I can only imagine what the spring of 2010 must have felt like for Idaho fans. I wasn’t a student at the school at the time but I knew all too well about everybody’s favorite Vandal. Mike Iupati was a blue-chip prospect, a sure first-round pick. Any team in desperate need of an offensive guard was looking at Iupati. He had a long list of visits, private workouts and was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Iupati was eventually selected as the No. 17 overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers in that draft and has since enjoyed a very successful NFL career.
To this day, Iupati is the biggest banner of pride that Idaho has in its football program’s recent history.
And there hasn’t been much since.
The activity of Idaho alumni on NFL Draft weekend has matched the success of the program. A 6-7 season in 2010 was the closest the Vandals have come to matching the success of its 8-5 Humanitarian Bowl winning season.
Only four Vandals have been drafted since that season — Shiloh Keo and Nathan Enderle in the 5th round, and Daniel Hardy in the 7th round in 2011 and Korey Toomer in the 5th round in 2012.
Numerous others have been signed as undrafted free agents: Benson Mayowa, Justin Veltung, Eric Greenwood, JoJo Dickson, Max Komar and Bobby Cowan to name a few. Few have stuck.
But as far as the actual draft the most action I saw Idaho get on draft day was when ESPN showed highlights of LSU’s Barkevious Mingo sacking ex-Idaho quarterback Dominique Blackman.
Now, I understand that Idaho is never going to be a regular player on draft day. It’s a mid-major program, a lower one at that, and recruiting enough talent to Moscow to even compete at this level is a challenge in itself.
But I go back to Idaho’s days in the Big Sky Conference and even in those days Idaho would get NFL Draft love every now and then.
The correlation between college football wins and the number of players drafted, or at least considered good enough to be drafted, is not large but it is there. This season Idaho will have hit rock bottom. Only one senior — one — is considered good enough to be drafted and is likely to end up in an NFL training camp. That is running back James Baker.
During the game at Washington State, a 42-0 thumping at the hands of the Cougars, I was sitting next to an NFL scout in the press box who point blank told me that he thought Baker was the best player on the team.
That comment should draw a mixed reaction. Baker is 6-foot-2-inches of pure power and athleticism at the running back position. He will easily end up in a training camp and I’d give him a fighting chance at cracking a 53-man roster.
To call him the best player on the roster is a sad state of affairs for the program that Idaho coach Paul Petrino has inherited.
There is hope. If Petrino’s current crop of talent can pan out and develop the Vandals will enjoy some wins and some of the smiles, handshakes and high-fives that comes with seeing your favorite players picked on draft day.
Defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley, defensive end Maxx Forde, defensive tackle Alfonso Hampton, wide receiver Dezmon Epps, offensive lineman Mike Marboe and punter Austin Rehkow are just a few players who could pan out as future draft picks.
Here’s to hoping that actually happens.
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org