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Idaho didn’t have to go far for new coach

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at the University of Idaho.

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

When Dennis Erickson bolted Idaho after one season for the Tempe desert and Arizona State University, the Vandals didn’t look far for their new coach – eight miles to be exact.

Idaho chose Robb Akey, who served as Washington State’s defensive coordinator and defensive line coach from 2003 to 2006.

“I know Idaho and the success it has had in the past, and the great history that this program possess,” Akey said. “It’s my desire to bring back that pride back into this program and get it back to the point where it once was. I wanted to be a head coach, and if that meant going someplace else to do that it was OK. Fortunately it was only eight miles away. In my mind, I was already ready to be a head coach. I just needed to convince athletic directors I was ready.

“I’ve been in the Palouse eight years. It’s become home for me. You can’t ask for a better place to raise a family. We have the ability to eliminate the distractions of the big city, so when we bring in players they can focus on what’s important to them, and that’s getting their degree and being the best players they can be.”

Akey already has put his stamp on the program, and players know that it’s his way or the highway, no excuses. Since taking over, 17 players were dismissed from the program for various reasons.

“The distractions are out of the way,” Akey said. “It hasn’t necessarily been fun playing dean and principal, but it’s important to make it clear what we expect. It’s going to make things better here in the long run.”

“One of those was my roommate,” cornerback Stanley Franks said. “It’s hard to see it happen. It’s the business, though.”

Akey hired two new coodinators – Steve Axman on the offensive side of the ball and Mark Criner on the defensive side of the ball.

Axman, an offensive guru, has plenty of work to do on his side of the ball. The biggest task is replacing Steve Wichman at quarterback.

Nathan Enderlee, a redshirt freshman, and senior Brian Nooy are running 1-2 at that position.

“He (Enderlee) had a pretty good spring with the way he handled things,” Akey said. “He’s a quick learner. He tried to force things a couple of times last week (at the end of spring drills).

“They both bring things to the table. What I do know is that we will have a good starter and quality back-up.”

At running back, Jayson Bird (506 yards rushing, 7 TDs) and Brian Flowers (561 yards, 4 TDs) return. Deonte Jackson, a redshirt freshman, had a nice spring and could push the two returnees.

Max Komar (17-313) is the team’s leading returning receiver. Ryan Heacock (2-29), Lee Smith (7-139) and Raymond Fry (5-58) also are back. Freshmen Steve Brown, Cary Jensen-Madison, Eric Greenwood and Maurice Shaw also could see action.

Luke Smith-Anderson is gone at tight end, but Eddie Williams (7-116), Rolly Lumbala (1-9), Rick Harrison and Peter Bjorvik return.

Junior center Adam Korby anchors the line at center. Mike Iupati and either Adam Juratovac or Marcia Fennell will start at guard. The tackle spots will be manned by Kris Anderson and Kellen Beam, though Billy Bates is making a big push for playing time. This is an area where the Vandala lack depth at the present time.

On defense, the Vandals boast two of the best playmakers in the conference in cornerback Stanley Franks and linebacker David Vobora.

Franks led the NCAA in interceptions with nine for 224 return yards, while Vobora registered 134 tackles, two sacks, one interception and forced two fumbles.

“Stanley had a tremendous season last year,” Akey said. “David is a unique player. He’s a tremendous leader. He’s a player who gets himself into the right place at the right time.

“If we play good defense, it gives us a chance.”

Vybora is the leader of a talented linebacking corp, which is expected to be the strength of the team. Jo Artis Ratti (32 tackles, 2 sacks), Josh Bousman (44 tackles) and Grandon Ogletree (48 tackles, 2 sacks) also return.

The secondary, led by Franks, is thin. The other cornerback slot most likely will be manned by one of two JC transfers, T.J. Taylor and Breyon Williams. Sophomore Shiloh Keo had 72 tackles as a true freshman, second-best on the team. Chris Smith (42 tackles) is expected to start at the other safety spot. Lee Jones (2 tackles) and Brandon Nystrom are the top reserves.

A pair of three-year lettermen – defensive end Ben Alexander (32 tackles, 2 sacks) and defensive tackle Siua Musika (24 tackles) – anchor the defensive line. Tackle Josh Shaw (25 tackles) and Marcus Pedro are the other two starters up front. The back-ups have little or no experience, so Akey hopes that he can stay injury free.

Tino Amancino, the team’s place-kicker last season (12 of 17 on FGs, 23-23 PATs), and punter T.J. Conley (39.4) both return.

THE VANDAL FILE

2006 record: 4-8

Head coach: Robb Akey (first year)

Offensive starters back: 5

Defensive starters back: 7

Specialists back: 2