Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Interesting Day on the Bengal Sports Front

For an off-season day in April, the Idaho State athletic department managed to make news on a couple of fronts on Tuesday. First came the announcement that two ISU women's basketball players -- guard Sheila Adams and forward Verity Peets -- have been granted releases and are transferring out of the program. Then came the announcement that the football team was unable to get an NCAA waiver to open its season early against Montana-Western, and will instead take on Division II power Central Washington in the fourth game of the season.

The football scheduling change will probably have the biggest impact, and it may not be a good one. The Bengals, already facing a brutal two-game run at Arizona State and Oklahoma, were hoping to open the season with a home win over a Montana-Western team that finished 2-9 last year. That would have at least given the home fans something to savor as ISU then steeled itself for a three-game road trip that also included defending Big Sky champions Weber State.
The ISU athletic administration knew scheduling Montana-Western on Aug. 29 was a gamble, however, because that date was earlier than allowed by NCAA rules. ISU appealed for a waiver, but was denied. Thus, they were forced to fill the hole in their non-conference slate with Central Washington, a team that lost to Montana 38-35 on a last-minute Griz field goal in Missoula last fall.

The Wildcats will lose all-American quarterback Mike Reilly (who, ironically, is from Kalispell, Mont.) and tight end Jared Bronson, an NFL prospect who may be drafted this weekend, but they still will return 13 starters from the 10-2 squad that lost to West Texas A&M in the first round of the Division II playoffs last season. Key among those returning starters will be Johnny Spevak (above), a 6-3, 200-pound wide receiver/kick returner who scored 20 touchdowns last year. Spevak caught 91 passes for 1442 yards.

While the Wildcats will clearly miss Reilly, who had an other-wordly 37-6 touchdown to interception ratio, they feel like they have an adequate replacement in Kyle Miller, a 6-3 senior-to-be who completed 6 of 8 passes in seven appearances last fall. Central also returns leading rusher Jerome Morris (500 yards, 12 TDS), and second-leading receiver Mike Waller (44 catches, two touchdowns).

Defensively, CWU brings back eight starters , including linebackers Buddy Wood, their leading tackler who also had five sacks, and Adam Bighill, who picked off five passes.

As Frank noted in his release announcing the switch, the ISU-CWU matchup will create all kinds of coaching crossover subplots. Not the least of which is that Bengal Coach John Zamberlin came to ISU after serving as Central's head man.

For a program in desperate need of a few breaks (and an easy win or two), yesterday's announcement was not exactly what Bengal fans had in mind. But Coach Z is one of the best I've ever known at not worrying about things he can't control and going about his business of preparing his football team. His equanimity will surely be tested next fall.

On to the Bengal Transfers

While Peets' transfer was not a surprise (she got very little playing time, even when the Bengal bench was badly depleted), Adams' departure comes as a bit more unexpected. She had moved into the starting lineup by the end of the season, after Chelsea Pickering went down with a knee injury, and was making a significant contribution offensively. The rub apparently came because she saw herself as a point guard, a vision that Bengal coach Seton Sobolewski did not share. Especially with veteran Andrea Videback returning to the program next year, backed up by redshirt Andrea Blodgett and incoming freshman Kaela Oakes.

Sobolewski would have preferred to keep Adams as insurance against Pickering's knee rehab and as an offensive option off the bench at the two guard. It remains to be seen if her late departure and the already-large recruiting class means Seton will roll these scholarships into next year. I'm told he's still recruiting hard this spring, though, so perhaps not.

Will the Big Sky Present in the NFL Draft?

I've done a little cursory research into various sites on the web, in anticipation of this weekend's NFL draft. Just based on that web-surfing, it does not appear that any Big Sky Conference players are projected to hear their names called on Saturday or Sunday. None of the draft prospect lists I've seen include a Big Sky player, and no one from the league was invited to the NFL Draft Combine.

I would expect some BSC players to be signed as free agents, and Idaho State's D.J. Clark, the all-league defensive back, tackle Evan Dietrich-Smith and wide receiver/kick returner Eddie Thompson would seem to be potential signees. It's a tough way to get into the league, but as former Bengal linebacker Pongo Tongafau showed, if you're good on special teams and find the right team with a hole at your position, the dream can be achieved.

Names familiar to ISU fans that may be called this weekend include Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden, whose 4.57 time in the 40 at the combine may cause him to slide down from a second round projection I saw on him last fall; Boise State running back Ian Johnson, whose performance at the combine reportedly boosted his stock; BSU WR Jeremy Childs; and Idaho tight end Eddie Williams.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal, it aint' always easy, but it's always fun.

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