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Idaho secondary to take on new look in 2024

Apr. 3—The Idaho football team has specialized in stopping the pass two years into the Jason Eck Era.

The Vandals were the Big Sky's top aerial defense last season, allowing a conference-low 182.3 yards per game to opposing passers.

Idaho led the conference with 16 interceptions in 2022 and ranked third against the pass (190 yards per game). One of the biggest reasons behind the Vandals' success in that category is continuity from cornerbacks coach Stanley Franks.

Franks is one of five position coaches remaining from Idaho's original staff. He's been able to generate career years from several players in his two-year tenure. But this season, Franks and the Vandals' secondary will have a relatively clean slate, especially at cornerback.

Corner reloaded

Idaho's two biggest CB casualties came from the transfer portal, losing Marcus Harris and Ormanie Arnold.

Harris transferred to Cal and was a first-team All-Big Sky selection in 2023. He also broke the Vandals' career record for passes defended (36).

Arnold left Moscow for the Big 12's Cincinnati. The sophomore started all 13 games for Idaho and notched 33 tackles and two interceptions.

Arnold's departure was an unexpected blow to an inexperienced unit. But the Vandals' coaching staff has consistently added depth to the position and inked 17 DBs since arriving on campus.

"We're starting to set the standard," Franks said. "Guys that have been in the program, they're starting to understand it, and it is kind of refreshing to see the separation during OTAs of the guys who have been here and the guys who haven't been here."

Although the Vandals have their share of home-grown talent at CB, their early standouts have been additions from the transfer portal.

Fifth-year senior K.J. Trujillo looks like Idaho's top corner through the early stages of spring camp.

The 6-foot 184-pounder spent the last two seasons at North Alabama. In two years with the Panthers, he tallied 40 tackles, 10 pass deflections and an interception.

"He's doing big-time ball," Franks said. "He's a great veteran that has details."

Northern Iowa transfer Corry Thomas is also turning heads.

The 5-9, 176-pounder played all 11 games for the Panthers last season and tallied 44 tackles and two interceptions.

Despite his lack of size, Thomas has solid speed and isn't afraid to sacrifice his body for a tackle.

The headline returner for Idaho is sophomore Andrew Marshall. The Eastvale, Calif., native appeared in all 13 games for the Vandals last season and notched 22 tackles and five pass breakups.

Marshall had several highlight plays last year for Idaho. But he also made several freshman-like mistakes. The Vandals brought in two marquee transfers at his position, which hasn't deterred the 6-1 180-pounder from causing waves. He earned the Battle Axe player of the practice award on Friday.

"I tell Marshall every day in the meetings that he's going to be a monster," Franks said. "He's going to continue to grow, and it's a beautiful thing. He didn't bat an eye with these transfers coming in here. ... Marshall continues to respond. (It) was a little bit (about) being humble (at first), but now he's making plays and showing up. I really feel comfortable with those guys and them being able to push each other."

Stalwarts at Safety

The safety position is secured by one of the best duos on the Vandals' roster.

Seniors Kyrin Beachem and Tommy McCormick will be quarterbacking the back end of Idaho's defense.

McCormick is one of Idaho's best tacklers, finishing third in tackles the last two seasons. He's notched four interceptions and five pass deflections in the same span.

Beachem started his career as a receiver and transitioned to safety in 2022. He played in 10 games and recorded eight tackles and two pass breakups.

In his second season as a safety, he played all 13 games for the Vandals, producing 26 tackles and eight pass breakups.

"I love Beach out there," McCormick said. "I think he's one of our best cover guys on the whole team. The progress he keeps making — I think he's a great player out there."

Underneath Beachem and McCormick is redshirt sophomore Dwayne McDougle, who was just as productive as Bechem in 2023, recording 29 tackles, two interceptions and three bask breakups.

Quick hits

-Freshman safety Diezel Wilkinson has been one of the few underclassmen at spring practices for the Vandals, and he's been a major standout.

-Senior Weber State transfer Abraham Williams has been practicing with the No. 2s. He's more known as a return specialist. But he's more than capable of contributing on defense.

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