Momentum: The RBs & H-Backs for 2005

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At the beginning of last season it was common knowledge that Idaho's depth at runningback would be young and inexperienced. With just one returning back with any game experience at all, Idaho would be looking for at least one of the freshmen to step up. Little did we know TWO would stand up to the challenge. In this installment of our spring preview we take a look at the Vandal runningbacks and H-backs for 2005.


Lumbala on the move.
When Idaho's 31st head football coach, Nick Holt, began his career at Idaho last year he repeatedly claimed throughout spring and fall that if a true freshman was ready to go, he'd play. Many Vandal fans, including several that run this site, just sat back and said "yeah, sure" at the prospect of 10 or 12 playing.

We then watched as 17 true freshmen took the field for Idaho last fall. Not only did they play, many did particularly well. Stunned, we also watched as 2 of those 17 true freshmen, Jayson Bird (Shelley, ID) and Rolly Lumbala (Alberta, Canada) carried the rock for the Vandals and quickly developed into a startling 1-2 combination. For the first time in almost half a decade, not only do Idaho fans get the luxury of watching these players perform next year, but they are just beginning what will hopefully be a long, rewarding 4-year career for both.


Greer against Wazzu '04.
But first there are some key player moves to update. In this edition we cover both the running back and H-back positions. H-backs are incorporated into this group because they have some functions that include the Vandal backfield. Idaho will be completely rebuilding the H-back depth chart in 2005, and will be rebuilding it with 2 names Vandal fans should be familiar with: Keith Greer and Tim Bertalot. Keith continues to battle back from the season ending injury he suffered in the opener against WSU in 2003 and is making steady progress. He worked non-contact drills with the team last spring, then during the early part of last season saw playing time in several games. He missed the latter part of the season, but is set to be back on the field in '05. We all salute his effort.

Joining Keith at H-back will be Tim Bertalot, a 5th year senior out of Central Catholic High School in Portland. Tim has worked his entire UI career on defense, signing as a LB and moving to DE and eventually DT over the course of the last 2 years. He takes his game to the offensive side of the ball this spring for the first time since occasionally lining up as a fullback for CCHS.

The only recent loss to the depth chart this spring is Akeem Anthony, who will not be participating in spring drills and will likely not be returning for the '05 season. Also not listed in the depth chart is Cliff Mason, a runningback out of California who played as a true freshman in 2003. Cliff hung-up the cleats mid-way through last season and is not expected back for 2005.

Below we take a closer look at each position, focusing on the returners, transfers, and redshirt freshmen expected to compete for playing time at RUNNING BACK and H-BACK this spring. Each player is listed showing their class rank NEXT SEASON (i.e. running back Rolly Lumbala will be a true-sophomore next fall).




RUNNINGBACKS

If there is a single position on the entire Vandal depth chart (offense or defense) that benefited the most from last year's freshman class, it's very likely the running back unit. This group saw 2 true freshmen (Jayson Bird and Rolly Lumbala) sky-rocket to the top of the chart, with another touted freshman recruit (Devon Sturdivant) redshirted who could arrive in '05 and make an equally impressive splash. Surrounding the freshmen are upper classmen who give this chart some of the best depth the unit has had, top-to-bottom in….forever. Literally. You pretty much have to go back to the tandem of Joel Thomas and Sherriden May of the mid-90s to find a Vandal backfield that went 2-deep with a potent 1-2 punch.

Collectively the returners accounted for 1,546 yards of the 1,776 yards gained by Idaho last season on the ground behind an offensive line that also boasted 2 true freshmen seeing significant playing time. This, plus the players coming in, offer plenty of optimism for 2005.

But before we go heaping too many accolades on this group, there is one key component to keep in mind. Most of these players have been at the University of Idaho for just 7 months. What that means is that although this group is impressively gifted and talented, they are still young. This is the first spring season at Idaho for the vast majority of this group, and there is still a lot to learn.

This group could be joined in the fall by high school athlete JASON BROWN (6-2, 200, 4.5-40), although he is could fit in at DB instead. Regardless, this feature focuses on the unit working on campus this spring, and will be updated when the new recruits arrive in fall.


