CALDWELL — J.T. Mahon got the news while he was in a hotel room in Butte, Montana.
At 8 p.m., the night before the College of Idaho football team’s game against Montana Tech, the sophomore received a call from College of Idaho athletic director Reagan Rossi informing him that his transfer transcripts had arrived from the University of Idaho. He was eligible to play against the Orediggers.
“It was a huge relief off my shoulders, I was free,” Mahon said. “My chains were broken. I felt free, played my heart out, had a couple big plays there and I had fun playing football again.”
For Mahon, just the chance to be back on the football field was the reason he came to Caldwell in the first place. The 2016 Wendy’s Idaho High School Heisman Award winner from Council High tried his hand at Division I football in Moscow. But after seeing he wouldn’t have as big of a role as he had hoped, he transferred to the College of Idaho.
His transcripts got lost in the mail, causing him to miss the Yotes’ opener against Eastern Oregon. But since getting the green light at the final hour before their second game, he’s given the Yotes’ defensive line a new dimension.
Heading into Saturday’s game at Rocky Mountain, the defensive end leads the Yotes (3-0, 3-0 Frontier Conference) with three sacks in two games. Those three sacks, combined, have resulted in a loss of 45 yards.
“He’s a high-energy guy and a super positive guy,” said College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski. “He loves to play, loves to practice. And we got a critical mass of those guys, but he really does stick out.”
Mahon had a 13-yard sack late in the first half of the 28-14 win at Montana Tech, which put the Orediggers well out of field goal range. In the Yotes’ 41-38 win against Southern Oregon two weeks ago, he had an 8-yard sack on third down to end the Raiders’ first drive, then was credited on a 24-yard sack on a botched snap in the second quarter which moved the ball from the Yotes’ 12-yard line to the 36.
“If I could figure it out, I’d be using it a lot more,” joked senior defensive end Landon Clark-Gammell when asked what Mahon was doing so well. “He’s relentless, he’s strong and has some great moves.”
It was those skills that attracted college scouts to him while he was at Council High. The College of Idaho was the first to offer him. But preferred walk on offers to Idaho, Idaho State and Boise State all looked attractive to him.
Since both of his parents were University of Idaho graduates and he qualified for an alumni scholarship, the Vandals were his choice. He redshirted during the 2017 season, then played in three games on special teams last season.
While former Idaho eight-man football players like Leighton Vander Esch (Salmon River High) and fellow Council High graduate Matt Paradis have made their mark in the NFL, Mahon was just looking for a place he could play football for four years. Anything beyond that, was a bonus.
But after two years he began to see the writing on the wall and realized the Vandals weren’t going to utilize him as much as he hoped. Mahon decided to enter the transfer portal.
“They were going to have me in a minimal role,” said Mahon. “They were bringing in guys and putting them in over me after I was working my butt off throughout the spring. I felt like they were cutting me a short stick, so I just kind of took matters into my own hands.”
After entering the portal, he sent a text message to College of Idaho defensive coordinator Chris Jewell informing him he was interested in taking a visit. Mahon made the trip to Caldwell in May, and by the time he left campus was all in on the College of Idaho.
“We’re just glad to have him,” Moroski said. “I think he’s having the time of his life, being able to be on the field. He’s fit in with the guys so well, he’s just a great person, great guy. I couldn’t have hand picked a better guy to add to the team.”
But Mahon had to make one more change to get on the field. He came in as a linebacker, where he had played his entire career. With the Yotes playing just two linebackers on the field, there was a logjam for playing time there.
So at the suggestion of Jewell, he moved to the defensive end position where the Yotes had less depth.
“The first couple of day were a little rough,” Mahon said about the transition. “I was reading and it was like ‘don’t read, just go.’ So I was like ‘okay, I can do that.’ So the first couple of days were a little rough, but after that it was easy money rolling from there.”
Mahon has worked his way into the defensive end rotation, and has seven tackles. He also has a forced fumble.
The Yotes are hoping to see a lot more of that from him over the next three years. Mahon is just happy to finally be playing football again.
“It’s fun to get back in the groove,” he said. “I’m going from a small school playing every down of the game, then going up to Idaho — redshirt year sitting in the stands, then just playing special teams — it was kind of a culture shock seeing if this is what I want to do. Then I come down here and Coach Jewell gave me an opportunity to play.”