Nehemiah McFarlin fall camp 2019

Idaho State running back Nehemiah McFarlin gets the handoff from quarterback Mike Goggin during a light rain in the first 2019 fall practice at the ICCU Practice Field.

POCATELLO — Despite the excitement that comes with the first day of fall camp, it was a businesslike first practice for the Idaho State Bengals on Wednesday on a gorgeous evening at the ICCU Practice Field.

With 17 starters back from last year and good returning depth behind them, the Bengals have plenty of experience, and it showed in Wednesday’ practice.

“Just the way that we picked up everything (surprised me),” senior wide receiver Mitch Gueller said. “It at least kind of felt a little smooth. I’m sure we made a lot of mistakes, we do every day. There’s stuff to work on, but as far as first practices, I thought it went decent. ... Everybody just kind of picks it up, we know where we left off last year and we’re working to improve on that and build on what we started.”

That’s not to say that there wasn’t room for excitement.

After a long wait — head coach Rob Phenicie joked that a couple Ivy League schools might be the only ones starting fall camp later than the Bengals — the players and coaches took the field with noticeable energy.

“Well after two days of meetings and sitting around, yeah, it was like, finally,” Phenicie said. “We had a little staff meeting right before practice, a little script check, and then we were like, finally, we get to go do this. ... It’s fun getting back out there finally. (We saw) good attitude out of the kids, enjoyed them.”

The Bengals hope that Wednesday’s practice is the first step toward a bigger and better 2019 after finishing 6-5 and just missing the FCS playoffs last year.

It looked like that motivation helped them lock in.

“I think the guys have a belief that they can go out and compete,” Phenicie said. “I think they’re still kind of upset the way the season ended, and they want to finish a little better. They’re not satisfied. I think we have around 16, 17 starters returning, so we do have some experience, and I think we’ve upgraded at some positions, hopefully, with some guys who have come in.”

Quarterback is where the biggest question lies, and although nothing will be answered for weeks to come, both senior Gunnar Amos and junior Matt Struck looked good Wednesday.

Splitting time with the starters as they compete to take over for departed senior Tanner Gueller, Amos and Struck both looked the part and threw the ball well, and neither made a bad mistake in the 7-on-7 and team portions of practice.

Amos might have had the brighter moments, including a good throw to Isaiah Walter with a rusher right in his face, but also stared down a receiver in a third-and-short situation late in practice that led to an easy deflection for Anthony Ricks.

The ensuing field-goal try banged off the upright.

“We’ve got two guys that we’re going to evaluate and see who’s the best for the job,” Phenicie said about his quarterbacks. “Both of them had some good things, and any time you come off a layoff like this, the first couple practices you gotta knock some rust off the quarterbacks.”


- Sophomore wide receiver DeMonte Horton did not participate in Wednesday’s practice, instead standing on the sidelines in shorts. Horton was ISU’s third-leading receiver last year with 301 yards and two touchdowns. In his absence, junior Tanner Connor took most of the reps as the third wideout with the starters.

- Returning starting right tackle Dakota Wilson split reps between the left and right tackle spots, alternating with Jack Eli-Tufono, the one lineman among the first string who didn’t start the majority of the year in 2018.

- Cornerback Jay Irvine, who transferred in from Oregon State, had a chance at forcing a rare turnover, but couldn’t quite adjust to an overthrown pass by third quarterback Mike Goggin to make the pick. Irvine, the highest-pedigreed of ISU’s transfer class this year, practiced with the backups for the most part.

- The running backs might have been the most impressive group at Wednesday’s practice. Ty Flanagan broke a touchdown in the early team portions of practice, and redshirt freshman Soujah Gasu looked smooth, despite gaining almost 20 pounds over the summer. The biggest surprise, though, was junior Nehemiah McFarlin, who missed last season with an injury. In his first action in over a year, McFarlin looked fast and explosive.