State Colleges

College of Idaho football begins Year 3 with loads of experience

The College of Idaho opens the 2016 at home vs. Montana Western at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Yotes have won their past two season openers since reinstating the football program in 2014.
The College of Idaho opens the 2016 at home vs. Montana Western at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Yotes have won their past two season openers since reinstating the football program in 2014. doswald@idahostatesman.com

The College of Idaho football program begins its third season since the school reinstated the program Saturday, and it’ll start the year with a bounty of returning experience.

The offense brings back six starters, and the defense fields eight with starting experience, allowing the Yotes to zoom ahead in fall practice this season.

“We’re at a stage in the program where the chemistry part of things is more in place this year than it’s ever been,” College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski said. “And that’s just because we have some experience and guys to look up to and guys who know and want the highest expectations. From that standpoint, it’s a whole different feel.”

The Yotes posted back-to-back 4-7 campaigns in their first two years, finishing in a four-way tie for fourth in the Frontier Conference last season. They finished fifth in a preseason coaches’ poll and saw a pair of players — defensive back Nate Moore (Mountain View High) and tight end Marcus Lenhardt (Eagle High) — picked by Sporting News as Preseason NAIA All-Americans.

Only defending national champ Marian (Ind.) and national quarterfinalist Saint Xavier (Ill.) also have two preseason All-Americans.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect this fall.

OFFENSE

While six starters return, the unit has to replace offensive coordinator Tim Keane, now an offensive line coach at UC Davis, and a quarterback, Teejay Gordon, who the offense centered around.

Mike Dahlen and offensive line coach Mike Cody will split the offensive coordinator duties, and sophomore Tyler Cox (Boise High) won the starting quarterback battle.

Moroski said Cox possesses the strongest grasp of the offense and brings a high IQ to the position.

“We expect him to be more of a smart decision maker in terms of running and throwing,” Moroski said. “Teejay was extraordinary. We’re not even in that mode of trying to replace him. But we think Tyler is going to enable us to do the things we want to do offensively.”

Easing Cox’s transition is three returning starters on the offensive line and the Yotes’ top six receivers from last season, including Tyler Higby (Borah High), a second-team all-conference pick despite missing half the season with an injury.

Moroski said the Yotes will take a running-back-by-committee approach in order to stay healthy, a problem the first two years. The trio includes Mike Kirby (Centennial High, Utah transfer), sophomore Colby Brown and Kellen Copeland (Timberline High, Weber State transfer).

DEFENSE

The defense took a massive step last year, rising from the conference cellar to the middle of the pack in all statistical categories. And with loads of returning experience, it’ll look to continue climbing.

The largest change comes as Moroski shifts Moore from corner, where he led the Frontier Conference with six interceptions and 22 pass breakups, to free safety.

“One, he’s the leader of the team,” Moroski explained. “Two, it’s easier to be a leader when you’re in the middle of the field. He has much more influence on more players being the safety than he is being the field corner. … It gives him a chance, I think, to even accentuate his skills.”

Leading tackler Troy Carr and Ben Ceccarelli, the fourth-leading tackler last year, hold down the two linebacker spots in the Yotes’ 4-2-5 defense. But with a couple freshmen pushing them for playing time and a defensive line rotation that measures eight-to-10 players deep, Moroski is most excited about his team’s depth.

“You need multiple guys to play the whole season,” he said. “College football is a long game and, frankly, we’ve gotten worn down at times the first two seasons.”

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

Yotes open season at home

Who: No. 25 Montana Western (1-0) at College of Idaho (0-0)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Simplot Stadium, Caldwell

Tickets: $29 reserved, $13 general admission, $11 youth general admission

Listen: 96.5 FM, 730 AM, ESPNBoise.com

Notes: The College of Idaho has won its season opener each of the past two seasons since reinstating football. But it lost to Montana Western by four points twice last season.

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