College of Idaho football coach Mike Moroski sold a vision to recruits and supporters as he rebuilt the Yotes football program from scratch.
You don’t need to use your imagination anymore.
The Yotes have won nine straight games — a streak that started about a year ago — and have ascended to No. 10 in the NAIA coaches’ Top 25 going into Saturday’s game at defending Frontier Conference champion Rocky Mountain.
“I just felt, the culture itself, something good was going to happen,” senior quarterback Darius-James Peterson said of his decision to join the Yotes for their third season in 2016. “And I wanted to be part of something great.”
The Yotes have their gaze set on the first Frontier title and a spot in the NAIA playoffs, where Frontier teams historically fare well.
They’re in the middle of a four-week stretch with two byes and two road games, returning home Oct. 19 against Montana Tech. They also play home games Nov. 9 (Montana Western) and Nov. 16 (Montana State Northern).
Simplot Stadium in Caldwell, complete with beer garden and tailgating scene, has become a part of the program’s success. The first two home dates drew an average of 4,191 fans, ranking second in NAIA.
“I already think that Caldwell is going to be a football town,” said sophomore defensive end J.T. Mahon, a Council High grad who spent two years as a walk-on at the University of Idaho. “I really like the support from the community we have.”
Mahon, who joined the Yotes this year, says his teammates in Caldwell aren’t as big as his teammates in Moscow were, but they make up for that with speed.
That’s apparent on an offense that’s built around a power option attack in the run game and a high-percentage passing attack. Peterson averages 173.7 passing yards and 65 rushing yards per game, with six combined touchdowns. Junior running back Nick Calzaretta averages 7.8 yards per carry (and 155 per game), and top receiver Hunter Juarez adds 29 yards per catch.
“It’s awesome having so many weapons around me,” Peterson said. “Coming in my freshman year, we didn’t really have a lot of weapons. Now we have them everywhere.”
Peterson and Calzaretta are from the Bay Area of California. It’s a key recruiting pipeline for Moroski because of his ties to the area as a former UC Davis assistant coach and San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
“(Peterson) is just a dynamic player,” Moroski said, “maybe one of the most dynamic players in the whole country at this level, maybe any level, he’s just spectacular. ... Nick Calzaretta is one of those guys, one of those rare guys, that the more he gets into the physical part of the game, it’s like he’s just warming up. You’re 20 carries in, he’s wanting the ball more.”
The Yotes have built a talented offensive line, too, with help from former Boise State All-American Nate Potter, who was an assistant coach last year before joining the staff at Montana State. Senior left tackle Josh Brown is a 6-foot-7, 305-pounder from tiny Colfax, Wash. — 2 inches and 85 pounds larger than he was in high school — and is drawing some NFL scouts to Simplot.
Right tackle Garrett Rehberg, on the other hand, is a true freshman from Bishop Kelly High — one of 13 players from Idaho on the two-deep depth chart.
The defense is coordinated by Chris Jewell, who has been with Moroski from the start. The latest big-name assistant is former Idaho star and NFL player Shiloh Keo, who coaches defensive backs. He follows in the footsteps of guys like Potter, former Boise State wide receiver Kirby Moore (now at Fresno State) and former Boise State defensive lineman Kharyee Marshall (now at Boise State). Plus, Moroski’s first offensive coordinator, Tim Keane, is the offensive line coach at UC Davis.
“That’s part of the deal, too, is coaching the coaches,” said Moroski, who was at UC Davis for 26 years. “... I like to push the coaches and get as much out of them as I can so that they’re ready to go after their goals, too.”
Before the winning streak, the Yotes were 18-31 in four-plus seasons since the rebirth of the football program in 2014. They won six games each of the past two seasons, turning 0-5 into 6-5 and a No. 22 ranking last year.
But they’ve yet to truly contend for the conference title — a title they are favored to win this year. The roster is deeper, the defense is faster, the chemistry is a bit better and the summer program has grown, Moroski said, fueling the program’s rise.
“It’s definitely not easy to win in this conference,” Brown said. “You’ve got to put all the work in and be prepared, and that’s kind of one of our sayings is be more prepared than the other team.”
Added Peterson: “We’ve really come together as a team. When I first came here, there was kind of some loose ends. We’ve really tightened things up around here.”
Idaho at Northern Colorado, 1 p.m. Saturday
The Vandals (2-2) open Big Sky play a week after beating conference rival and No. 11 Eastern Washington in a nonconference game. Idaho built a 28-0 halftime lead and held on 35-27.
Wide receiver Jeff Cotton leads the Big Sky with 9.5 receptions per game and 107.3 receiving yards per game. Linebacker Tre Walker averages a conference-best 11 tackles per game. And linebacker Charles Akanno was named the FCS National and Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week after contributing nine tackles, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and three quarterback hurries against Eastern.
Northern Colorado is 0-4. The game is available on Pluto TV.
Portland State at Idaho State, 3 p.m. Saturday
The Vikings (2-2) and Bengals (1-2) have combined for losses to FBS teams Boise State, Arkansas and Utah. Idaho State has won this Big Sky matchup the past two years, scoring 48 and 59 points. Last week, Idaho State took a 6-3 lead into the fourth quarter at Northern Iowa but lost 13-6.