For College of Idaho football coach Mike Moroski, this spring was supposed to be a chance to set the Yotes up to keep things rolling after losing 24 seniors from a team that went unbeaten in the regular season last fall and advanced to the NAIA quarterfinals.
After four practices, the COVID-19 outbreak caused everything in the sports world to come to a screeching halt, spring practice included.
Now without the ability to meet face-to-face with the players, Yote coaches are finding other ways to communicate with their team during a time of year which Moroski said is crucial towards program developing.
“You can’t cry and do nothing,” said Moroski. “We’re putting together virtual presentations, we try to utilize every aspect of communications that we possibly can. We’re working full time, overtime really, to keep it going.”
The coaches are using the virtual world to hold meetings with players, install plays and go over techniques with the different position groups. Moroski said all the infrastructure and programs to do all this was already at the Yotes’ disposal, as the coaches used them to communicate with players during summers when players are back home.
“We’ve been making videos for years and years,” Moroski said. “There are a lot of different uses. But this is probably taking it to a whole new level that’s for sure.”
The College of Idaho opened spring practice March 9, coming off a season where they went 10-0 in Frontier Conference play to clinch their first league title. After falling to Grand View (Iowa) in the NAIA quarterfinals, the Yotes were looking to get things rolling for the 2020 season, which is scheduled to kick off on Sept. 5 with a game at Rocky Mountain.
But just a week into practice, the school announced it was suspending all spring athletic games and practices in an effort to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Moroski said there was a sense of disbelief among players when they found out, with a sense of sorrow for their classmates who played spring sports as well as ones on the men’s basketball team who saw their run for a national title come to a sudden stop.
“They knew they weren’t alone, but when it does hit, it’s frustrating,” Moroski said. “No one knows what’s going on, no one has a really good answer. Shoot, I was frustrated. I think everyone was frustrated. You just don’t know how it’s all going to play out.”
Even without most of their spring practices, Moroski said the week the Yotes did get in was a successful one. He said while they are a young team that still needs a lot of work, the week set them on the right track to make big strides in the spring.
“I think we’ve gotten really good at spring football, and I think the results have shown up in the last couple of years,” Moroski said. “It’s a time when you develop your younger players and you sharpen your older guys. But you also sharpen your coaching edge, which to me means reevaluate and try to do things a little better, whether it’s drills or on the scheme side of things. So spring is the time we get to retool a little bit.”
One of the biggest losses from having spring canceled may be the Yotes’ quarterback race. The College of Idaho is looking for the successor to four-year starter Darius-James Peterson, who rewrote the school record book during his time in Caldwell. Earlier this month, Peterson signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Moroski said the job is currently a three-man race between Nathaniel Holcomb, Jacob Holcomb and Ryan Hibbs. All three were getting equal time under center.
“That may be the single most frustrating thing of all,” Moroski said. “The quarterbacks all made progress, but we made no progress in determining who the starter is, or what the pecking order might be.”
Jacob Holcomb, who will be a sophomore, appeared in three games last year, throwing one pass. Nathaniel Holcomb, his brother, served at Peterson’s backup in 2018, passing for 421 yards and three touchdowns. Nathaniel Holcomb will be a junior this fall.
Hibbs, a Capital High graduate, and Michael Stuck will be redshirt freshmen.
That race — as well many other battles for playing time — will now be on hold until the fall.
“I think this will be a training camp for the ages, at least that’s how I’m approaching things,” Moroski said. “I told the team, it’s definitely the toughest test in my coaching career, how we navigate this. Then we also gave them some of the responsibility, which they welcomed. It’s a big test for them, too.”