Dezmon Epps making most of second chance
It was the Monday after the first week of spring football — minutes before an Idaho coach would blow an air horn to signal the start of practice.
After enduring three long and grueling practices the week before, players methodically walked from the locker room and gathered on the sidewalk outside the Kibbie Dome weight room.
Energy levels appeared to be low for every player but one — Dezmon Epps. Wearing his white No. 1 practice jersey, the 5-foot-10 senior wide receiver weaved his way through a tall group of lineman.
“Lets bring some energy,” said Epps, standing in the middle of his teammates. “Coach can’t be yelling at us today for not having any.”
After Epps cracked a few jokes and preached about energy, the whole team seemed to get infected with his upbeat attitude.
Players started to shout with him and clap their hands and when the horn finally sounded, it was no surprise to see players burst onto the SprinTurf practice field thrumming with energy.
“He’s a high energy dude,” junior tight end Deon Watson said. “He’s like the Energizer Bunny to me and it’s good because people feed off that.”
This spring, it has been a common occurrence for players and coaches to praise Epps for the energy and leadership he’s brought to every practice. This, of course, is a welcome sight because there was a time when it didn’t look like he would ever return to the program.
Epps came to Moscow prior to the 2013 season as a junior college transfer from City College of San Francisco. The Sacramento, California, native made an immediate impact as he finished the season as the team’s leading receiver with 79 receptions for 980 yards and four touchdowns. His season earned him a spot on the Biletnikoff Award watch list — an award given to college football’s best receiver.
While he might have excelled on the field, it was off the field issues that haunted him.
Last summer, after violating team rules with multiple run-ins with the law, Epps was dismissed from the program.
While it appeared his time as a Vandal was done, Epps spent this past year earning his coaches’ trust back.
In his press conference prior to the start of spring practices, Idaho coach Paul Petrino said he got together with Epps and laid out some parameters for him to earn his way back onto the team.
“He had to do a good job getting his grades, first of all — he’s going to graduate, so he did a great job there,” Petrino said. “Then he just had to basically keep his nose clean and stay out of trouble and do things right. He’s done that and he just needs to continue to do that.”
Petrino said he’s noticed a difference in the way Epps carries himself these days. He said Epps has simply grown up.
“He’s matured,” Petrino said. “You know, sometimes we all have things in life that get us more matured and better. You don’t have to worry about his attitude or anything, he’s going to come out here and work his butt off, get better, and it’s just great to see.”
Watson said it’s obvious Epps learned from his past mistakes and apologized to the team earlier this year.
“We accepted him for who he is and we know that a lot of our teammates are going to go through some troubling times, so we’re all welcoming towards someone who is going to work like that to get back,” Watson said. “He’s always been talkative, but he’s been positive and I think the guys around here respect that.”
Watson said Epps has stepped up this spring and emerged as one of the teams’ leaders.
Sophomore wide receiver David Ungerer was penciled in to start in Epps’s X-spot at receiver. When he found out the news his return, Ungerer said he thought it was going to be troublesome.
“I’m going to be honest, playing his position, when he came back to the team I thought it was going to be the worst thing ever for me,” Ungerer said. “I thought I was going to have to back him up … but since he’s been here, it’s been the best thing for me.”
Ungerer said Epps has been nothing but helpful in his development as a receiver.
“He’s been a great leader,” Ungerer said. “Whenever I’m starting to get tired he’s in my ear telling me I’m not tired, telling me to keep going. His work ethic is unbelievable. I’ve earned a lot of respect for him in this short period of time for his work ethic.”
In the team’s first scrimmage of the spring, Epps led all receivers, with eight receptions for 179 yards and one touchdown.
Petrino said it’s no question he is the leader out there.
“Half of what he does is he just brings so much energy to the field,and they got to follow him, otherwise they’ll look bad,” Petrino said. “He’s one of those guys that just loves to work and loves to practice.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com