The Idaho Vandals only managed to nab eight interceptions on defense last season, which was tied for 99th in the country.
That’s a number Aric Williams, who is in his first season at Idaho as the new cornerbacks coach, wants to see improve.
“If that ball is in the air, we got to have the mentality in the secondary that we’re going to go get it,” Williams said. “If it’s in the air, dive for it. We gotta want that ball as much as we want to eat.”
A player that has been hungry for interceptions throughout fall camp has been safety Russell Siavii.
While there is no official tally, the 6-foot-2, 208-pound junior from Wahaiwa, Hawaii, has racked up close to, if not more interceptions in fall camp than the whole team did last season.
But Siavii is quick to give the credit elsewhere.
“You do your job, you get (defensive line) pressure, it’s easy to make plays,” Siavii said. “With someone like Tueni (Lupeamanu) in your face, it’s hard to throw a good ball, and I’m there to just make a play.”
Williams also might know a thing or two about interceptions, as he was a standout cornerback at Oregon State from 2001-04 and was named to the All-Pac 10 first team after his senior season there.
While Williams sports an impressive resume as a player, his coaching pedigree isn’t far behind.
When he was the cornerbacks’ coach at Montana, Williams was the position coach for Trumaine Johnson, who was a two-time FCS All-American and was selected 65th overall by the St. Louis Rams in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Williams said the Idaho secondary has come a long way since his arrival last spring.
“We’re better from where we started,” he said. “I watched pretty much every game, multiple times from last year and I do see we’re running better … We want people to turn on the film and say ‘wow, those guys play fast and they play physical.'”
Of course, Williams wasn’t the only addition to the Vandal coaching staff. New defensive coordinator Mike Breske made the short eight-mile move east from his old position in Pullman as the Washington State defensive coordinator.
Prior to his three-year stint with the Cougars, Breske and Williams worked together at Montana.
“Me and Breske have worked together before, so I know his personality, I know how he is,” Williams said. “It’s everyday that is an exciting day for Breske. He’s animated and a great defensive mind and I’m learning everyday from him.”
The two will have their work cut out for them as they will have to determine which players will start the first game of the season against Ohio Thursday.
And from the sound of it, only one player looks to be cemented into a starting role — which is Siavii at safety.
“Russell is kind of our leader back there within the secondary,” Breske said. “He’s having a great camp, and is kind of our quarterback back there on defense.”
At the other safety position, there has been a heavy rotation of players, including sophomores Desmond Banks, Jordan Grabski and Armond Hawkins, along with junior Jordan Frysinger. All of which are competing to start, Breske said.
“If you look at our roster, a lot of our safeties were corners at one time,” Williams said. “Our philosophy, we want to get cover guys, we want to get corners … and the guys that can tackle and aren’t afraid to hit, we’ll see if they can play safety. But we want those corner skills — coverage, speed — and we’ll make the adjustment.”
At cornerback, it’s much of the same as Breske named five players — senior Jayshawn Jordan, juniors Isaiah Taylor, Kendrick Trotter and D.J. Hampton, along with sophomore Dorian Clark — all competing for the two starting cornerback spots.
“We got a good group, we just gotta grow up,” Breske said. “We’ll see. We got some more practice in. I don’t want to name starters yet, but we’re going to continue to be competitive.”
Idaho coach Paul Petrino said one of the areas that has improved the most from last season is the secondary.
“I like the depth, I like the competition and I like that they all have to go against each other each day,” Petrino said.
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @KorbinMcD_VN