When he was a senior at Southeast High School, Jacob Sannon didn’t give up on going to football practices just because transportation was difficult.
Instead, he rode his bicycle more than 5 miles to attend morning workouts. He returned home, then rode that bike back for afternoon 7-on-7 or other workouts.
“Once he’s done it the first time, what’s going to convince you to come back and do it again,” former Southeast High head football coach Paul Maechtle said. “Just your dedication to the team, your dedication to the program.”
Now Sannon is a redshirt junior for Idaho who is preparing to start as the Vandals’ slot receiver in Thursday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Colorado State on ESPN.
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“We’ve come a long way,” said Sannon, who endured a one-win season his first year at Idaho.
Sannon’s journey to Idaho to play for head coach Paul Petrino can be traced to the spring of 1999.
Petrino was a recruiter for Louisville at the time, and Maechtle had a player, Chad Lee, that he projected as a linebacker or defensive end in college because of his size and the fact Lee played out of position as a center on Southeast’s 1998 state runner-up team. Maechtle was scoffed at by most coaches.
“Of course, I don’t know anything,” Maechtle said. “I’m just a dumb high school coach.”
Petrino, though, took a chance and brought Lee to Louisville. Six games into his freshman season, Lee won a starting role as Louisville’s defensive end. Lee later earned a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team, won two C-USA titles, moved back to linebacker for his final three years and received an NFL tryout with the New England Patriots.
Fast-forward to Sannon’s senior season at Southeast. It’s January and Sannon doesn’t have a place to play college football.
Petrino, now the head coach at Idaho, calls Maechtle to ask if he has any more Chad Lee stories.
“I told him I had two, and he jumped on those two kids,” Maechtle said.
Sannon and teammate Jordan Grabski suddenly had their college football futures mapped out. They headed to Idaho. Grabski has battled injuries during his career, while Sannon has 24 catches for 245 yards this season.
“It definitely helped having Jordan come with me, because it kind of made me be more positive about ... my decision knowing that I had a teammate that I already know. Because not too many people that play college football get to go to college with their teammate from high school, so obviously I’ve known Jordan since elementary school so we’ve been brothers since Day 1.”
Palmetto’s alumnus Brandon Luckett is a freshman at Idaho rounding out a trio of Manatee County players that the Vandals sought for their program. Sannon and Grabski, though, were part of the turnaround for an Idaho program that was a combined 6-29 in the last three seasons. This year Idaho won its last four games to finish the regular season with an 8-4 mark and earn a bowl game berth.
“I love the people here, everyone is nice here,” Sannon said.
But for what’s occurred on the field, it’s also what Sannon has done off the field that resonates with Maechtle.
Sannon won the Potato Bowl’s Humanitarian Award for his various off the field activities within the community. According to the Bonner County Daily Bee, Sannon’s future humanitarian plans are to assist those in need his parents’ home of Haiti.
“The nice things about him as a football player pale in comparison to the awesome things about him as a person,” Maechtle said. “ ... He was just a model, model, model kid and just so proud to have in the program. And just worked. His work ethic once he got (to Idaho), just awesome. Can’t say enough about him in the classroom, and as a leader on the football field everyone looked up to him.”
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
- When: 7 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
- Who: Colorado State vs. Idaho
- Local: Idaho wide receiver Jacob Sannon (Southeast High). Jordan Grabski (Southeast) and Brandon Luckett (Palmetto) also on the roster.