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Jayson Bird, 6-0, 220, True-Soph
What an entrance. Jayson Bird was a highly regarded prospect in the state of Idaho (3A Player of the Year, 3A State sprint Champion, 3A State Wrestling Champion). But RBs from Shelley (ID) don't typically garner much press beyond our borders. He should now. The 6-0, 220 pound speedster (4.4 - 40 in HS) burst onto the 1-A scene with a 70 yard explosion in the season opener and never looked back. He gained 859 yards last year as a true frosh, which includes missing the finale at Hawai'i and not being the "featured" back until the 3rd game of the season. He averaged 5.7 yards per touch, scored 8 TDs, and averaged 78 yards per game. He was voted the Offensive Player of the Year at the end of the season, boasts a 550+ pound squat, and will be one of the keys to Idaho's success in 2005.


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Rolly Lumbala, 6-2, 240, True-Soph
Few outside of the Vandal coaching staff and those close to the program saw this coming. Rolly Lumbala, who was born in Africa and raised in Alberta, Canada powered his way into the Vandal 2-deep rotation last fall as a true freshman, showing impressive burst for a back his size. Operating behind an OL that was often patched together (regularly sporting 2 true freshmen as well) Rolly gained 614 yards in 12 games, scored 6 TDs, had a long of 34 yards, and averaged 4.4 yards per carry. His most impressive stat may be that he lost just 16 yards all season. Like Bird, Rolly (pronounced Roll-ee) and his continued development will be key to Idaho's success in 2005.


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Antwaun Sherman, 5-7, 175, Sr
Antwaun Sherman walked on this past fall at Idaho out of San Francisco Community College and immediately earned playing time. He started the season working with the CBs, but by season's end he had moved into the RB rotation. He came to Idaho as a 2-sport athlete, competing in track and football. He has recorded a 10.6 - 100 on the track, and returned a kick against UL-Lafayette 100 yards for a touchdown for Idaho in '04. His breakaway speed offsets the power running of Lumbala and the power/speed combo of Bird. In 2005 Sherman gained 73 yards on 11 carries, averaging 6.6 yards per carry with a long of 19 yards. As a kick returner he averaged 31.4 yards on 10 returns.


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Devon Sturdivant, 5-10, 210, REDSHIRT FR
We've read Devon described in multiple publications as a "raw" talent, given the fact he's only played football for a couple years. It's his pure athleticism that sets him apart though. As a junior at Timberline High School in 2002, his first full year of football, Devon ran for 1,100 yards including 9 touchdowns of 40 yards or more. As a senior he churned out 1200 yards and 15 TDs. He was one of the state's top wrestlers in the 215 pound classification, and was a state finalist sprinter. Since joining the team at mid-year, he's continued to show great promise as a strong, explosive back for the Vandals (recording among other things a 475-pound squat).

Ashanti Hicks, 6-0, 200, Jr TRANSFER WALKON
Ashanti Hicks joined the Vandals last fall as a transfer out of Santa Barbara Community College. We don't have a tremendous amount of information on the Borah High School (Boise, ID) product, but we know that he reportedly looked very solid on the Vandal scout team last fall and should be in the thick of competition for playing time in '05.

Nathan Holder, 6-1, 200, REDSHIRT FR WALKON
A graduate of Issaquah High School (WA), Nathan walked on at Idaho last spring and worked with the scout team this past fall. He trained with the track team in the spring of 2004 after transferring to Idaho out of Penn State (he reportedly did not play football for the Nittany Lions).

Jimmy Hegbloom, 5-10, 194, RS-Fr WALKON
A three-year starter at runningback for Mullan High School, Jimmy Hegbloom walked on at Idaho last fall and redshirted. His high school career was impressive, including as a senior being chosen by The Idaho Statesman as the Class 1A Player of the Year and a 1st Team All State RB selection. He was described by his HS coach as "the complete package." And for good reason. From an article in The Spokesman Review: "Hegbloom literally carried Mullan on his back to the state semis, rushing for a school-record 2,495 yards on 196 carries and 42 TDs. Many of those yards came in games that were called by halftime because of the 45-point mercy rule. In an 88-64 win over St. Regis, Mont., Hegbloom had 447 yards and seven TDs." Not a bad walkon...





