When Mike Scott arrived on Idahos campus last fall for the football program, the junior-college transfer was so unknown he had trouble finding a table to sit at for lunch.
I had my plate and Id look around for a place to sit and it was like, Man, I dont really know anybody, said Scott, a walk-on wide receiver from Foothill College (Calif.) who did not participate in summer workouts with the team. Nobody knew who I was. Nobody knew what I played. Nobody knew what I was about.
The rest of the Vandals figured it out pretty quickly.
The 5-foot-11, 198-pounder impressed so quickly in fall camp that he earned a scholarship. He led Idaho with 55 receptions and 691 yards last season. And he earned the respect of his teammates to the point that they voted Scott, now a senior, their offensive captain.
Ive seen a lot of growth in who he is today (from) when we got started a year ago, Idaho coach Robb Akey said. The fact that his teammates wanted him to be their captain says a lot about the guy and how he carries himself and what he does.
Scott, Akey and the rest of the Vandals begin fall practice Thursday in Moscow. Idaho, coming off a 2-10 season, was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the nearly extinct WAC and faces an uncertain future for its football program.
Akey is focusing on getting his team to finish. Idaho lost four games by seven or fewer points last season, including two in overtime. In spring practice, coaches blew horns to let players know this is the fourth quarter and there is no time for a letdown.
Thats how close it is. Thats how fine a line winning and not winning is, said Akey, 19-43 entering his sixth season with the Vandals. Finishing has become a strong motto.
Scott had quite a start to his NCAA college career. His first reception was a 51-yarder in the season opener against Bowling Green on a trick play. He had a team-high six catches in the game, which boosted his confidence and led to a stellar season.
That showed me: I can do this, said Scott, who had more than double the receiving yards of any other Idaho pass catcher in 11 games.
Now he is trying to show others that, yes, the Vandals can do it, too. He and senior cornerback Aaron Grymes are the first for each drill, hoping to set a tone for the rest of the team.
This is how were going to compete in one-on-ones. This is how were going to compete in team today, said Grymes, a defensive captain.
Their individual battles go back and forth, Grymes said. Scotts knack for finding openings in the defense and his strong hands make him difficult to defend.
If its a competitive situation, Mike Scott is going to get the ball, Akey said.
Said Grymes: Once it hits his hands, its pretty much a catch.
The Vandals are hoping a return to full health by receiver Justin Veltung will give them a second option in the passing game for whichever quarterback junior Taylor Davis or junior Dominique Blackman wins the starting job. Idaho completed less than 53 percent of its passes last year.
Idaho also revamped its offensive coaching staff, promoting Jason Gesser to offensive coordinator and adding veteran coaches Mike Levenseller (wide receivers) and Gordy Shaw (offensive line) in hopes of reviving an offense that scored 20 points per game. Idaho ranked 107th out of 120 teams in the country in scoring.
Levenseller, who coached receivers in the Canadian Football League and at Washington State for 25 years, is a valuable resource for Scott.
Im a sponge, said Scott, who also checks out YouTube clips to study older receivers. Im just trying to soak up all I can.
That knowledge can only help, given where Scott started last years camp unaware of the playbook and unfamiliar to his teammates.
Its safe to say Scott wont lack for a place to eat his lunch this year.
IDAHO VANDALS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Robb Akey (19-43, sixth season)
2011 record: 2-10 (1-6 in WAC, 8th place)
Returning starters: 11 (five offense, four defense, two specialists)
Player to watch: P Bobby Cowan, a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America in 2011
Position battle to watch: Quarterback. Juniors Taylor Davis and Dominique Blackman are competing for the position. Neither was able to separate from the other in spring practice.
Aug. 30 vs. Eastern Washington, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 at Bowling Green, TBA
Sept. 15 at LSU (ESPN3), 6 p.m.
Sept. 22 vs. Wyoming, 3 p.m.
Sept. 29 at North Carolina, TBA
Oct. 6 vs. New Mexico State, 3 p.m.
Oct. 13 at Texas State, 5 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Louisiana Tech, 5 p.m.
Nov. 3 vs. San Jose State, 3 p.m.
Nov. 10 at BYU, TBA
Nov. 17 vs. UTSA, 3 p.m.
Nov. 24 at Utah State, 1 p.m.
All times Mountain
Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph