GoVandals.net Salutes the Seniors

Senior LB David Vobora

This Saturday, fourteen seniors will take the field for the last time in their playing career at Idaho, as the Vandals take on Utah State at 12:30 PM (PST) in the Kibbie Dome. The senior class includes five on offense and nine on defense. It is unlikely any class has seen so much transition at Idaho, and inside is our salute to a fantastic group of dedicated athletes.

Although this has clearly been a frustrating season for Idaho, not once have we seen the team "give up." Not that we would claim Idaho teams have done so in the past - in many cases the team had been outmatched as they continued to rebuild from the Sun Belt era. But this year's team has kept it going all game, every game, all season long. They've narrowed the gap with their competition, and the strides that this team has made in personnel, talent, hard-work and dedication is showing.

Perhaps their confidence has at time wavered. Maybe things that worked at certain times of the game didn't work at others.

But we have not seen this team throw in the towel, and that was the biggest thing we were looking for at the start of the Robb Akey era at Idaho.

A lot of that can be attributed to Coach Akey and his high-energy staff. But a lot of that also can be attributed to this year's senior class...a class that has seen more change than ANYONE would have expected them to endure in their career at Idaho.

Unlike in past years, this senior class is NOT made up primarily of fifth year seniors who were able to take advantage of their redshirt year at Idaho. Quite the opposite actually. For a majority of this group, they jumped straight from high school to collegiate competition as true freshmen in 2004, making up the largest class of true freshmen in the country to see playing time that year (17 total).


LB Brandon Ogletree
With three coaching changes in the last four years, this group has suffered from attrition as well. Of the 17 that played as true freshmen, six have made it to their senior year (Rolly Lumbala, Marcis Fennell, Siua Musika, Ben Alexander, Brandon Ogletree, and David Vobora). A seventh, Jayson Bird, redshirted during an injury-shortened 2005 season.

Among the fifth year seniors – Brian Nooy, Ryan Heacock, Lee Jones, and Josh Bousman – no class in the school's history has likely ever experienced so much transition as this group. These four redshirted the 2003 season under Tom Cable, began their playing careers as redshirt freshmen under Nick Holt in 2004, experienced the one-year-wonder of Dennis Erickson in 2006, and finally began enjoying some long-overdue stability under first-year head coach Robb Akey this season.

For both of these groups of seniors, the last four years have included some of the most significant facilities improvements in the football program at Idaho ever. They've gone from practicing on a mud-covered field in front of the Dome (or down at Guy Wicks when the mud would get so bad on the practice field that players risked injury or it was impossible to conduct a decent practice) to a pair of brand new artificial turf fields complete with lights, goal posts, permanent lines, logos, and landscaping. The weightroom has gone from a dungeon that could not support even the needs of the full team (the team had to use the room in shifts because it was so small), to a brand new weightroom complete with new equipment that is one of the nicer weightrooms in the west. The football locker room has gone from a complete afterthought – as it was before – to a brand new, state-of-the-art locker room designed to support the needs of the modern-day athlete. Training facilities have been modernized, a training table has been created, the team busses to a local hotel the night before games…everything has changed internally.

Idaho still needs to expand and modernize its football stadium to increase revenue and enhance the game-day experience. But the facilities that are used on a day-to-day basis and are absolutely required to field a competitive program have made quantum improvements in the last four years.

This group, signed before much of the improvements described above were built, has experienced ALL of that transition. Not just the coaching changes, but the internal operations changes as well.

The senior class also includes four junior college transfers – Brian Flowers, Jo'Artis Ratti, Stanley Franks, and Chris Smith – all of whom are either starters or significant role players. Two in this group – Fowers and Ratti – came to Idaho as JG Gridwire All-Americans. Franks led the nation in interceptions last year. Chris Smith has started at Free Safety for two years and rarely leaves the field defensively this year.

Below is a summary of each player, with current season stats and career recaps.


OFFENSE (5)

Marcis Fennell - Joned the Vandals in 2004 and earned playinig time as a true freshman on the Vandal offensive line that season - a truly rare occurance. He started at center that year against Troy, and has been an integral part of the Vandal offensive line ever since. He toyed with moving to the DL in 2005, and then last year and this season he split starting duties at right guard for the Vandals.

Brian Flowers - Came to Idaho as a JC Gridwire All-American out of El Camino College. He led Idaho with 580 yards rushing last year, and this season in eight games is second on the team with 307 yards on the ground (4.7 yards per carry) and one touchdown. His longest run on the year is a 37 yards burst. He also has five receptions for 53 yards.

Ryan Heacock - Ryan came to Idaho as an invited walkon in 2003 and redshirted that season. In 2004 he saw his most significant playing time, playing in 10 games and starting in four. That year his biggest game was a 3 reception, 60 yard, and one TD performance against Washington State. He earned a scholarship that season and has worked as backup each of the last three seasons.

Rolly Lumbala - Rolly, who was born in Africa and raised in Alberta, Canada, joined the Vandals in 2004 and played running back as a true freshman, splitting playing time with Jayson Bird. He gained 614 yards in 12 games, scored 6 touchdowns, and averaged 4.4 yards per carry. A versatile and hard worker, he has played an H-Back / TE position each of the last two years. This year Rolly has played in all 11 games and caught 8 passes 67 yards. Adding to his resume, Rolly was ranked the No. 26 Fullback in America by Phil Steele this preseason.

Brian Nooy - Recruited to Idaho by Tom Cable, saw his most significant action this season as he started in place of injured Nathan Enderle for three games and played admirably. In seven games total this year he has an efficiency rating of 99.40, completed 36 of 71 attempts with four interceptions and three touchdowns (389 yards on the season).


