Idaho sifting through talented but inexperienced quarterback group during spring practice

Apr. 14—MOSCOW, Idaho — Ah, the good old days of 2023, when Idaho romped to a 9-4 record and the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

The Vandals were ably led then by redshirt sophomore quarterback Gevani McCoy, the 2022 Jerry Rice Award winner as the nation's top freshman, backed up by promising redshirt freshman Jack Layne.

At the time, it seemed Idaho was good but awfully young at quarterback. Now, you could wager any amount that the four QBs going through spring ball with the Vandals could not come up with a gray hair among them.

McCoy is gone, transferring to Oregon State. Layne, a redshirt sophomore with all of two starts on his resume, is the heir apparent. Behind him are three redshirt freshmen: Jack Wagner, from Tualatin (Oregon) High; Nick Josifek, College Place High in Walla Walla; and Hogan Carmichael, Summit High in Bend, Oregon.

Layne has appeared in 11 games in the past two seasons, completing 49 of 69 passes for 693 yards and nine touchdowns and rushing for 68 yards. He also has two wins against Idaho State when he started in place of an injured McCoy, including last year when he went 20-of-26 for 275 yards and six TDs.

Wagner got into the ISU game last year and completed 4 of 5 passes for 41 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 42 yards.

Barring an injury to one of them, according to Vandals coach Jason Eck, this is a pat hand.

Eck said he is not looking in the transfer portal as long as at least one of the two is healthy.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Luke Schleusner offers an even stronger endorsement. Taking the measure of all four quarterbacks, he said, Idaho coaches decided they are set at quarterback.

"They are doing a great job every day," Schleusner said.

Eck and Schleusner point out Idaho's offense is in a veritable youth movement with no senior starters.

"(Layne) is wise beyond his years," Eck said. "He is like a 40-year-old in a 20-year-old's body.

"Jack has a lot of leadership qualities."

Layne points to more of a collaborative effort. Looking at the Vandals' depth, where seniority is measured in months, Layne said the QBs are all learning from each other.

"We all push each other in practice," Layne said. "One guy makes a great play ... I've got to make a great play."

"We're all very supportive of each other," Wagner said.

From what passes for his experience, Layne said the most sage advice he can offer the other quarterbacks is to trust their preparation and technique.

All four are remarkably similar. There are 3 inches between the shortest, Josefik, at 6-1, and the tallest, Carmichael and Wagner, at 6-4. The most slender, Wagner, is 187 pounds, and the heaviest, Carmichael, is 202.

While Eck lauds Layne's grasp of the game and said Wagner "has a lot of raw talent, but he needs to be better with decision making," in drills all four look almost interchangeable in terms of footwork, accuracy and velocity.

Layne, Wagner and Josifek have close to the same three-quarters throwing motion. Carmichael brings it a little more sidearm.

All four can launch a 50-yard pass with the expectation it will have enough on it to beat a defender and be caught by a receiver.

All four also tell similar stories of being lightly recruited by everyone but the Vandals and of being drawn to Idaho not only by an offer to be on the team but to play for Schleusner.

In Idaho's scrimmage Saturday, Wagner completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Mark Hamper for the only passing TD, and he had another long throw dropped.

Josifek threw a pick-six to redshirt sophomore Jacon Scobis, a Washington State transfer, that allowed Scobis to share the daily practice award with kicker Cameron Pope, who made a 49-yard field goal.

Carmichael, who threw a touchdown to end practice the previous week, had the misfortune to quarterback a four-play drive from the 10-yard line that ended at the 1-yard line. He and the rest of the offense got to end the workout with a sprint while the defense loudly gloated.

"We had some good drives, but we've got to finish better in the red zone," Eck said of the offense's showing in the 87-play scrimmage.

With no experienced upperclassmen ahead of them, Idaho's young quarterbacks could certainly look at the Vandals' compressed hierarchy, their own similarities and allow themselves to dream of starting.

Schleusner said coaches have not sorted out how many and which quarterbacks are likely to play next fall.

"It's still so early," he said. "We are just competing every day. I always tell these guys they determine the depth chart."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct Layne's career touchdown total.