MOSCOW, Idaho – While the clock is ticking down for Idaho seniors, who have two games remaining, sophomore defensive tackle Nate DeGraw is enjoying late-season success that can be the foundation for his next two seasons with the Vandals.
DeGraw has played in every Idaho game this year, usually in a supporting role. But experience on the field has helped him improve.
“There is nothing like live game reps,” DeGraw said.
Against Idaho State at homecoming he made a career-high six tackles, with 1.5 tackles for loss. Two weeks later against Montana, DeGraw led the Vandals with 10 tackles and was credited with half a sack.
On Fridays, Idaho players review a tape of big plays from the previous game, head coach Paul Petrino said.
“The last four weeks, (DeGraw has) been showing up on that more and more,” Petrino said. “He’s playing with great effort and passion. Nate has been playing really good football as of late.”
Against Montana, DeGraw said he was able to defeat pulling guards’ down blocks and run down plays from the back side.
“That led me into a lot of tackles, DeGrew said. “It’s fun when they don’t see you coming.
“Hopefully, this is the new standard. … I wouldn’t mind 10 tackles a game.”
DeGraw, from Post Falls High School, is North Idaho through and through – a Vandals legacy. His father, Mike DeGraw, and uncle, Eric Thomas, played for Idaho in the early 1990s. His mother, Susan, is an alum.
When DeGraw was growing up as a football player, he said his father would tell many stories about his era.
“I had a choice, but it was a pretty easy one to make,” DeGrew said about his college options.
“I felt at home,” DeGraw said of the moment when Petrino called with a scholarship offer. He has never regretted the choice.
Looking toward a career, DeGraw imagines himself as a high school teacher and coach and eventually an athletic director, preferably in Coeur d’Alene or Post Falls.
“I’ve always been a North Idaho guy. I love it here. North Idaho is my home,” he said.
DeGraw came to the Vandals as a work in progress. He stands about 6-foot-3 and he wrestled at 220 pounds in high school. While Idaho’s roster lists him at 269 pounds, that figure may be high. Getting bigger and faster are goals for this winter and spring.
“I don’t really think about it,” DeGraw said if people think he looks more like a good-sized linebacker than a defensive tackle. “There are a lot of undersized guys in the NFL who dominate.”
Across the defensive front now, Idaho goes with juniors Leonick Tamba and Kayode Rufai at defensive ends and sophomores DeGraw and Rahsaan Crawford at tackles in the starting lineup.
“It’s a fun defensive line to play on,” DeGraw said. “There are such high-character guys.
“We’re funny. We have a lot of good times together. We’re self-motivated. There’s a lot of internal leadership within the unit.”
Everybody on the Vandals’ defensive line two-deep depth chart is a junior or younger, including Charles Akanno, who was having an all-conference type of season at defensive end before being lost for the remainder of the season with an injury suffered against Idaho State. He is expected to return next season.
Sending Vandals seniors out with wins against Sacramento State on senior day Saturday and Northern Arizona in the final game in Flagstaff on Nov. 23 is the first order of business, DeGraw said, but the offseason and spring offer opportunities for a close-knit group to improve even more.
Which suits DeGraw just fine.
“It’s always been the Vandals for me,” he said.
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