MOSCOW, Idaho – On the Idaho spring football roster, their names are next to each other: Jed Byers, No. 39, redshirt freshman wide receiver, and Edward Becker, No. 40, redshirt freshman linebacker.
Both are walk-ons from nearby towns – Byers from Pullman and Becker from Genesee, Idaho.
They bring a walk-on’s grit to the Vandals that head coach Paul Petrino appreciates: “They love football, and that’s contagious.”
The commitment to spring and fall practices, winter conditioning and summer workouts, film study and the never-ending need to prove themselves to coaches leads many walk-ons to abandon their college football dreams after a year.
“If they can stick around and make it through two years, they usually end up on scholarship. They become good players and can help you,” Petrino said. “But that’s not easy to do.”
As local players, Byers and Becker bring something else to the Vandals. They reflect the Palouse, in a good way.
Byers has a role model in seizing opportunity. His brother Jared walked on at Washington State, earned a scholarship and played for the Cougars as a fullback and linebacker from 2009-13.
This spring, the Vandals have about a half-dozen receivers on the roster, and Byers is making the most of his increased practice reps. In a scrimmage Friday, he caught several touchdowns.
“At Pullman, we always had to work hard,” Byers said. “Here, I’m basically becoming a workhorse. … It comes naturally.”
No Idaho player has a more organic tie to the Vandals than Becker: His godfather is in the UI Hall of Fame.
Randy Hall was a fearsome hitter as a defensive back for the Vandals from the early 1970s. After playing four years in the NFL and a year in Canada, Hall returned to Idaho and purchased a bar and restaurant in Genesee. Becker’s parents became friends with Hall and his wife, Dee. “At 2 years old, (Becker) would follow me around the restaurant,” Hall said. “He would imitate everything I did.”
Hall taught him football drills.
“At 2, he was doing a carioca (running drill),” Hall said. “I taught him how to backpedal, get in a defensive back position.”
By age 4, Becker was bringing to Hall plays he had drawn up.
Hall coached Becker in middle school and continues as a mentor.
“We talk all the time,” Becker said.
Hall said he and Becker watch cut-ups of Idaho’s spring practice film.
Becker began attending Vandals games at age 6. He had a sideline pass to one such game when current Idaho running backs coach Brian Reader was a quarterback. When Reader doffed a baseball cap to put on his helmet, Becker snatched the cap.
“I said, ‘That’s my hat,’ ” Becker said. … “Remember, I was a little kid.”
Only after he became a Vandals player did Becker seek out Reader and confess to stealing his cap.
As far as Hall is concerned, it’s probably the worst thing Becker has done.
“Nobody hustles more than Edward on the practice field,” Hall said. “He’s a great kid. I’ve never seen him in trouble.”
“He likes football,” Hall said. “He runs around with pretty good abandon, hits most anything that’s moving. There are a lot of similarities.
“Less partying, though. I had a tendency to party occasionally.”
After settling in Genesee, Hall ran his local business, served several terms as mayor, returned to UI to finish his degree and was a Vandals’ assistant coach. But early impressions run deep, and Hall’s experience allowed him to offer an insightful piece of advice to anybody playing college football 10 minutes from home.
“He told me when people around the area talk about you, they are going to remember you by the way you represent yourself now,” Becker said.
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