POCATELLO – The future of Idaho State’s football program was introduced Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period for Division I football.
ISU head coach Rob Phenicie introduced seven incoming players who have signed National Letters of Intent to join the Bengals. This is Phenicie’s second recruiting class as head coach.
The initial class of 2019 features two Gem State players, one quarterback, two FBS-caliber cornerbacks and one player who will join ISU after completing a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Good day to be a Bengal,” Phenicie said. “We have some signees that we’re pretty excited to present to the public.”
Phenicie highlighted Gooding High School senior Jake McGinnis and Nyssa High School (OR) senior Jose (Jojo) Sanchez as the two early signees he is most excited about.
McGinnis is listed as a 6-foot-1, 288-pound defensive lineman who recently earned his third first-team 3A All-Idaho nod, and is vying for his third consecutive state wrestling title. He joins fellow Gooding High School alumni Ruger Jennings and Sam Funkhouser at ISU – both of whom signed with the class of 2018.
McGinnis’ brother, Cole McGinnis, just completed his sophomore season on the offensive line for rival Weber State.
“We’ve had a good relationship with Gooding High School,” Phenicie said. “We needed a nose guard-type guy just like Jake is.”
Sanchez is listed as a 5-foot-11, 235-pound linebacker from Nyssa, Oregon, which is just across the Oregon-Idaho border and about 10 minutes from Parma. Sanchez is also a two-time state champion wrestler, recently took home first-team all-state honors at linebacker, was named his conference’s co-defensive player of the year and earned first-team all-league recognition this season at linebacker and running back.
Sanchez was coached at Nyssa by former Idaho State football player Lee Long (2000-03).
“Jojo was easily one of the best players on the field in our camp last June,” Phenicie said. “He was approached by several teams that tried to tell him not to sign on this day, but he stood with us. I think Jojo is going to be a fun player to watch here in the future.”
ISU’s incoming quarterback is Las Vegas’ Sagan Gronauer. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound dual threat from Faith Lutheran High School holds school records for career touchdowns, passing yardage and passing attempts, plus the single-season record for touchdown passes with 24.
Gronauer was ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in southern Nevada this summer by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He joins a growing list of ISU players from the Silver State, including running back Ty Flanagan.
“He’s the type of quarterback that we want,” Phenicie said of Gronauer. “He actually came up to camp in June and we saw his abilities there. I feel he’ll be a great leader in the years to come.”
ISU signed two cornerbacks in Ja’Maree Boone (Harbor City, California) and Keithan Gooden (Calabasas, California). Both players had offers from FBS programs, including Gooden’s from Power 5 schools Colorado and Iowa State.
Each player also netted a Mountain West Conference offer — Boone from San Jose State and Gooden from Colorado State.
“(Cornerbacks coach) Kam Yancy did a great job,” Phenicie said of landing the pair of defensive backs. “There’s two young corners that we need. We’ve got to start developing depth there at that position.”
ISU’s final early signees are safety Junior Damuni from Utah’s Ridgeline High, and Bishop Kelly High School senior tight end Jackson Lightner. Phenicie said Damuni will join the Bengals after serving a two-year LDS mission.
“We’re excited with this class,” Phenicie said. “For Idaho State to get that far ahead in recruiting is a good step forward. It shows our assistant coaches did a great job in the spring going out and recruiting and getting a preliminary list, and then doing a great job of getting guys committed and keeping them committed.”
Phenicie said he expects to sign between eight-10 more recruits in February, and said none of Wednesday’s announced signees will participate in upcoming spring practices – though class-of-2016 signees Josh Crane (Madison High School) and Jared Gibson (Mountain View High School) will play this spring after returning from LDS missions.
Unlike past signing classes, none of Wednesday’s announced signees are junior college transfers. ISU pursued former Montana quarterback Gresch Jensen, but he opted to rejoin former Grizzlies head coach Bob Stitt at Texas State – where Stitt was recently hired to be the offensive coordinator. Jensen spent the 2018 season at Fullerton College.
But largely, Phenicie said, ISU is happy to build its program with incoming freshmen.
“We’re looking to build from the bottom up with a good base rather than a quick fix,” Phenicie said. “Want to provide a solid foundation for this program and build on it for the years following.”