CALDWELL — Amid a round of applause, the College of Idaho’s first football team in 37 years jogged around the perimeter of Symms Field, a thank-you tribute to the fans who bared a chilly Saturday morning and flooded the sidelines.
Minutes earlier, the 15th and final practice of the spring concluded for the Coyotes, who donned white or purple jerseys with gold helmets and smacked pads in a full-contact scrimmage. There were athletic catches by Isaac Gonzalez and Charlie Shepherd, sound defensive plays from Brock Hulsey and shouts from a pack of exuberant Yotes who are counting down the days until the Sept. 6 opening game at Pacific University.
“I knew there was going to be quite a few people here today. Seeing the turnout, it’s an exciting feeling,” said freshman defensive back Cory Brady, a Bishop Kelly High alum. “It’s awesome to see all the support that we have, this whole entire community backing us.”
Prior to the 1960s, the Yotes played their home football games on the patch of grass that extends from the softball field to the lower foot of the construction area for the Marty Holly Athletics Center. On Saturday, 55 student-athletes scrimmaged on portions of the sod where legend R.C. Owens honed his skills prior to an NFL tenure with the San Francisco 49ers.
Tight end Marcus Lenhardt (Eagle High) recorded the first touchdown of the day on a 12-yard reception — and it’s fitting, considering he was the first Yotes recruit to sign a Frontier Conference letter of intent 14 months ago.
“It’s a lot of fun to put on a little show for these guys,” said Lenhardt, who had 27 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns as a senior at Eagle High. “A lot of hard work paid off.”
Lenhardt is one of the “role models” who C of I coach Mike Moroski will likely rely upon to guide the next batch of recruits. Fifty-five more players will arrive for fall camp in August.
Moroski, who spent 25 years at UC Davis (17 years as offensive coordinator), is delighted by the support and enthusiasm for a reinstated Yotes program that disbanded in 1977. He cited the passionate play of his players and raved about the number of people in attendance at Symms Field.
“There was more than we ever had for a spring game at UC Davis,” said Moroski, a former NFL quarterback who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1979. “It’s a great place. I’m proud to be here.”
GORDON ‘THE GUY TO BEAT’: Junior quarterback Teejay Gordon (5-foot-11) flashed glimpses of the record-breaking skills he brings from Modesto Junior College (Manteca, Calif.).
Gordon completed 6 of 12 passes for 80 yards Saturday. He hit Gonzalez and Nick Chambard for first-down gains and connected with Lenhardt on a scoring strike.
Gordon also rushed seven times for 35 yards and a touchdown, part of the dual athleticism that made him a first-team all-state selection the past two years (California Community College Athletic Association Region I).
“You can take this as an announcement if you want: He’s the guy,” Moroski said of Gordon, one of four quarterbacks on the spring roster. “He’s the guy to beat.”
FORSE AMONG OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Tight end Andy Forse (Caldwell High) caught three passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Zach Garzoli had eight carries for 57 yards.
Gonzalez, a long jumper on the Yotes’ track and field team, unleashed a 27-yard gain on a swing pass from Gordon. It featured an athletic juke to make a defender miss along with the wheels that compose his 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
“He’s an explosive guy,” Moroski said.
Freshman quarterback Tim Olson completed 10 of 19 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown versus one interception. The 6-foot-4 alum of Kendrick High completed the longest gain of the day, a 55-yard pass to Shepherd (four catches, 82 yards), who was the 1A All-Idaho Player of the Year at Salmon River High.
Quarterback Taylor Watkins closed the day with a 43-yard TD pass to Forse.
‘GREAT SPRING’ FOR HULSEY: Hulsey, who had a nerve-related injury in his lower back during the fall, started Saturday’s scrimmage with a batted pass and a tackle on consecutive plays. Later, he recovered a fumble.
“He’s had a great spring — not just a good spring, but a great spring,” Moroski said.
Defensive back Josh Lopez (Caldwell High) broke up a touchdown pass. Eric Rossman swatted a pass that fluttered and created an interception for Hunter Temple (Mountain View High), who tied Grant Darrington with a team-high seven tackles.
Jason Byce and Trevor Henderson (Vallivue High) each had six tackles and two tackles-for-loss.
HELMET LOGO UNVEILED: As practice concluded, Yotes players huddled at the end of the field while C of I officials placed a poster board atop an easel. A T-shirt covered the board. Concealed was the logo that will be placed on the golden game helmets.
Why the suspense? The logo was determined by a campus vote from the students, alumni, faculty and staff. The choices: The letters “CI” intersecting, or, a Yote head.
The T-shirt was peeled off.
And the letters of “CI” were unveiled.
“I thought it looked sharper,” Brady said. “It kind of gives an old-school feel.”