POCATELLO — First-year Idaho State safeties coach JB Hall Jr. has already given one of his charges, Adkin Aguirre, a nickname.
“I’m going to call him the Joker,” Hall said. “He’s kind of crazy, he’s wild, he loves football, and he’s very vocal about it.”
That’s the attitude Hall wants to see from his players, and he has an experienced duo at the back-end of the Bengals’ defense to take it onto the field.
“For all the safeties, we come in, we fly around,” Aguirre said. “Coach teaches us to be crazy animals out there and run to the ball every single time.”
Aguirre and Christian McFarland were the only safety teammates in the Big Sky Conference to each record more than 70 tackles last year — Aguirre, who’ll be a third-year starter this year, finished with 77 and three interceptions, while McFarland, who joined the Bengals last year from Sacramento City College, had 75 with one pick and recovered two fumbles.
McFarland sat out the spring with an injury, but he’s fully healthy going into the season. With that cleared up, the duo, along with Montana State’s Jahque Alleyne and Braydon Konkol, is one of the top returning Big Sky groups in a position that rewards experience.
Aguirre and McFarland bonded going into last season, when they roomed together in Pocatello and on the road — “(I would) hear him yell all the time because Fortnite, but other than that it was pretty chill,” Aguirre said — and played together in all 11 games.
Now, they have an almost telepathic connection on the field.
“You can look over and right when you see each other, you already know what you guys are going to do, (because you’re) doing the same signals already, you’re already thinking it,” Aguirre said. “When he wasn’t there in the spring, it’s different, because he just brings that different level of intensity and he’s a baller and he’s ready to go at all times.”
That level of comfort has them chasing bigger goals this season, which Hall noticed when he first started his job in the spring.
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”When you have guys like Christian and Adkin, you walk into a room where there is some leadership already established,” Hall said. “That’s one of their goals, that’s one of their things that we talked about before we even got going, is how they want to leave a legacy. So, in order to do that, they have to take the step to be respected as leaders, but also loved as teammates and friends. So I think they’re doing a great job with that.”
The safeties know that they’ll have to improve on the field as well. The diverse offenses in the Big Sky present a different challenge every week, straining the workload of the players Hall says have “to be the smartest guys on the field defensively.”
“Just watching film from last year, noticing things about myself that I didn’t necessarily see back then, it was just discipline (that has to improve),” McFarland said. “We were in the right spots a lot of the time, but if we just fixed the little things and (were) more disciplined, then we could have made a lot more plays, me specifically.”
Behind Aguirre and McFarland is junior Hawaii transfer Manase Time, who joined the team for fall camp and has fit right in.
“He moves well, and he’s very smart,” Hall said. “Not really vocal as a person, but that’s okay, we’re going to get around that. Not that he doesn’t have a personality, he’s just really serious about football. So when we’re in the meeting rooms, he’s locked in, he’s dialed in.”
Expect to see Time get some reps this year, if not at safety then certainly on special teams. Also in the mix are three Idaho natives, junior Brock Davis and sophomores Jace Richter and Zach Wright.
This year, though, will be all about Aguirre and McFarland.
“(I need to do) whatever it takes for my team to get to the next step, get to the playoffs, whether it be my tackling, whether it be man-on-man,” Aguirre said. “Whatever it is, when I need to fit on a running back, whatever it may be. I don’t know yet, but what I need to do, I’m going to keep working and see where we can go from there.”
Tuesday was ISU’s first practice inside Holt Arena.
“I told the guys before we got going that, whenever we get an opportunity to practice where we play, the level of intensity has to go up, because we have to protect our home base,” Hall said. “This is our house, so when we get an opportunity to practice in here, it’s one of the special things that college football is all about. ... When you get to practice where you play, where you’re going to compete, it’s an awesome feeling.”
All practices from now until the end of fall camp will be closed to media and the public.