As is often the case, the unit that takes the longest to rebuild is the offensive line. Seven years ago Idaho had three future NFL linemen on the starting unit (Jake Scott and Rick DeMulling drafted by Colts, plus free agent Patrick Venzke). It has taken years to rebuild the depth chart, but with mountainous guard MIKE IUPATI among its emerging leaders, the Vandal line is getting back to form.
In 2004 Idaho took the field at Bronco Stadium as one of the youngest teams in America (17 true freshmen saw action that year) in the season opener for both schools. Back then, Idaho's offensive line depth chart was so thin - rail thin is probably a more accurate description - that TWO true freshmen offensive linemen (current senior Marcis Fennell and Desmond Clark) saw significant playing time on the Vandal line.
That won't be the case this Saturday.
This time around, Idaho won't be forced to field a single true freshman up front. It has taken years to rebuild this depth chart, but the results of the rebuilding effort are becoming evident:
- This year's unit has paved the way for Idaho's first 1000-yard rusher in nearly five years (including leading the way for a total of 1,525 yards on the ground so far this season).
- Despite two new starters (left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Billy Bates), and learning their third offensive package in three years (under their third OL coach), as this season has progressed the Vandal offensive line has earned praise within the WAC and media as an emerging, talented group.
- With the passing game searching for rhythm and consistency (freshman quarterback throwing to freshmen and sophomore receivers), defenses are loading the box and forcing Idaho's five to battle eight.
The unit consists of two three-year starters (center Adam Korby and left tackle Kris Anderson), two linemen splitting playing time at right guard (Adam Juratovac and Marcis Fennell), and two new starters (left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Billy Bates). The unit will lose just one to graduation (senior Marcis Fennell), features two who started as true freshmen (Bates and Fennell), and the depth chart backing up the starters is solidifying.
Below is a rare photo gallery focused exclusively on the offensive line.
6-1, 302, Senior
The elder statesman. This weekend will be a bit of "homecoming" of sorts for Marcis. Four years ago, in the season opener at Bronco Stadium, he made his debut in a Vandal uniform as one of TWO true freshmen on the Vandal offensive line. Through it all Marcis has been one of Idaho's top offensive linemen each of the last four years, and even toyed with the possibility of moving to the defensive line. This season he has started five of Idaho's first ten games and played in all. He is the only senior on the Vandal line, and has been a leader all year. (Signed in the same class as Korby and Anderson)
6-6, 288, Junior
One of the top high school prospects coming out Oregon as a senior, Billy was called into action as a true freshman at left tackle in 2005 in a game against the Washington Huskies. Billy went on to start two more games for the Vandals that season before being sidelined with a hand injury. Last fall as a true sophomore he was one of Idaho's top backups at tackle, and this past spring and fall won a spirited battle with redshirt freshman Kellen Beam (6-7, 285) for the starting nod at tackle. He has started every game this fall and has battled through his share of bumps and bruises. (Signed in the same class as Juratovac)
6-3, 297, RS-Sophomore
Adam joined the starting line last season as a redshirt freshman (coming off a redshirt year in which he was named the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year), earning the starting nod in 10 games and splitting reps with Marcis Fennell. This fall, despite an injury to his hand earlier in the season, Adam has started five of the first ten games (including the season opener at USC) and played in all ten.
6-3, 299, Junior
Mr. Versatility. As a redshirt freshman in 2005, Kris was Idaho's starting right guard. As a sophomore, he was Idaho's starting right tackle. And this season he made the move over to left tackle after making the move during spring drills. He's battled through several injuries all year, and hasn't missed a single start this. The only position Kris hasn't started in his career at Idaho is center.
6-6, 320, Junior
He may be one of the hardest hitting linemen the Vandals have had in a long, long time. Big Mike is a walking highlight reel - a bit of a rarity among linemen - characterized by impressive power in the two sequences below. Although this is his first year as a starter at Idaho, he plays like a veteran. In fact, he brings so much to the Vandal trenches that he also lines up occasionally on the defensive line.
6-3, 297, Junior
Named Idaho's Iron Man Award recipient two years in a row. Adam hasn't missed a single game in three years at Idaho. In addition, Korby has been named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List (the Rimington Trophy honors the top collegiate center in America) each of the last two seasons. This fall he was named a team captain, and as the quarterback of the Vandal O-Line is responsible for making the calls up front.