Any number of elements contributed to the Idaho football team’s success this year.
There was Matt Linehan’s continued improvement in his third year as the starting quarterback.
There was the emergence of sophomore running back Isaiah Saunders, who rushed for 505 yards and six touchdowns in the final six games of the regular season.
And the continued steady play of senior tight end Trent “Buck” Cowan, the converted wide receiver who led Idaho this season with 46 receptions and six receiving touchdowns.
But one element that quietly contributed to an eight-win regular season, and this week’s appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Colorado State (5 p.m. Thursday, ESPN), is the number of players whose relatives were Vandals before them.
Linehan, Saunders, Cowan and so many more.
“I think a lot of the guys that grew up … and they always heard about their dad playing there, I think they have a little bit more of a bond,” coach Paul Petrino said. “I think there might be a little more pride for them.”
That’s certainly the case for Linehan, whose father, Scott, played for the Vandals from 1982 to 1987. The elder Linehan was also a quarterback, and he finished his playing career at Idaho with more than 7,000 passing yards. These days, he roams the Dallas Cowboys sidelines as the team’s offensive coordinator.
“The history we have here, we know that being here is really special,” said Matt Linehan, whose mother, Kristen, played basketball for the Vandals. “To have so many people come here at the same time is amazing. … I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of being the second generation — or even the third generation — of Vandals carrying on a tradition, or at least trying to re-establish one.”
Cowan likely has bragging rights when it comes to the number of relatives who went to Idaho.
“My grandparents went here. My dad and mom went here. My sister and brother went to the University of Idaho,” said Cowan, who is a roommate with Linehan. “I have numerous cousins and uncles who attended the University of Idaho. There is definitely a lot of family that went here.”
Cowan’s grandparents were such generous boosters that Idaho’s basketball venue, Cowan Spectrum, is named after them.
“It’s just a special place,” Cowan said of the Idaho campus in Moscow. “Growing up, I would always go to the Idaho-Boise State game, and I thought it would be so cool to play for Idaho. When I was a kid, that was my dream, pulling on a Vandals uniform. So it’s definitely special for me, and I know it is for a lot of the other guys who have family history, too. It’s definitely a privilege.”
Petrino went to Carroll College in Montana. But he became an assistant coach for the Vandals in the early 1990s because of a family tie.
“It kind of started with my brother (Bobby), who was an assistant at Idaho first,” Petrino said. “That’s really when I became a fan of the Vandals.”
Petrino’s stint as an assistant came in handy when he went to recruit players after he was named head coach before the 2013 season.
“There’s no question it helped with the fathers who had relationships with this school, and the relationships I had with them,” he said. “It’s kind of funny. When I got the job, a couple (players) weren’t getting recruited by Idaho. Matt (Linehan) wasn’t, and Isaiah Saunders wasn’t. So my relationship with their fathers helped on that front.”
The Petrino family connection continues at Idaho, too. Petrino’s son, Mason, is a freshman backup quarterback on the Vandals’ roster.
The way Petrino sees it, nothing but good comes from all these family ties.
“Hopefully it will continue through other generations,” he said. “I think it’s a special, cool thing, so hopefully we can keep that going.”
Idaho ties that bind
Current Vandals who are related to former Vandals.
- QB Gunnar Amos: Shawn Amos (father, played 1988-89)
- DL Zach Cable: Tom Cable (father, played 1982-86/ coached 2000-03)
- K Cade Coffey: Travis Coffey (father, played 1993-96)
- TE Trent “Buck” Cowan: Bobby Cowan (brother, played 2009-2012)
- LB Jaden Gardner: Bryson Gardner (father, played 1996-99)
- DB Jayshawn Jordan: Jeff Jordan (uncle, played 1989-93)
- QB Matt Linehan: Scott Linehan (father, played 1982-1987); Ron Linehan (uncle, played 1968-72); Rick Linehan (uncle, played 1976-79)
- LB Mike Linehan: Scott Linehan (father, played 1982-1987); Ron Linehan (uncle, played 1968-72); Rick Linehan (uncle, played 1976-79)
- RB Isaiah Saunders: Walter Saunders (father, played 1991-93)
- S Russell Siavii: Robert Siavii (brother, played 2008-2012)
- TE Deon Watson: Deon Watson, Sr. (father, played basketball 1990-94)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
▪ Teams: Idaho (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt) vs. Colorado State (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West)
▪ Time: 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 22
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
▪ TV: ESPN (David Neal, Matt Stinchcomb, Olivia Harlan)
▪ Radio: 630 AM
▪ Tickets: Available at ticketmaster.com
▪ Vegas: Colorado State by 14
▪ Coaches: Idaho, Paul Petrino (fourth year; 14-33); Colorado State, Mike Bobo (second year; 14-11)
▪ Bowl records: Idaho 2-0, Colorado State 6-9
▪ Series record: Colorado State leads 4-3
▪ Wednesday: Mash Bash at The Village, Meridian, 7-8 p.m.
▪ 9 a.m.: Albertsons Stadium ticket office opens
▪ 2-5 p.m.: Tent Village/Fan Fest, Simplot Fry Feed, Albertsons Stadium west parking lot
▪ 2-5 p.m.: Tent Village/Fan Fest, FitOne Family Field Day, Caven Williams Sports Complex
▪ 3:30-4 p.m.: Tent Village/Fan Fest, Battle of the Bands, Albertsons Stadium west parking lot
▪ 3:30 p.m.: Albertsons Stadium gates open
▪ 4 p.m.: Pre-game activities, Albertsons Stadium