Spring Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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In 2004 one of the things the receiving corp focused on was simply catching passes. That mission was accomplished as quarterback Michael Harrington had the 2nd best single-season completion percentage EVER for an Idaho QB, completing a stellar 65.8% of his passes. Led by junior-to-be <b>Wendell Octave</b> (36 receptions in '04), Idaho will now look to stretch the field more in '05 with a mix of experienced returners and new prospects.



OUT FOR SPRING... Out for spring drills while rehabbing injuries from last season are senior WR Jeff Stowe, (6-0, 190) out of Richland High School (WA), and RS-Soph TE Dan Aizpitarte, a 6-3, 254 pound athlete out of Emmett (ID). Both are expected to be back with the team this fall.

HANGING UP THE CLEATS... We have learned that Nathan McLallin, a 5-11, 182 pound WR out of Duvall, WA who joined the team in 2003 as a JC walkon, plus 2003 recruit Chris Kehne, a 6-4, 200 pound receiver out of Temecula, CA, will not be working with the team this spring.

PLAYER UPDATE... We checked in with sources close to the program and 2004 TE signee Folau Tuione, a 6-3, 230 pound athlete out of Lawndale, CA is still on his mission and is still anticipated to rejoin the team in 2006.

PLAYER SHUFFLE... Most of the major position changes have already been announced. A subtle move last fall, however, was the transition of recruit Rick Harrison from DE to TE. A starter at Calabasas High School at both positions, Rick was originally signed at Idaho as a DE but made the switch to TE during his redshirt season. He's added 15 pounds to his frame (now 6-5, 240) and should get plenty of reps this spring.


TIGHT END

With the graduation of Brian Yarno and Willie Sipoloa, the Vandal tight end depth chart took a huge hit in experience. Fortunately, starter Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 260) returns as a solid foundation to build the chart around for the future. Luke, a Lake City High School grad, will be joined by RS-Freshman Rick Harrison (6-5, 240) out of Calabasas (CA) who worked much of his redshirt year at TE, plus gray shirt Peter Bjorvik (6-4, 245) out of Crook County (OR) this spring. Despite the youth, this is clearly the best size this unit has had in years.

Joining the tight ends in the fall will be KELLEN BEAM, a 6-7, 225 pound prospect out of Gonzaga Prep High School. But until he gets on campus, we will focus on the TE depth chart working in Moscow this spring.


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Luke Smith-Anderson, 6-5, 260, RS-Junior
Luke's career was jump-started in 2001 when he earned playing time as a true freshman, starting 2 games for the Vandals that fall. Poised for a breakout year in 2002, he went into the season atop the depth chart then was injured before the '02 season started and missed the entire season. He battled back only go down again in the '03 season opener against and again was lost for the season. After all that, he came back in '04 and had a rock solid season as Idaho's #1 TE for most of the season. He has protypical TE size at 6-5, 260 pounds, and last season finished Idaho's #4 receiver, gaining 207 yards on 16 receptions with 4 TDs (#1 on the Vandal team). He's an exceptional blocker who runs well, with his longest reception going 44 yards last fall. As a redshirt junior in '05 we anticipate Luke being an even more integral part of the Vandal offense this fall.


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Rick Harrison, 6-5, 240, REDSHIRT FRESHMAN
Originally recruited to Idaho as a DE, Rick made the switch to TE last fall during his redshirt season and reportedly did well. Praised as the "cornerstone" of a very young Calabasas defense this year by his coach, Rick (a two-way starter who also played TE) ended the year as a 1st Team All-Marmonte League selection. He was also picked as the only Calabasas High representative in the Valley Youth Conference East-West All Star game as a Defensive End (players in the game went to a variety of 1-A programs, including Florida State, WSU, Oregon State, Washington, Alabama, Fresno State, and more). Harrison received the Calabasas Andy Block Award, which recognizes players who epitomize the traits of a student-athlete.

Peter Bjorvik, 6-4, 245, GRAY SHIRT FRESHMAN
Recruited to Idaho as a TE last spring, Peter gray shirted and will be joining the team this spring. He's bulked up his frame 245 pounds and has a chance to factor heavily in the Vandal TE rotation next fall. As a high schooler Peter capped off a very successful senior year with third team all-state honors at tight end and honorable mention all-state honors as a defensive lineman. He was picked to participate in Oregon's Les Schwab Bowl game in which he blocked an extra point attempt for the South who went on to win the game. Additionally, he was first team all-IMC on offense and defense in 2003. In total, Peter has won 9 letters in football, baseball and basketball. Not bad for an honor roll student and member of the National Honor Society.



WIDE RECEIVERS

A work in progress, Idaho's continued effort to rebuild the wide receiving depth chart saw 2 true freshmen, Desmond Belton and Christian Populis, earn significant playing time last fall. Idaho's #2 receiver, Wendell Octave, was a RS-Soph in 2004, while RS-Fr Ryan Heacock had an outstanding season, including leading all Vandal receivers against Wazzu.

That aggressive rebuilding effort extends into this spring as Idaho signed 3 JC receivers (2 of which will be on campus for spring ball), plus 1 high school prospect who will join the team in teh fall, while welcoming another high school signee, Bellevue High School standout Tracy Ford from the 2004 recruiting class, who gray shirted last fall.

As is the case with so much of the entire Vandal roster, this is still a largely young and inexperienced depth chart. But the top returners from '04 all earned solid game experience last season (Octave, Belton, Populis and Heacock all played in at least 10 games) which should make this a competitive unit this spring.