DEFENSE (9)

Ben Alexander - Joined the Vandals in 2004 and played immediately as a true freshman at linebacker, making one start at middle linebacker. He moved to defensive end as a sophomore and has split starting duties ever since. Although his injury will prevent him from playing this Saturday, he has seven starts to his credit, and in seven games has 34 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack. He has also forced a fumble.

Josh Bousman - Joined the Vandals as part of Tom Cable's last recruiting class in 2003 and redshirted. Blessed with 4.51 speed, he was a 4-time Washington Class 1A 100m Champion in High School ('00, '01,'02, and '03). In all he won 7 gold medals as a HS track star (4/100m, 1/200m, and 2/1600 relay). Since then, he's been an integral part of Idaho's defense and special teams units. Bousman has amassed 157 career tackles and started 17 games (including 7 games in 2006) for the Vandals. He moved to DE this season, and although his playing time diminished from what he saw at linebacker, he's been a leader on the team.

Stanley Franks - Stanley transferred to Idaho from Long Beach City College in 2006 as a wide receiver, moved to cornerback that spring, and went on to lead the NATION in interceptions while tying an Idaho single-season record with nine picks on the year. A phenominal year by all accounts. This year, with most offenses choosing to throw away from Stanley, the opportunities for interceptions have been signficantly reduced. Regardless, he has been one of the Vandals most vocal leaders, has started every game for Idaho, has an exceptional TEN passes broken up this season (52nd in the nation), one pick on the year, and is sixth on the team with 41 tackles (31 solo).

Lee Jones - Lee was signed by Tom Cable and joined the Vandals in 2003 where he redshirted. He left the Vandal program for a couple years to attend a junior college, then returned last fall when Erickson took over the Idaho reigns. He spent most of last season as a backup safety for the Vandals, and this season has played both safety and receiver at Idaho.

Siua Musika - Siua joined the Vandals in 2004 as a true freshman and has been a starter on the Vandal defensive line ever since. He has accumulated 94 tackles in his career at Idaho, started 28 of 30 games his first three years and and will start nine of 12 games this year. This season he leads the DL with 39 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, and one pass breakups. He also has forced an impressive 4 fumbles on the season. NOTE: SIUA IS TIED FOR FIFTH IN THE NATION IN FORCED FUMLBES THIS YEAR WITH FOUR. He is tied with Beau Bell of UNLV and Greg Trent of Washington State. Sherrod Martin of Troy leads the nation with six forced fumbles in eight games. Jonal Saint-Dic of Michigan State leads the country with 8 forced fumbles this year.

Jo'Artis Ratti - One of the biggest hitters on the Vandal defense, Ratti is an emotional leader for the team. Idaho's starting middle linebacker each of the last two years after transferring to Idaho from Los Angeles Southwest College (where he earned JC Gridwire All-American acclaim), he is currenlty Idaho's 5th leading tackler for the season (65), with seven tackles for loss, one sack, three pass breakups, and one fumble recovery. Nicknamed "Sledge" by Idaho fans, he's been one of the most exciting players to watch at Idaho.

Chris Smith - Chris joined the Vandals last season as a JC transfer out of Chaffey College as an invited walkon and immediately began splitting starting duties at Free Safety. This season Chris - an aggressive athlete from his safety post - has started every game for the Vandals, is FOURTH on the team in tackles with 73, has 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions (with an impressive 88 yards in return yards), and one fumble recovery. He has quietly taken over ownership of the Free Safety position at Idaho, and has been solid in his performance this year.

Brandon Ogletree - Brandon joined the Vandals in 2004 and played immediately as a true freshman. He was recruited as an "athlete", and fit the bill perfectly. He began his career as a safety, moved to linebacker, then to defensive end for a couple seasons, and this year has enjoyed the most playing time of his career, starting every single game this season for the Vandals as the SAM linebacker position. He is currently SECOND on the team in tackles with 82 on the season, he leads the team with 10 tackles for loss, has one sack, has broken up two passes and forced two fumbles. Through it all he has always put team first, and is seeing the fruits of his labor this season.

David Vobora - David is one of the team's main leaders. He leads the team, the WAC, and is second in the COUNTRY in total tackles on the season (136). He is also third in the country in solo tackles on the year. He will make Idaho's Top Ten career tackles list, and will have his name in the Single Season Top 10 list TWICE. He came to Idaho in 2004 and played immediately as a true freshman, despite being "undersized" for Division 1 football coming right out of high school. He has always risen to the challenge, been an AMAZING athlete to watch at Idaho for the last four years, and we look forward to watching him take his opportunities at the next level.


SPECIAL ADDITION (1)

Eric McMillan - As our staff writer GAYLEN WOOD pointed out to me earlier this week, this would have been Eric McMillan's senior season at Idaho. Instead, his career - and life - was tragically cut short in September of 2004. On the night after Idaho's game against Washington State, Eric was fatally shot in his apartment. As court documents would later confirm, their was a fight that evening after the game which involved several Vandal football players. In an act of revenge, Eric was randomly singled out afterwards - he was not in the fight at the bar that evening - by relatives of one of the fight victims (who drove over from Seattle specifically for revenge) who were looking for "anyone who looked like a football player on the Idaho campus" they could find. On that fatefull night, they found Eric. At the time of his death, Eric was Idaho's starting cornerback and off to what looked to be a solid career at Idaho. We remember Eric this weekend, as part of this Vandal senior class.

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