This month, much of the talk regarding Idaho football has been the team’s re-upping via a wide array of newcomers — many from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Camp mostly has been highlighted by big-name new players like Boise State transfer edge rusher Kayode Rufai, defensive tackle and former Mississippi State commit Noah Elliss, Western Michigan transfer safety Davontae Ginwright and the state’s top 5A high school player in 2018, Rocky Mountain running back Nick Romano.
Not to mention obvious standouts and returnees whose depth-chart jumps have been hyped, like hard-nosed middle linebacker Tre Walker and fancy-footed pass-catcher DJ Lee.
But what about the players fair-weather fans have forgotten about, or the ones only die-hards expect to be impactful?
Here’s a short list of some under-the-radar Idaho football players, featuring transfers, returners — some who’ll get consistent reps for the first time — and redshirts who’ve impressed at practice, likely earning themselves expanded field time:
It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to effectively replace buck — and now-New Orleans Saint — Kaden Elliss, arguably one of UI’s best-ever players and its first draft pick since 2012.
If anyone on this roster were to come close, it’d be Akanno, the fastest member of the D-line and largest of the edge rushers.
There’s not anyone on the Vandals’ roster who moves so fluidly while standing 6-foot-1, 247 pounds. Although Akanno will line up beside Noah Elliss — a former four-star prospect — and although he’s flanked by model D-end Rufai, the redshirt junior remains the unit’s leader and sets its pace.
Of all, Akanno was the first to be mentioned by Rufai when asked of the defensive line’s versatility, and he was at the forefront of offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich’s mind when discussing an increase in quality of play thanks to the battles in the trenches.
D-line coach Luther Elliss pointed to Akanno as an embodiment of the group’s desire to play fast, and Rufai became wide-eyed when lauding Akanno’s unseemly speed.
But Akanno’s best facet is his ability to combine agility with a wallop. In 10 games of action as a reserve — because, Kaden Elliss — Akanno tallied 30 tackles, eight stops for loss and four sacks, two with finesse and two on straight O-lineman thumps. Against Eastern Washington and North Dakota, he erupted for a combined six tackles for loss and all four of his sacks.
It’s fair to presume Akanno will be UI’s sack leader in 2019.
JALAN JENKINS/ROBERT MILLER
This is kind of cheating, but it’s sometimes tough to discern between the 1-2 speedster linebacker punch of Jenkins and Miller, both of whom are solid-get junior college transfers, recruited on the basis of speed over size to help lock up fast Big Sky runners outside the tackles.
Jenkins has been the usual WLB starter since the spring, while Miller recently moved to the strong side, where he’ll play intermittently behind Christian Elliss — Miller has weakside experience, so he’ll be a reserve there, along with true freshman Sully Shannon. Coach Paul Petrino said the pair perform comfortably at their respective posts.
The two linebackers hardly have missed tackles in the open field, and both have been commended by Petrino for a fearless style, in which they play fast and hit at a level above their weights — Jenkins is only 210 and Miller 204.
Petrino also emphasized the duo’s swiftly gained expertise of defensive keys and UI’s defensive playbook in general.
Another underrated tidbit: Before enrolling with Northwest Mississippi CC in 2017, Miller redshirted with Memphis. So count him another FBS talent.
A starter hasn’t been named, but expect a rotation as need be, partially filling an obvious void last year — the front seven was too shallow, but players and coaches have harped on its depth all fall.
“They fly around and make plays as fast as possible,” said Walker, hinting toward the two.
LUKE HYDE/LOGAN KENDALL
Also cheating, but fullback/tight ends Kendall and Hyde practically are one in the same when it comes to undervalued — but all-important — run-game gap-openers.
Hyde, a 6-3, 250-pound senior from Emmett, and 6-4, 264-pound sophomore Cheney product Kendall are blocking specialists, seen primarily in short-yardage or goal-line situations.
But the two are unusually athletic for their size, and they’ve repped around midfield sporadically. Although both are most proven in their capabilities as reliable blockers in power sets up the gut this fall camp. Hyde was employed most last year, and also impressed leading outside convoys.
Mental errors were unseen with Hyde, who’s one of UI’s three longest-tenured players.
It doesn’t appear as if his job is in trouble — the pair are often put to use together, and it appears their work might expand to the passing game off play action as well.
Sophomore Spokane native Connor Whitney will assume almost all of the tight-end passing duties, as was the case in 2018.
Hoover’s not an unknown to Vandal enthusiasts. In fact, he was a starter in the secondary the past two years.
As a true freshman, he was thrust into action because of a teammate's injury, and wound up starting at free safety in UI's final 10 games in its last FBS season.
He's more tested than most.
But the 5-11, Brandon, Miss., product has been moved from safety to corner, where he’s vying for a role.
Petrino wanted more height on the back end and figured Hoover would fit naturally outside.
“I think he can just play more out there and not have to think so much,” Petrino said. “He can just use his athletic ability.”
Throughout fall camp, Hoover’s been stellar in press coverage. His physicality is perhaps one of the secondary's most developed — chalk it up to experience — and he breaks on balls with foot speed comparable to UI’s top coverage corner, Lloyd Hightower.
A good deal of Hoover's presence will be felt with special-teams units, in which Petrino has applauded his work. Hoover, with a breakneck burst off the edge, blocked two punts last season, both ending in scores. One ended up being the game changer in an eventual win over North Dakota.
When talking over the position battle for X with competitors Jante Boston and Lee, Boston cleared the air.
“Don’t forget about Mike,” he said, highlighting slot depth.
The 5-8, 161-pound Noil, aptly nicknamed “Speedy,” probably won’t start since standout Cutrell Haywood lines up inside now. But he’ll undeniably see the field.
How much? That’s the question.
Noil, who redshirted last year, joins a host of receivers in certain pass-catcher-loaded, first-team sets. During camp, the majority of his damage has been done on quick outs and crossing patterns taken for chunks.
In a special-teams pinch, the Portland native might field a punt or kick.
He’s a nice complement to Haywood, and will make for a reliable checkdown target for quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson. Although his 40-yard dash hasn’t been measured recently, many players are quick to point to Noil when asked which Vandal leads the pack in top speed.
His potential could be likened to a David Ungerer-type.
Clark may be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260