Any program worth its salt will agree that the cornerstone to a successful program is controlling the line of scrimmage. Whether it’s a pass-first or run-first attack, the offensive line is the unit that makes it go.
In 2009 Idaho fans experienced what a dominant offensive line could accomplish, watching a senior-laden unit anchored by First Round NFL draft pick Mike Iupati – name an All-Pro this year on a physical offensive line that has led the 49ers to the Super Bowl – as they paved a path for Idaho’s only winning season in a decade and just the school’s second bowl victory ever. With that group of maulers, if Idaho was in a third- or fourth-and-short position, they knew they had the horses up front to grind it out on the ground to get a first down.
Future All-Pro guard and 1st Round NFL draft pick Mike Iupati.
They gave Vandal fans a glimpse at what a line like that could accomplish.
Last fall the Vandals went young on the line, starting two redshirt freshmen (Cody Elenz at left tackle and Dallas Sandberg at left guard) and two sophomores (Mike Marboe at center and Lewiston's Spencer Beale at right guard) for most of the year. We’ll touch on this group in a separate article, but it’s a pipeline that Idaho, under first-year head coach Paul Petrino, must keep filled.
With this year's recruiting class Petrino and crew have kept their focus within the Idaho borders to load the line, and have verbal commitments from three Idaho high school hosses. The second athlete overall to commit to the Vandals this year, Nick Edenfield, is a 6-foot-4, 275-pound guard out of Nampa’s Columbia High School. Shortly after Edentfield's commitment, Minico (Rupert) High School’s Brett Thompson, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound tackle, became the second Idaho lineman to commit to the Vandals. Both were named First Team Class 4A All-Idaho picks this year, with Thompson earning his second consecutive First Teamer honor, and both were described by their coaches as “brutal” and “physical” run blockers.
Last weekend, Petrino hauled in his third in-state OL commit when Capital High senior Steven Matlock (6-foot-2, 270-pounds) committed to the Vandals during his official visit to Moscow.
Future Vandal Steven Matlock earned 1st Team All-Idaho Class 5A honors in 2012.
“Jon Carvin, the offensive line coach, was recruiting me,” Matlock recently told GoVandals.net after his January 16th official trip to the Palouse. Hosted by starting right tackle Jordan Johnson on his visit, Matlock didn’t waste any time with his decision.
“We toured the campus on Saturday, and after Sunday morning breakfast coach Petrino invited me into his office for a meeting,” Matlock recounted. “He offered me a scholarship, and I accepted it then. My mom was right there when I accepted. It was good – it was a great experience.”
Aside from earning a shot to compete at the FBS level, the University of Idaho fit what he was looking for with respect to location. “A big part of my decision to go to college was to be not too close to home, but not too far away. Moscow is kind of in the middle -- not too far and not too close. The community up there, it’s nice. A lot of my teachers in High School went up there and they loved it. When I got up there I loved it as well. The atmosphere is just great and I liked it a lot.”
So is recruiting finished now for the big lineman with a 335-pound bench and 480-squat? “At this point my recruitment is done,” Matlock said. “I had a trip to South Dakota State the next weekend, but I called to cancel it and told them that I accepted [Idaho’s offer]. They understood.”
“I’m excited to go up there and play for this coaching staff, and to see where the program goes. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Following in the footsteps of starting left guard Dallas Sandberg, who grayshirted and enrolled the January after he signed in 2010, Matlock also plans to grayshirt this fall. “I’ve decided to grayshirt this fall and enroll in January,” Matlock said. “Basically, I think I get a little more time up there, a little more time in school – a little more experience – before getting out on the field. More time to train – get bigger, get stronger. It’s a better path for me overall.”
Sophomore-to-be Dallas Sandberg grayshirted his first season at UI.
A key pick up for the offensive line looking mainly at either guard or center, he’s open to playing either side of the line. “I’m pretty sure I’m on the OL, but if they wanted me to play D-line I’m fine with that too. Since Carvin recruited me and they talked about me playing center or guard for him, I think I’m pretty much solid there.”
”I believe offensive line is my strength [over DL],” Matlock continued. “I say that because I started for three years in high school on the O-line. I played left tackle, right guard, left guard, and I’ve played some center. I’ve been all over the offensive line throughout my career and I feel at home there. I feel comfortable on the O-line.
“I’ve studied the 4-3, 3-3, all those defenses I know. All the techniques delivering a block, I just feel comfortable there, I know what I’m doing.”
Asked to describe what he thinks he does well, the humble athlete offered the following: “I would say I go hard every play -- I know what I’m doing, and I don’t get out of control. I give it my all. If I make a mistake, I flush it and I move on to the next play.”
So what about his game needs the most work? “I probably need to overcome the diversity that I’m going to face at the next level,” Matlock said. “Going into college ball, you come off your high school team thinking you’re the top dog, and now you’re at the bottom of the food chain. So you have to overcome that diversity, get back up when you get knocked down, go hard all the time, and get better.”
The University of Idaho has recruited linemen from the gem state before, a group that most recently includes Lewiston's Jake Scott, an 8-year NFL veteran, and current starting right guard sophomore Spencer Beale, also out of Lewiston. But it has been a long time since the UI has recruited three Idaho linemen in a single class. But this is a solid group, each with their own level of success at the high school level.
Matlock was a 3-year starter for the Eagles, having played every position on the offensive line and lining up on the defensive line as well. In addition to All-Idaho honors, Matlock also earned First Team All-Southern Idaho Conference honors on both sides of the ball. Edenfield, who only started playing football three years ago, works as hard in the weightroom as he does on the field, earned 2nd Team All Idaho honors as junior before being named a First Teamer this year. And for Thompson, the massive lineman was a two-time First Team 4A All-Idaho pick, two-time All-SIC honoree, and will become Minico’s first athlete to go on to an FBS program in two decades.
With these three linemen having standout careers in southern Idaho, had they run into each other before committing to UI? “Yeah, I saw Brett at Boise State for their Junior Days,” Matlock said of his first run-in with his future teammate at UI. “But I didn’t know about Nick until I got up to Moscow.”
The trio was in Moscow the same weekend on their official trip, and the group got to spend some time getting to know each other. “We actually hung out up there quite a bit,” Matlock said of Edenfield and Thompson. “On the tours we talked, and we hung out after the tours when we ate dinner and lunch together. We had some good talks together.”
And it will be something to watch as this group meshes in the years ahead.
To see other Southern Idaho athletics photos by Steve Conner Photography like the image of Steven Matlock in this story, CLICK HERE!