CALDWELL — A year ago, the College of Idaho entered fall camp with high expectations, being picked third in the Frontier Conference preseason poll and receiving votes in the NAIA preseason poll.

They opened the season 0-5.

The preseason hype surrounding the Yotes is even higher this year, and the team is hoping to apply the lessons it learned from dealing with the preseason hype last year into this season.

“We know going into the season, we’ve got the toughest schedule in all the nation,” said senior quarterback Darius-James Peterson. “Every week we have a tough team ahead of us and any team can win. We have to go into every game focused just like the week before.”

The Yotes started fall practice on Sunday, in preparation for their Aug. 31 opener against Eastern Oregon at Simplot Stadium. They enter practice as the preseason favorites to win the Frontier Conference, and for good reason.

After their 0-5 start to the 2019 season, the College of Idaho was able to get things on track and finished the season on a six-game winning streak. That entire group is nearly back too, with 20 returning starters, including all 11 from an offense which led the Frontier Conference in rushing and was third in scoring with 30.9 points per game.

The Yotes were ranked No. 15 in the NAIA preseason rankings, the first time the program has ever started the season as a ranked team.

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Yote players admit, the newfound respect is nice, but at the end of the day, respect doesn’t win games. The players say that they know they have to back that respect up on the field, otherwise it means nothing.

They learned that painful lesson last season.

“I don’t doubt at all we could definitely win this tough conference,” said senior defensive lineman Daniel Garcia. “After seeing what we were able to do last year, it could definitely happen this year. But we can’t have a bad start to it.”

Their first game is less than three weeks away. A Frontier Conference rule enacted last season allows teams to start practice 20 days before their first game. That means coaches have to make the most of all 20 of those days to get everything installed for the season opener.

“It means every day counts, that’s for sure,” said College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski. “I think even if you had 25 days or 30 days, or whatever they have at the NCAA Division I (level), you know the old adage, ‘If you’re not going forward, you’re certainly not standing still.’ So it’s on the coaches and we have to make decisions when to temper the pace. But our goal is to go hard for eight days, so these first eight days are critical.”

The College of Idaho plays a 10-game schedule this season, as opposed to the 11-game schedule they’ve played in previous years. With no non-conference game on the slate, every game the Yotes play this year will help determine where they sit in the league standings.

“We’re just trying to go to the first game,” said senior tight end Keegan Crafton. “August 31, that’s what we’re focused on.”

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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