CALDWELL, Idaho — The College of Idaho football team kicks off its season on Saturday, facing a tough test right off the bat. The Yotes welcome Division II Lincoln University out of California to Simplot Stadium at 1 p.m.
In Monday's preseason NAIA Football Coaches' Top 25 rankings, the Yotes landed at No. 12, the highest of any team in the Cascade Collegiate Conference. C of I is also the favorite to win its league in 2023, generating a sense of confidence throughout the program.
One player receiving recognition in Caldwell for his offseason development is quarterback Andy Peters, who is in his second year with the Yotes. The Timberline High School graduate has recovered from an end-of-season injury and has been refining his craft since the setback.
After transferring from Boise State, Peters was in a battle with Capital grad and returning starter Ryan Hibbs last summer. The Yotes even began the 2022 season with 'platooning quarterbacks,' as both signal callers earned time with the first-team offense. Peters credits his growth to extra time with his teammates this offseason.
"It makes a world of difference, being out here with the guys and building that comradery. That's the biggest part of it all," Peters said. "Now, compared to last year, I feel like I'm seeing the game a little bit different than I ever did. Being able to make a few plays that I probably wouldn't have made last year, just because everything feels slower and I'm ready to go. I'm fired up for Saturday."
Fifth-year senior offensive lineman Garrett Rehberg told KTVB the Yote gunslinger "looks incredible," adding Peters' leadership difference from 2022 to 2023 is "off the charts, as well as just his understanding of the offense."
The Yotes have been at least co-champions of the Cascade Conference in four-straight seasons, but they have not been outright champs since 2019. In order to get over the hump and earn a spot in the NAIA playoffs, head coach Mike Moroski knows Peters' success is critical.
"Let's face it, the quarterback position is all about quality of decisions and how quickly you can make those decisions," Moroski said. "So, he's realized, 'I gotta study more. I have to be that elite competitor,' which is not just the quarterback, but taking the lead. You know, taking responsibility when things aren't going right, stepping up at various times and we're gonna need him to be great. There's no question about it."
On the other side of the ball, the Yotes' defense is going to be without some all-program players, but that is not always a bad thing. Moroski said things are going to be less about stars and starters, and more about taking advantage of their depth.
College of Idaho is tasked with replacing the likes of defensive back Dorian Hardin, linebacker Dylan Martinez and defensive end Keegan McCoy this fall, a trio Moroski refers to as "three of the best players we've ever had in our history."
"Those guys are impossible to replace, but at the same time, we come back with a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. So, we'll do it more by committee," Moroski said.
One of those standouts with a plethora of experience is redshirt-junior defensive end Willie Nelson. Last fall, the Idaho Falls native totaled 51 tackles and five tackles-for-loss. He also played in every game during the 2021 and 2020 seasons.
Nelson and C of I's defense has been training to maintain eye-opening numbers from a season prior. The Yotes allowed just 18.1 points and 93.3 rushing yards per contest, and 4.8 yards per play. Despite key losses, Nelson and Co. is confident they have reloaded for another lock-down season.
"Those are pretty tough losses, but we're pretty loaded in other spots as well," Nelson said. "It's been a long, long offseason. We've been working hard throughout spring ball and all throughout the summer, you know, putting in those extra lifts and the extra player-run practices and stuff like that. Throughout camp, it's been amazing competing against the offense and seeing them grow and making us better as well as a defense."
The full 2023 College of Idaho football schedule is included below, with home games listed in bold:
- Saturday, Aug. 26 (1 p.m.): vs. Lincoln University
- Saturday, Sept. 2 (1 p.m.): vs. Southern Oregon
- Saturday, Sept. 9 (1 p.m.): vs. Montana Western
- Saturday, Sept. 23 (12 p.m.): at Montana Tech
- Saturday, Sept. 30 (1 p.m.): vs. Rocky Mountain
- Saturday, Oct. 7 (8 p.m.): at Arizona Christian
- Saturday, Oct. 14 (1 p.m.): vs. Montana State Northern
- Saturday, Oct. 21 (12 p.m.): at Carroll College
- Saturday, Oct. 28 (1 p.m.) vs. Eastern Oregon
- Saturday, Nov. 11 (2 p.m.): at Southern Oregon
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