MOSCOW — In football, games are often won or lost in the trenches, so when coach Paul Petrino took over the Idaho Vandals, he was thrilled to have a solid core of defensive lineman already in place.
I think our strength this year is going to be up front both offensively and defensively, Petrino said. We have a lot of good young guys with a lot of experience already.
It is a youthful group of veterans who will make up Idahos front four. Vince Keener and QuayShawne Buckley are the lone returning seniors. Theyll be joined by junior Maxx Forde and sophomores Ryan Edwards and Quinton Bradley as the other three members from last years squad. Jesse Davis, who played defensive tackle last year, is returning for his junior year, but on the offensive line.
Right now I like our chances to make something good, defensive line coach Byron Bam Hardmon said. We have some mature guys, we have a little bit of depth, but we have to make sure those guys give us great effort and work on techniques and fundamentals.
Perhaps the most compelling story from the defensive line is the reinstatement of Buckley to the team. After being arrested for driving under the influence in February, the 305-pound defensive tackle was dismissed from the team and did not participate in any spring practices. However, Buckley has earned his way back onto the team and should start at defensive tackle in the Vandals season-opener.
He brings some depth and some excitement he is a guy who loves the game of football, Hardmon said. We know hell give us a lot of effort, so we want to focus on his technique and fundamentals with him not being out there in the spring. We want to continue to push him so he can be ready to help this team.
Buckleys big, athletic frame caused problems for opposing offenses last year, but he also hurt his team with a handful of 15-yard personal fouls at key situations. If Buckley is going to have a positive impact, hell have to find a way to reel in his emotions when it matters.
Hes a talented player and hes quick for his size, Forde said. Hes got strong hands and a lot of tools you want on the D-line.
Forde will also be an integral part of the line. The 261-pound defensive end has played in all 24 games during the last two years, making him a seasoned veteran. His tireless work ethic, both on the field and in the classroom, has earned him the respect of his teammates and coaches.
Hes stepped up and accepted the leadership role, Hardmon said. Thats one of those things that not everybody can do, but he also has to hold himself accountable which is something I think he does a good job of. Its one of those things where if you tell somebody else to get the ball, you have to do it also.
As part of his leadership role, Forde spent extra time in the gym sculpting his body to prepare for a breakout season.
In the weight room, I tried to get bigger, stronger and faster, Forde said. Out here, Im really trying to develop my pass rush. Last year I think I had three sacks, and thats just not what I want to be at. Im also trying to bring the group together, trying to make sure were all moving together.
Redshirt freshman Antonio Perez was Fordes understudy during the summer and will likely see significant playing time off the bench as the season progresses. Newcomers Zach Cable (freshman) and Anthony Rice (junior) have adjusted well to the defense after the first few days of practice and could both easily be in the mix for some playing time.
I think the biggest part of getting them ready is having guys like Maxx Forde, like Quinton Bradley, who can coach them up even when Im not around, Hardmon said. That helps them be more comfortable, and I tell them no question is a dumb question.