H-BACKS

What the heck is an H-Back? We've heard it mentioned a lot over the years, but it's a loosely defined position and one that seems to vary from offense to offense. Former Utah head coach Urban Meyer's offense has a receiver (the H receiver) go in motion in the backfield on virtually every play, setting him up for several shovel passes (in the Fiesta Bowl Utah's H receiver torched Pitt for over 15 catches and 198 yards on mostly short passes). The H-Back, in most offenses, isn't quite this dynamic. The H-back term came into existence (as close as we can tell) with the advent of the west coast offense, and is a hybrid fullback/tight-end position that came to prominence in the NFL with Don Coryell and Joe Gibbs among a few others. From one website: The H-Back often will line up off the end of the line (can line up next to the TE, on the opposite side of the line as the TE, or be out there without a TE at all), though occasionally as an offset fullback, and can give the offense an extra blocker on running plays or an extra receiver on passing plays (or an extra blocker on passing plays...pretty crafty). We believe the following statement to be true: An H-Back is NOT a "halfback". We've seen several instances in which the "H" refers to "hybrid", though few seem to agree on that either.

Regardless, the position was manned last year by seniors Willie Sipoloa and Brian Yarno, and this year will be stocked with a completely new depth chart. Topping the list is the return of junior Keith Greer who has done a miraculous job to continue his rehab from post-surgical complications a year and a half ago, and now appears in position to rejoin the Vandal football team this spring. He'll be joined by former LB/DE/DT Tim Bertalot, a senior out of Portland making his debut on the Vandal offense this spring. Also joining the group will be 2 new Vandals in redshirt walkon Joel Jones (Mark Morris HS in Longview, WA) and spring freshman walkon Travis Sinclair (Worland HS in Wyoming).

This group is expected to be joined in the fall by HS graduate EDDIE WILLIAMS (6-2, 228). But until he gets to Moscow, we'll focus on the unit working on campus this spring.


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Keith Greer, 6-2, 250, Junior
This is definitely one of the "feel good" stories of spring 2005. Keith suffered a serious leg injury in the 2003 season opener against Wazzu, and complications from the surgical procedure almost cost Keith his life. But this former National Fab 50 tightend out of California powerhouse Mater Dei High School continues to fight back. He saw occasional duty last fall, particularly in the early part of the season, and now appears poised to continue his return to the gridiron as an H-Back in the '05 Vandal offense. He began his career at Idaho in 2002 seeing duty as the team's #2 TE as a true freshman. By opening week '03 he was listed as the starter at FB (in part to get both he and TE Luke Smith-Anderson on the field at the same time) and appeared ready for a breakout year until the previously mentioned injury. Keith will give this position some nice size, good hands, and an athlete familiar with both the TE and FB roles in an offense.


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Tim Bertalot, 6-1, 248, Senior
Our previous edition mentioned that senior Tim Bertalot would be making the switch this spring to H-Back, and he joins junior Keith Greer as the most senior Vandals in the unit. To our knowledge this will be the first time Tim has lined up on the offensive side of the ball in his 4-year career in Moscow, other than on special teams where he worked the Vandal line on the punt team. At Portland's Central Catholic High School where he earned All Conference honors 3 consecutive years as a defensive end, the former team captain occasionally lined up as a fullback in short yardage situations, a role that may not be too far out of the realm of possibility in '05.

Joel Jones, 6-1, 213, REDSHIRT-FRESHMAN WALKON
Named to The Daily News All Area Football Team in 2003 as an honorable mention defensive back, Joel Jones was an invited walkon in 2004 and was listed as a linebacker for his redshirt season at Idaho. This spring he moves over to the offensive side of the ball, which should not be a stretch for the 2-way starter (runningback / defensive back) for Mark Morris High School in Longview, WA.

Travis Sinclair, 6-0, 220, FR MID-YEAR WALKON
A graduate of Worland High School, Travis Sinclair played in the 31st Annual Big Horn Classic (Wyoming) Shrine Bowl All-Star Football Game, in June 2004 at Harry Geldien Stadium in Casper. Travis comes to Idaho from a powerhouse high school program in Worland. His senior year in 2003 the Warriors placed 6 athletes on the Class 4A (state's second largest division) All State team, including Travis being selected as an All State runningback. Worland High didn't lose a single regular season game in 2002 or 2003 (posting 10-0 records both years), and was a 3-time Wyoming State Champion. Also in the tradition of latest Vandal recruits, Travis is a solid wrestler having competed in the Wyoming State Championship Tournament in 2003 in the 189 pound classification winning 2 matches in the tourney. He also threw the shot, among other events, in track.


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