Family is a staple of Idaho football

Apr. 18—Family is a core value of the Idaho football team.

The Vandals have had relatives on the same roster since they played home games at MacLean Field more than 80 years ago.

The blood tradition is more apparent than ever with Idaho having three sets of brothers, a father-son duo and several cousins scattered through the team and other athletic programs.

Ayden and Nathan Knapik are one of the newest brotherly bonds on campus. The pair of 6-foot-7 giants both play on the offensive line.

"We might be close to leading the country in having brothers here at Idaho," said Idaho offensive line coach Cody Booth. "We're huge on relationships here. It's not about what you do, it's how you do it. Everyone runs inside the zone; everyone runs power. But how do you do it? How do you coach it, how do you relate it to the players? It's about getting involved in their lives, knowing everything about them, and building that trust so they can trust you."

Nathan Knapik, a freshman, was a highly touted prospect out of Kennewick High School. He was a 3-star recruit, according to 247Sports, and was the No. 21 tackle in the class of 2023.

Knapik garnered offers from other Big Sky programs, such as Montana and Montana State. But it came down to the two Palouse schools: Idaho and Washington State.

"When I came here (Idaho), it felt like home no matter what I was doing," Knapik said. "Whether I was visiting Ayden or coming up here to watch a game, I felt like it was home. ... I liked the thought of coming here and playing with Ayden, and WSU is obviously bigger, but this felt like the better spot."

Ayden Knapik was also a 3-star prospect, according to 247Sports, and was the No. 51 tackle in the class of 2022.

Knapik didn't have many programs fighting for his rights, coming to Moscow as a walk-on.

He climbed Idaho's depth chart at a rapid pace, and after some injuries along the Vandals' O-line, he was brought up to the veteran group and never looked back.

Knapik started eight games in 2022 and was named a freshman All-American. The following year, he played in 12 games for the Vandals as their left tackle.

Not too shabby for a walk-on.

"It's an unbelievable story," Booth said. "I got a lot of love for walk-ons. I was a walk-on, so I was in his shoes, and I know what it's like. ... He had a great first year becoming a freshman All-American, and he battled through some injuries last year. But he's tough; you can just tell he's tough. He wants to be out there. He wants to motivate his teammates and push his teammates. He has a bright future."

Knapik's status as a walk-on didn't last long, as he was awarded a scholarship before Idaho's season opener against Washington State in 2022. It was a sentimental moment for him and his family as the team offered Nathan Knapik a scholarship on the same day.

"Coach Eck had me, my two brothers and my dad in a little huddle in the weight room," Nathan Knapik said. "He said, 'Well, we're going to offer you,' and after that, he told my dad that he was putting Ayden on scholarship. It was a cool experience."

The coaching staff worked overtime to assure Nathan Knapik would be a Vandal. The Kennewick High graduate was a towering presence at 6-7, 250 pounds. He was also a standout in the classroom.

Nathan Knapik graduated early and is taking extra spring reps to prepare for the '24 season.

"Ayden had a great first couple of years here, and then we got Nathan to commit," Booth said. "You know Nathan is supposed to be going to prom here next month, so having him early is expediting his development, and with Ayden not out there right now, he can actually spend a lot of time coaching him. It doesn't always have to come from me, you know, he can hear it from his brother, especially when we go into two groups. He can hear it from his personal coach. It's good to see the family bonding, and they're holding each other accountable."

Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, or on Twitter @TreebTalks