The wide receivers are expected to be joined later this fall by JC transfer DeAngelo Ramsey (6-2, 210) and high school graduate Miles Robbins (5-11, 170) out of Corona, CA. However, until the new recruits get to Moscow in the fall, we will focus on the WR depth chart working on campus this spring.


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Wendell Octave, 6-1, 175, RS-Junior
As a redshirt sophomore last season, Louisiana native Wendell Octave continued to see his role in the Vandal offense increase. Listed as a starter for most of last season, he played in 9 games last season and finished 2nd among Vandal receivers with 36 receptions for 368 yards with 2 TDs and a long of 34 yards on the year. He averaged 40.9 yards per reception. In 2003 as a RS-Fr he played in 11 games and caught 19 passes for 322 yards (6th on the team back then) with 2 TDs and a long of 73 yards. Wendell is BY FAR the most experienced returner for 2005, and should factor heavily in the Vandal rotation this spring and fall.


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Desmond Belton, 6-4, 180, TRUE-SOPH
Learning under fire. As a true freshman in '04 Desmond joined the Vandal football team for fall camp and saw his playing time steadily increase, eventually being named the starter for the season finale. He finished the '04 season 5th on the team overall with 15 receptions in 12 games for 230 yards (15.3 yards per catch). He scored 1 TD and had a long reception of 43 yards. As a 2-way starter in high school back in New Jersey, he AVERAGED 23 yards per reception and led the league in interceptions. Though the competition should continue to increase this spring and fall within the WR depth chart, Desmond should continue to factor heavily in the rotation.


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Ryan Heacock, 6-0, 184, RS-SOPH
A bit of a surprise for many Vandal fans was the play of Ryan Heacock last fall as a redshirt freshman. Through 10 games he caught 10 passes for 120 yards, a long of 46 yards (against WSU) and a touchdown. His best performance of the season came at Washington State, where he led the team in receiving yards with 60 for the game on just 3 receptions and a TD. An impressive effort for the Central Valley High School (Spokane) graduate, which should help him remain in the thick of competition for playing time this fall.


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Christian Populis, 6-1, 170, TRUE-SOPH
Louisiana native Christian Populis joined the Vandals last fall and earned playing time in 10 games as a true freshman. In those games he caught 4 passes for 68 yards with a long of 26 yards. He capped off his first season in a Vandal uniform by catching a 26 yard touchdown pass in the season finale at Hawaii from classmate and fellow receiver Desmond Belton. Christian showed significant development throughout last season and should be a major factor in the wide receiver rotation this spring and fall.



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Robert Nembhard, 5-7, 165, RS-SENIOR
One of the fastest Vandals on the football team, Robert worked primarily as a scout teamer his first 3 years in the program. Last fall he was listed as senior Bobby Bernal-Woods' backup for much of the season, although he did not record any receptions on the year. As a high school athlete at Pasadena High School he was the national high school 100-meter champion in 1999. He's been a fixture on the Idaho track team as well.




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Matt Askew, 6-4, 211, Jr, JC TRANSFER
One of 3 wide receivers recruited to Idaho this spring, Matt was listed as a 3-star prospect by Scout.com. He's a tall target with good hands and nice speed who is expected to compete for playing time immediately. Listed as running a 4.6 – 40, Matt brings a nice combination of size and speed to the 2005 Vandal depth chart. A 2-way starter at DB and WR for Parkway High School (St. Louis, MO), Matt earned 2nd Team All Suburban South Conference honors as a wide receiver in 2001 as a senior.



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Daniel Smith, 6-0, 210, Jr, JC TRANSFER
Another Scout.com 3-star prospect to sign with Idaho this spring, Daniel is expected to compete immediately for playing time at WR. Voted a 2nd Team All-Western State Conference wide receiver for 2004, among Smith's season highlights is a single game performance in which he caught 4 passes for 125 yards and a pair of scores in a victory over East LA. In 2003, he caught 5 passes for 84 yards and 2 TD's in a single game. Daniel trained at the JCFootball.com SoCal combine during the summer of 2004 and reportedly was "looking smooth with good hands." Will have 2 to play 2 at Idaho.


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Tracy Ford, 5-8, 170, GRAY SHIRT FRESHMAN
A star runningback and defensive back for Bellevue High School (WA), Tracy will take his skill and reported 4.4 speed to the WR rotation this spring. Described as "tenacious" in at least one Seattle-area newspaper, Tracy amassed over 1792 yards rushing on over 156 carries for 22 touchdowns in 2003 regular season. In the playoffs Tracy stepped it up even more, amassing 192 yards on 17 carries for 2 TDs in a SINGLE playoff game. His Bellevue Wolverines went on to win their 3rd consecutive State title. He made headlines on offense (2nd Team All-State), but did some of his biggest hitting on D, where he was named 1st Team All-State as a defensive back.

Tracy McCormick, 5-8, 150, RS-SOPH WALKON
Worked the slot last spring (2004) and was listed #2 in the depth chart behind senior Jimmy Labita. In last year's Spring Game Tracy led all receivers with 87 yards on 7 receptions, including a long of 32 yards against the #1 defensive unit. He suffered an injury last fall that limited his action but is expected back this spring and will get his chance to earn playing time next fall.

Flip Kleffner, 6-1, 175, REDSHIRT FRESHMAN WALKON
A walkon out of Moscow High School, the Kleffner name goes way back at Idaho. As a quarterback for the Bears football team in 2003 Flip was as solid running the ball as he was throwing it. He walked on at Idaho in 2004 and redshirted.

Lee Smith, 6-0, 182, REDSHIRT FRESHMAN WALKON
An invited walkon out of Everett High School, Lee joined the Vandals last fall and will be working with the team this spring.





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