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Idaho Vandals’ Tony Lashley a part-time football player, full-time father

Linebacker Tony Lashley was Idaho’s leading tackler a year ago. (University of Idaho / Courtesy)
Linebacker Tony Lashley was Idaho’s leading tackler a year ago. (University of Idaho / Courtesy)
By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

Like many University of Idaho students, Tony Lashley may be at the Vandals’ homecoming bonfire Friday evening.

Like some Moscow fathers, he may take his four children. “They love the bonfire.”

His wife, Jessica, however will have to be in charge of the brood Saturday morning at the homecoming parade, in which oldest daughter, Tara, 13, will be marching with a Moscow Middle School group. Tony can’t make the parade. He has to work Saturday. He has a job at the Kibbie Dome. It involves tackling running backs, receivers and quarterbacks.

Where many of his Idaho teammates find football and school make for a full day, Lashley, Idaho’s standout linebacker, adds husband and father to the mix. He also works a summer job, is on track to graduate early next spring with a degree in organizational science and has persevered to become a stalwart on defense after he lost most of a season to a back injury several years ago.

All this at age 22.

“He’s got a lot on his plate, but he gives 100 percent to all of it, “ says Vandals coach Paul Petrino. This is wrong only in degree. Lashley doesn’t have a plate, he has a full-sized platter.

He credits Jessica, a sophomore at the UI majoring in exercise science, with making this ambitious life possible. “My wife has a huge role in making life easier for me. I just clean up all the slack.”

Which is kind of what he does for the Vandals. Idaho’s leading tackler last year, with 107, he already has 36 tackles, including one for a loss, through four games this year.

Before he ever knew about the Vandals, Lashley knew Petrino.

“I had him at a summer camp when I was at Arkansas,” as an assistant coach, Petrino says.

Even though Lashley had an impressive camp, the Razorbacks elected to sign a junior college linebacker instead. But Petrino kept track of Lashley through a high school teammate. After he moved to Illinois, Petrino coached a quarterback from the same high school where Lashley starred in Kansas City, Missouri. After Lashley spent a year in prep school getting his grades up, and after Petrino became Idaho’s coach, he recruited Lashley.

By this time, Lashley had a wife and inherited daughters Tara and Kaylee, 7, in the marriage Since then, Lashley and Jessica have had another daughter, Mia, 3, and a son, AJ, 1.

“I thought it was going to be a lot for him,” Petrino said of Lashley managing school, football and a growing family. “He was really young then. He matured quickly. He’s done a great job.”

On a typical day, Lashley wakes the kids and gets them ready for school and daycare while his wife makes breakfast. He catches a little more sleep before taking up his daily routine of classes, workouts and football practice. He and his wife juggle their classes and child care throughout the day. “Then I come home to a full house. We have dinner, do homework, sleep and do it all over again.”

A couple of years ago, he also had to get a pass from a mandatory study hall in order to fulfill his family responsibilities.

“The coaches had to have faith in me that I would keep my grades up.”

Parent-teacher conferences fall to his wife, because of his football schedule. However, “plays and everything, I don’t miss,” he says firmly.

As a family man, Lashley probably has more in common with Idaho’s coaches than he does his teammates. If he has a defined parenting style it is simply to be a good role model to his children, he says, and to absorb the lessons from his coaches about being an adult one can count on. Petrino says Lashley is already a presence in the locker room.

“When he speaks, other players listen.”

Lashley says he doesn’t typically find his teammates hanging around underfoot at his home trying to get a family fix, which is a good thing. “There isn’t enough money to feed them.”

On the field, though, the Vandals can count on him. He grins when talking about the challenge of stopping Louisiana-Lafayette running backs Elijah Mitchel (243 yards through four games) and Trey Ragas (375 yards in four games).

“One thing I love is a good running back. There’s a good vibe between us, pushing over and over, getting tough as the game goes on.” Typically, Lashley could conduct a clinic on form tackling during a Vandals game, he is that solid. He is rarely out of position, and no one ever seems to run through his tackles.

But leading up to the homecoming game, Lashley and the rest of the Vandals had a rough day at work this week. Petrino was not pleased with what he was seeing at practice, and he was free with helpful hints on improving effort, concentration and playing with shoulder pads low. And he was thoughtful enough to speak loudly, so everyone could hear him.

After such a session, all the effort Tony Lashley puts forth to make Moscow a home for his family pays off. The family man can bask in this: he lights up like sunrise when he says “it’s nothing but love when I come home.”

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