Vandals welcome back Dezmon Epps, move players to new positions, look to replace Joshua McCain
Leading an entire football conference in receiving yards is no easy task, but that’s exactly what Idaho wide receiver Joshua McCain did last season with 1,162 yards.
Now, the Vandals are faced with replacing his production heading into next season.
There were supposed to be two star wide receivers last year though, but off-field issues kept Dezmon Epps from seeing the field all season. This year, Epps is back and ready to go. If his 14 receptions, 273 yards and two touchdowns at the third scrimmage are any indication, the senior is ready to take on the role as the go-to player in the passing game like he did in 2013 when he finished with 980 receiving yards.
“I wasn’t here when he was on the team,” wide receivers coach Charley Molnar said. “So it’s a new experience for me, but he brings not only a high level of skills, but tremendous energy and passion and is super competitive. I think that rubs off on everybody.”
His energy isn’t just noticed by the coaches. Junior tight end Deon Watson said he sees it too.
“He’s a high energy dude,” Watson said. “He’s like the Energizer Bunny to me, and it’s good because people feed off that.”
After transferring to Idaho from City College of San Francisco, Epps led the team with 79 receptions, 980 yards and four touchdowns in the 2013-2014 season, earning him a spot on the Biletnikoff Award watch list for the nation’s best receiver. So far this spring, he has clearly stood out as the Vandals’ top receiver and the go-to player on the offense. The year off doesn’t appear to have slowed Epps down in the slightest.
There are other receivers though, and one in particular is looking poised for a big year — that being junior Jacob Sannon. After catching 22 passes for 285 yards last year, Sannon is ready to take on a bigger role, though he said there are still some areas where he needs to improve.
“I want to improve my running after the catch really,” Sannon said. “Like getting open and making long 40-plus plays and make it on the punters’ team.”
To get where he needs to be, Sannon said he has been working on endurance this offseason and is confident he will be ready.
“Basically practicing hard really,” Sannon said. “Getting my endurance up, making sure I don’t get tired when the fourth quarter comes. I think I’m good enough to make plays when I’m calledupon, I just need to make sure I get in shape.”
With Shannon’s new larger role with the wide receivers, sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan took to giving him a new nickname.
“Jacob Sannon, I mean that’s Optimus Prime,” Linehan said. “You got Megatron (Calvin Johnson) in Detroit, but I call (Sannon) Optimus Prime. That dude is unreal. He does everything right. He’s everything you want in a receiver.”
So far this spring, Idaho coach Paul Petrino has taken notice to the fantastic play both Sannon and Epps have been exhibiting, as well as sophomore receiver and Pullman native David Ungerer.
“I would say as the year has gone on, right now Dezmon would be number one, Jacob would be number two and Ungerer would be number three,” Petrino said. “Those three have played well. Our top three have played well. Our top three are probably playing better right now than our top three played last season.”
No other Vandal wide receivers still on the roster managed to get into the stat book last year, except junior Deon Watson. There’s just one difference this year — Watson is playing tight end instead of wide receiver.
“I’m still pretty fresh at it,” Watson said. “It’s taking me a little time … It’s a whole different aspect when you’re on the line.”
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the Coeur d’Alene native certainly has the height for the position, but he knows he has stuff to work on.
“My footwork, I gotta work on that,” Watson said. “Just knowing the plays. I was always a receiver … It’s been a big change for me, but I’m willing to work and study the plays and I think I’ll be there in no time.”
The wide receiver and tight end groups have a new look going into next season, but with how they’ve played this spring there should be plenty of weapons for Linehan to throw to in 2015.
Ben Evensen can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho