At this point, it’s clear all the 2020 college football season’s participants will be a bit off their routines.
Amid cancellations because of the spread of the coronavirus, the University of Idaho and eighth-year coach Paul Petrino fall in the category, but the Vandals’ program is striving to run business as usual.
“We’re trying to stick to a set schedule every day, keep it as close to normal as you can,” Petrino said recently by phone from his home, which now features a somewhat makeshift office. “It makes it a little different, trying to do everything from home, but we’ve moved all the computers here, and still have the video.”
UI, like most schools nationwide, lost spring practices and will be without a summer camp that has been conducive to offers – and several UI standouts – in past years. In April, the NCAA put a hold on in-person recruiting until June at the earliest.
“Because of that,” Petrino said, “we’ve tried to watch even more and more guys, and get more offers out there than you normally would at this time of the year.”
In recruiting 2021 high school graduates, Petrino’s outfit is ahead of the curve. Take a look at Twitter, and it’s common to see daily shared posts from two incoming prep seniors at minimum, announcing they’ve been offered by the Vandals.
“For this time, with the exception of being out on the road, we’re still probably ahead of where we normally are recruiting, because we did it all through when we would’ve been at spring ball,” Petrino said.
The next Vandals recruiting class looks to be coming along nicely for Petrino, whose past two have been among the Football Championship Subdivision’s best, per 247Sports.com. He texts back and forth each day with the top-40 recruits on UI’s board but “ideally, it is better when you can get out and watch them practice. That’s what we’re gonna miss out on this year: The combination of seeing them practice and getting them to come to camp here in the summer,” he said.
And regarding previous recruiting classes, Vandals personnel often spoke of the value of on-campus connections made by potential newcomers and older players. Idaho’s program has sold itself – successfully, many times – on its familial atmosphere.
Normally, post-camp springtime would be a combination of traveling to get an in-person read on recruits’ personalities and capacities to perform, mixed with different regional fundraising events – typically meet-and-greets and golf tournaments. Otherwise, this time of the year means mental repetitions and mostly individual fitness for players, and strategic planning, devouring film and short meetings with the team for the coaches.
“It’s been going good. We’ve watched a lot of recruits from home,” Petrino said. “The days I’d be in the office anyway, I’d probably be doing things pretty similar to what I am now.”
Petrino’s glad the NCAA has at least granted added “time with our players, mentally.” Coaches are permitted eight hours per week with their teams through virtual chats. Petrino’s taken that chance to hit all the fine details of his scheme installation, sit in on position-group meetings and have a full-on team session via Zoom once every two weeks.
“The screen’s not big enough to see ’em, but they’re on there,” he said of his team meetings, which have become more thorough with additional hours. “When the NCAA gave us more time, I went to having one day a week for the assistants to having a fundamentals day, then put on drills, and go through tape.
“That part I’ve enjoyed, because I’ve jumped in with all the position groups, to watch how the coaches teach and to give advice, and just interact with the players myself.”
Petrino also has found a few new tactics for his coaching repertoire. He will continue to be included in every positional texting group chat, “to see how they’re all interacting,” and he has been creating motivational tips – a combination of his own thoughts and the words of inspirational figures – which are put out to every position group, recruit, and shared on Twitter by defensive coordinator Mike Breske. One recent tip read: “Success always looks easy to those who weren’t around when it was being earned.”
“It takes a lot longer than you might think; that’s about an hour each morning. … It usually starts a conversation with the recruits,” Petrino said. “(Being in every position chat) is something new that I’ve never done, that I’m always gonna do from now on.”
Thanks to COVID-19, some players are spread across the country, and finding a way to keep fit isn’t easy. Petrino has had some suggestions, particularly for maintaining lower-body strength, which is more difficult without an open gym.
“We’d done it at Louisville with our strength coach there, so I’ve been telling some guys to just get out and push a car, especially up a hill,” he said. “That’s about as good a leg workout as you can get. Guys are definitely getting creative.”
What’s unfortunate is UI’s spring arrivals didn’t get to practice, and the Vandals didn’t get valuable offensive reps for their line – which graduated three starters – and their handful of quarterbacks competing for a spot left open by Mason Petrino’s graduation.
“Zoom is great, you learn,” Petrino said, “but nothing beats those reps.”
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