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Falcon opts for the small time

02/07/2014, 5:32pm PST
By Don Norcross

Torrey Pines linebacker chooses to play at NAIA College of Idaho, enrollment: 1,200

After a stellar career with the Falcons, Kyle Ashby will be playing college football for the Yotes.

Hundreds of smiling parents and high school athletes filed into the Hall of Champions on Wednesday morning, the teenagers putting pen to paper, signing national letters of intent to the colleges of their choice.

College hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts were showily displayed, from football A lists Stanford and Oregon to haughty academic towers Harvard and Cornell.

Torrey Pines linebacker Kyle Ashby passed on the proceedings.

“My parents would have wanted to be there,” Ashby said. “But they couldn’t make it. They had to work.”

His father, Scott, is a longtime football coach and P.E. teacher at Torrey Pines. His mother, Carrie, teaches third grade.

Kyle, too, will have some of his college tuition paid for because of his athletic ability. He’ll be attending College of Idaho.

Count yourself in the vast minority if you know much about the school. Nickname: Yotes, as in short for Coyotes.

“Coyotes, that’s a lot of syllables,” said College of Idaho defensive coordinator Chris Jewell. “Yotes is kind of our niche. Our brand.”

Undergrad enrollment: around 1,200.

“A small school,” said Kyle. “I wasn’t really looking for that.”

Location: Caldwell, Idaho, a rural setting at 2,375 feet altitude, 20 miles west of Boise. The school is resurrecting its football program, which last played in 1977.

“A start-up program? I didn’t know that’s what I was looking for either,” Kyle said.

So how did Ashby, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound inside linebacker, wind up at the NAIA school?

Torrey Pines offensive line coach Mike Cody worked with College of Idaho head coach Mike Moroski at UC Davis. Cody called Moroski. Moroski phoned Kyle.

Kyle visited the campus the week before the Super Bowl and was smitten by multiple trappings. On Kyle’s visit to a Boise dance club College of Idaho students were shuttled to the club. One grabbed the deejay’s microphone and chanted, “Hoo-hah, you wish you were a Yute. Hoo-hah, you wish you were a Yute.

“The whole club was jumping up and down,” Kyle said. “It showed me the school spirit.”

He met administrators, teachers and small-talked with residents in a café.

“Everyone was genuine, very kind,” Kyle said.

Nice touches, but Kyle is a third generation football junkie. He remembers when he was 6 or 7 and Torrey Pines was playing in a section championship game at Qualcomm Stadium. He hung in the locker with his father, walked onto the field.

“The tunnel seemed a mile long,” he said.

He was Torrey Pines’ ball boy from 9 to 12. He was studying tape by 10.

“I’m a film rat, a weight-room rat. I love practice,” he said.

So he had to be sold on the program. From the community side, the school’s board of trustees dedicated an estimated $5 million for an athletics center and stadium renovation that should seat 4,000 to 5,000.

A core of 60 freshmen redshirted last season, practicing daily but never playing, never hitting in pads.

“You get to be the start of something,” Kyle said. “Build a legacy.”

Kyle isn’t intimidated by hard work. His freshman season was cut short by a concussion. He missed half of his sophomore season because of a foot injury.

He showed up for a Thursday interview with his left arm in a sling due to shoulder surgery last month. He also broke a bone in his left hand last season, played with a cast on his arm and didn’t miss a game.

“Adrenaline takes care of that,” he said. “That and some Advil.”

He’d like to be a doctor one day.

“I’ve had my share of injuries,” he said. “I want to be able to help kids like me.”

There’s something charming about a 17-year-old taking the road less traveled, finding a small school, far from home, a place where he thinks he can play rather than sit on the bench.

“I’m incredibly proud of him,” Scott said. “As a dad, for father reasons. And as a football coach for those reasons. He’s a very tough young man.”

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