Three weeks have passed since the Sun Belt announced that Idaho’s football program will not be a member of the conference after the 2017 season.
Coach Paul Petrino spoke about the ouster publicly for the first time Tuesday.
He said the news has not had a negative impact on the program, which is now debating FBS independence or a return to the FCS Big Sky.
“I think our guys are doing a great job of just working hard and worrying about next year, that’s it,” Petrino said.
Petrino, entering his fourth season with the Vandals, said most teams at Idaho’s level recruit “one year out,” so the possibility of moving to the FCS and a reduction in scholarships from 83 to 65 isn’t yet an issue.
“You think ahead ... but right now we’re just going about our business to be the best you can be, get better every single day and control what we can control,” he said.
Petrino did not answer specifically when asked his preference on whether the Vandals should go independent or accept an invitation to the Big Sky. “You make the best of it and you move forward,” he said.
Petrino reportedly turned down a chance to be the offensive coordinator at Louisville, where his brother Bobby is the head coach.
Being voted out of the Sun Belt could create extra motivation this fall, Petrino said. Idaho opens at Montana State on Sept. 1 and plays an eight-game league schedule.
“I think you use it as, ‘Let’s go out there, let’s compete, let’s make sure that we get two more years to play these guys ... and get after it every single game we play,’” Petrino said. “I don’t know if you use it in the big picture right now, but you might use it game to game.”
LINEHAN OUT FOR SPRING
Junior quarterback Matt Linehan, who threw for 2,972 yards with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while adding five rushing touchdowns last season, is out with a foot injury.
Petrino said Linehan played with the injury last year and did not say what the specific injury was, but expects him to be healthy this summer. Linehan missed one game last season with an ankle injury.
Six-foot-6 sophomore Jake Luton (five rushing TDs last season) will take most of the first-team snaps this spring, with additional work for redshirt freshman Gunnar Amos.
“He’s in a boot right now, so this spring it’ll be Jake,” Petrino said. “It’s something he showed great toughness and played a lot with last year. They fixed it up here in the offseason, so he won’t take any reps this spring.”
KEY POSITIONS TO WATCH
Petrino said he expects Idaho to compete for a bowl game, and with the talent the Vandals have returning, especially on the offensive side of the ball, it’s a realistic goal.
Linehan and Luton return, as do four starting offensive linemen, two tight ends and every wide receiver who made a catch in the final five games of last season. Two opening-day starters who missed most of the season with injuries also return.
“I’m just real excited going into the third spring because there are so many guys who have played football for us already,” Petrino said.
Running back Elijhaa Penny (1,159 yards, 10 TDs on the ground) must be replaced. Junior Aaron Duckworth (348 career rushing yards) and sophomore Isaiah Saunders will get first crack.
“Both Duckworth and Saunders did a great job this offseason of getting stronger and faster,” Petrino said.
Defensively, top pass rusher Quinton Bradley departs, as do three of the top four linebackers, though Kaden Elliss showed massive potential as a freshman with 83 tackles (8.0 for loss). Veterans like junior safety Jordan Grabski and senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan, who missed a bulk of last season, give a boost to the secondary, which returns nearly everyone.
“Definitely the defensive front. I think linebacker’s another position — you’ve got some really good players coming back, but also lost a couple guys that played a lot of snaps for us,” Petrino said.
Petrino has hired Troy Purcell as inside linebackers coach after he won three state titles in a decade at Bozeman (Mont.) High.
His hiring fills the staff slot vacated when quarterbacks coach Bryce Erickson took the head coaching job at Lake City High.
Wide receivers coach Charley Molnar shifts to coaching the quarterbacks, while Petrino said he will take over coaching receivers.
Spring football dates in Idaho
- Idaho practices begin at 5:30 p.m. MT Thursday. The Vandals will practice Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays the next five weeks, concluding with the spring game at 7 p.m. MT April 22 in the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.
- Idaho State began spring practices March 15 and will scrimmage April 9, 16 and 23 (spring game).
- Boise State’s open scrimmage is April 2 and the spring game is April 9. Both start at 5 p.m. in Albertsons Stadium.