Vandals load up with linebackers

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MOSCOW - The Idaho football team spent the last three years reestablishing a defensive identity as a dominant run-stopping program. With an upcoming transition to the Big Sky on the horizon, it appears as though the team hopes to maintain that reputation among the FCS ranks.

Coach Paul Petrino inked a trio of linebackers as part of a 10-member class to sign their letters of intent for the Vandals on Wednesday. With the addition of another 12 athletes from December's early signing period, Petrino has now netted 22 recruits during the offseason.

"The more success we have here, the better recruits we'll get from around here," Petrino said of signing seven Northwest athletes. "Early on we had to go farther away because it wasn't what it used to be. The more we win here and the better we do, the better we'll do recruiting around here."

While the early signing period might have included an emphasis on bolstering the offensive line, Petrino turned his sights toward restocking the linebacking corps while on the high school trail. Wednesday's defensive signees included Ross Chadderon of Coeur d'Alene, Tre Walker of Fresno Central (Dos Palos, Calif.) and D'Andrei Pittman of East St. John (Laplace, La.).

"Those guys, we're excited to have them," linebackers coach Bobby Daly said. "I think we've got good athleticism across the board. They'll have a great opportunity to learn and hopefully they can take everything in and fill those shoes once they're gone."

Of the three linebackers, Petrino seemed the most excited about Walker, a 6-foot-1 standout known for disrupting the ground game of opponents.

"We measured everybody's hands and he's got the biggest of any recruit we had this year, which will make him a good tackler," Petrino said. "He's more of a MIKE - that true middle linebacker. He's a good football player who likes to run to the ball and hit people."

Meanwhile, Pittman and Chadderon provide the Vandals with speed and versatility, two traits found in current starters Ed Hall and Kaden Elliss.

"He does an exceptional job of rushing the passer," Daly said of Chadderon. "He plays well in space, he's got good hands and ball skills. He's always flying around and got good instincts."

The Vandals also got some offensive firepower with the addition of Aundre Carter and Khalil Forehand, as well as burly fullback Logan Kendall. The trio is expected to help fill the void left behind by recent graduate Aaron Duckworth, who finished second in the Sun Belt with 1,025 yards rushing.

"You hope that Isaiah (Saunders) is going to have a breakthrough year as a senior," running backs coach Jason Shumaker said. "The other guys see that and then they know what's expected of them. We always have high competition in our room, so they know whoever's best is going to play."

While Forehand represents a speedy force who could double as a track star, Carter resembles the prototypical Vandal tailback known for a powerful rushing style.

"He's a big physical kid who's tough to bring down, and that's what we've had success with here for our running backs," Shumaker said of Carter. "We found another one who would be a real good player for us."

Perhaps the most intriguing commitment was from Nikhil Nayar, a Mercer Island, Wash., gunslinger that Petrino compared to former Vandal Jake Luton. After serving a backup role behind Matt Linehan for two seasons, Luton transferred to Ventura Community College in 2016 and later earned a starting role at Oregon State.

"He's a big pocket-type kid who will fit us well, because we've successfully used that style of guy before," offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich said. "Matt was kind of that way once he grew and got bigger, Jake was also that kind of guy. We know how to develop that skill set, and I think he'll develop well here."

While the majority of Petrino's recruits enter the program with an established position, the sixth-year coach is still mulling over the options for Jaxon Woodward. The 185-pound Seattle Prep standout previously played quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back for the Panthers.

"He'll probably be a receiver or in the secondary, that's probably where he'll start out," Petrino said. "He's got a big frame. If he keeps growing, you never know. He could grow into a catching tight end."

FCS DIFFICULTIES - Despite an upbeat attitude throughout Wednesday's news conference, Petrino admitted the upcoming move to the Big Sky negatively impacted several recruiting trips.

"There are a couple homes - you're not going to get them, because they want to be Division I more than anything," Petrino said. "A lot of times that's the parents, more so than the kids. The parents want to bop their chest, go around and tell all their friends their kid is playing Division I."

RECEIVING A THUMBS UP - With the addition of the early signing period in December, many collegiate coaches voiced their concerns with recruiting during the bowl season. However, Petrino admitted he finds the change to be positive for the Idaho football program.

"I think I like it," Petrino said. "I didn't know what it would be like, the thing that's nice is that a lot of kids will commit to you early, but now you know (for sure). Anyone who committed to us on the early signing day, we said, 'OK, sign.' If they didn't, then we moved on, because they're not really committed. They love us now until they find someone who they love better."

WEDNESDAY'S HIGH SCHOOL SIGNEES

Aundre Carter - running back, 5-9, 238, Clay High, Starke, Fla. ... finished as the runner-up for in the 5A Florida Mr. Football voting ... rushed for 2,348 yards and 24 touchdowns to lead his school to the quarterfinals as a senior.

Ross Chadderdon - linebacker, 6-1, 210, Coeur d'Alene High, Hayden ... was named to the 5A All-Idaho First-Team as a senior ... was named the Inland Empire League Defensive Player of the Year ... led his team to the state title game ... tallied 133 tackles on the season, including 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.

Khalil Forehand - running back, 5-10, 174, Bishop Kelly High, Boise ... second-team 4A All-SIC selection as both tailback and defensive back during his senior year ... averaged 9.0 yards per carry ... is expected to also join the Vandal track and field team.

Logan Kendall - fullback, 6-4, 256, Cheney High ... two-time All-Great Northern League selection at defensive end ... named the MVP of the University of Idaho football camp in 2017.

Tomalati (Michael) Maafu - defensive lineman, 6-2, 266, Saguaro High, Phoenix ... led Saguaro to its fifth straight AIA 4A state championship as a senior ... first-team all-conference and all-region selection ... represented native Tonga in international rugby competition.

Nikhil Nayar - quarterback, 6-5, 229, Mercer Island (Wash.) High ... led his team to the state playoffs as a senior ... threw for 2,525 yards and 20 touchdowns while also rushing for 300 yards and another score ... earned second-team All-KingCo 3A honors.

D'Andrei Pittman - linebacker, 6-1, 185, East St. John High, Laplace, La. ... first-team All-District 7-5A selection ... recorded 12 sacks to lead his school to the postseason during his junior and senior years ... father plays professional football in the National Arena League.

Tre Walker - linebacker, 6-1, 226, Fresno Central High, Dos Palos, Calif. ... nabbed first-team All-Tri-River Athletic Conference honors during his senior year ... guided his program to the CIF Central Section Division I championship ... recorded 140 tackles, seven sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.

Jaxon Woodward - athlete, 6-1, 185, Seattle Prep High ... earned second-team All-Metro League honors as a quarterback and all-conference accolades as a cornerback ... led the Panthers in both rushing and passing ... both parents played soccer at the collegiate level.

WEDNESDAY'S JUNIOR COLLEGE TRANSFERS

Steavenson Fernand - wide receiver, 6-3, 190, Davie, Fla., ASA College ... Averaged 16.2 yards per catch and recorded two touchdowns as a sophomore ... caught six scoring strikes as a freshman, leading his team to a 7-2 record.

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Joshua Grissom can be reached at jgrissom@dnews.com or on Twitter @JoshuaGNews.

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