C of I vs Eastern Oregon  FOOTBALL

College of Idaho running back Nick Calzaretta evades the grasp of Eastern Oregon defensive lineman RJ Thorne on Aug. 31 at Simplot Stadium in Caldwell.

CALDWELL — After running for 247 yards last week in a 28-14 win at Montana Tech, Nick Calzaretta says he didn’t feel tired. The College of Idaho running back has been through worse.

“I wasn’t too tired, because it wasn’t hot,” said Calzaretta. “The game before was way hotter.”

Sure enough, the game time temperature on Saturday was 70 degrees, a full 20 degrees cooler than it was for kickoff at Simplot Stadium the week before during a win against Eastern Oregon. During that Aug. 31 game, it was even warmer on the field.

But the College of Idaho junior also had it worse last year, when multiple injuries hampered his production. Fully healthy entering this year, Calzaretta has lit a spark in the Yotes’ run game. Entering Saturday’s game against Southern Oregon, Calzaretta has rushed for 371 yards, which ranks second in the NAIA, only behind Louis Quinoes, of Valley City State (N.D.). But, more important for Calzaretta at 724 yards and 362 yards per game, the Yotes (2-0) have the top rushing offense in the country.

“That’s who we are. I like to say we’re a ground and pound team,” said Calzaretta. “We’re physical and a ‘we don’t care if you know where the ball is going, you’re not going to stop it’ kind of team. We pride ourselves on that.”

The 247 yards that Calzaretta gained against Montana Tech was the third-highest single game total in College of Idaho history and the most since Ted Martin ran for 267 yards against Idaho State in 1953. Tom Winbigler, who ran for 297 yards against British Columbia in 1948, holds the school record.

In the 48-12 win against Eastern Oregon, Calzaretta ran for 124 yards. In 42 carries this season, he has yet to be stopped behind the line of scrimmage.

“I’d like to say he finds the holes easy, but that doesn’t happen every time,” said offensive lineman Josh Brown. “Nick’s a really talented guy. Even Justin Hellyer and the other running backs we have, they’re really talented. So even if we can make just a little gap, they’ll be able to squeak through and just go.”

As funny as it may sound, having a running back lead the rushing game is a bit of a novelty for the Yotes. Since returning from a 37-year hiatus in 2014, the quarterback has led the Yotes in rushing yards in four of the past five seasons.

Quarterback Darius-James Peterson — who has led the Yotes in rushing the last three years and is 471 yards shy of Winbigler’s career record of 3,321 yards — is second on the team with 169 yards. But a 16-yard run on the season’s first play from the line of scrimmage showed that Calzaretta is the featured runner on this team, and he hasn’t slowed down since, scoring two touchdowns.

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“I think we’ve got things in the scheme that fit his abilities,” said College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski. “He’s a downhill runner and we’re just putting him in situations where he can excel. That’s our number one goal of our offensive coaches and the way we try to construct things.”

Calzaretta is already nearly three-quarters of the way to matching the 509 yards rushing he had last season as a sophomore. He had hoped last season would be a breakout year after running for 522 yards as a freshman, but the week before the season opener, he sprained his left ankle.

Calzaretta played through the ankle sprain, but took a hit in the second game of the season against Montana Tech and broke his left hand.

That injury caused Calzaretta to miss the following week at Southern Oregon, but he played the final eight games of the season while nursing both injuries. He said he didn’t really feel like he was able to get his game going.

“With one hand, I had to focus a lot more on ball security than passing through the secondary,” Calzaretta said. “I didn’t have a free hand to stiff arm, or anything. It changed the way I ran, it changed the way I played completely. All I can say is I’m very happy that’s in the past.”

Even with the broken hand in 110 carries over the final eight games of the season, Calzaretta didn’t fumble the ball once. And as the season progressed, so did his production. Through the first six games for the Yotes, five of which he played, Calzaretta had a total of 112 rushing yards without a touchdown. Over the final five games, he averaged 81 rushing yards per game and had two scores.

“He’s a tough guy, he really is,” said Moroski. “He loves to play, he loves to carry the ball and he’s determined not to let anything get in the way. He takes care of himself extremely well. Last year he had some freakish things, that broken bone in his hand. ... But he does not miss. He’s resilient, he’s tough.”

He said the injuries started healing towards the end of the season and once the Yotes got to the offseason, he started feeling a real difference. He says he entered the 2019 season fully healthy and ready to take the lead in the running game.

And if the first two games are any indication, the Yotes have a strong leader in that aspect.

“I’m just playing football out there,” Calzaretta said. “It’s just awesome, you don’t have to think about any of that stuff, just go have fun and play ball.”

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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