more energy.”