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Idaho safety Tommy McCormick maneuvers change as senior campaign approaches

Apr. 4—The temptation of change is more prevalent than ever in college athletics.

In an era where a season on either side of the spectrum can result in a trip to the transfer portal, the days of players sticking with their original commitment for the duration of their careers seem numbered.

That makes the Idaho football team's senior safety, Tommy McCormick, a breath of fresh air.

Although McCormick hasn't gone through a change of scenery, he's seen multiple personnel shifts in his four-year tenure with the Vandals.

The 6-foot-2, 206-pounder arrived on campus at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and showed enough promise to garner reps as a freshman. He combined to play 16 games in the fall and spring seasons. He totaled 38 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception.

"It was a different time," McCormick said. "That first fall was rough. It was sitting in my dorm room, and then we had like a five-week fall camp pretty much during that fall season, so the first semester was rough. ... It was definitely weird coming in as a freshman — not sure how much you're really going to play or anything. But it all worked out for me, thankfully.

After his first year with Idaho, its coaching staff saw an overhaul, bringing in headman Jason Eck.

A leadership change typically makes or breaks an athlete; in McCormick's case, he produced the best numbers of his career.

"You just have to put in the time early," McCormick said. "If you're falling behind early, Coach is going to look at you and think you're not giving enough effort or aren't ready yet. So put in the time early, keep working hard and make sure they're seeing you work hard so they know you're a guy they can trust and believe in later on."

The '22 Vandal defense had a knack for creating turnovers, registering a Big Sky-high 16 interceptions. Idaho totaled 23 takeaways and had a plus-nine turnover margin.

McCormick was the Vandals' resident turnover collector and finished the year with a team-high four interceptions.

The Fallon, Nev., native garnered the nickname "Takeaway Tommy" from Eck for his game-changing ability.

McCormick's most eminent interception came in the fourth quarter of a 30-23 win against Montana on Oct. 15, 2022. He returned it 25 yards, leading to the game-winning 2-yard rushing score from Roshaun Johnson. It was the first time the Vandals dethroned the Grizzlies in 8,373 days.

McCormick earned third-team All-Big Sky honors as a sophomore.

The sky was the limit for Idaho's stingy safety entering his junior year. But another coaching change was looming. The Vandals' safeties coach Tyler Yelk departed Moscow for a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles' staff.

Yelk was one of the few members who remained on Idaho's staff from the Paul Petrino era and was McCormick's position coach his entire career. The Vandals brought in Bobby Jay to replace Yelk, a skipper with over a decade of experience.

Idaho's stalwart was face-to-face with change for the third consecutive year and once again rose to the occasion. He didn't record a takeaway, but notched a career-high five pass deflections and was third on the team in tackles (62).

"I think every time you're put in a new spot, it's just another fresh start," McCormick said. "For somebody who wasn't in a great position before, it's a fresh start for them. And someone who was in a good position, it's also a fresh start for them because they have to work hard to get back to the position they were. So every time something changed, you got to start new and keep working hard to get back to where I was."

The 2024 season is about four months away, and McCormick will continue to adapt to change.

Idaho will have a new defensive coordinator this season, Dan Jackson. He'll be the third DC McCormick has played under in his career.

"We're all coming together," McCormick said. "We have a new DC coming in. But it's a lot of similar stuff that we've been running, so we mesh well together on what we know, and I think we're fitting well and playing at a high level for it being this early in spring ball."

This will be McCormick's first season playing without his brother, Sean McCormick.

Sean McCormick was a special teams ace for Idaho the last two seasons. He still resides in Moscow and is working at Gritman Medical Center. He's also studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), which he'll take at the end of the month.

"It is a little weird after four years together not having him out here anymore," Tommy McCormick said. "It's a little different. But I'm looking for my last season. I think we got a good team, and I think it's going to be a fun one."

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