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Douglas Pilant can recall the disappointments over the years as much as he can recall what endears him to the University of Idaho.
The latest of which came in April when the university announced its decision to forgo FBS independence and recede back into the Big Sky and FCS.
“I was in the camp of giving it a couple of years to see what would happen to see if there’s anything that changes,” Pilant said.
What he never planned on doing was abandoning Idaho or withdrawing his support.
Disappointment is one thing, pride is another. Pilant has a lot of the latter.
Through and through, he is an Idaho Vandal. And perhaps provides a perspective on the type of supporters Chuck Staben is hoping to reach as Idaho cements its football transition over the next couple of seasons.
For better or for worse, Pilant is one of the most noticeable and vocal Vandal supporters on social media and message boards.
Overwhelming Vandal pride was embedded in him from childhood. His dad moved to Idaho at 10 years old and became a Vandal. He grew up in rural Idaho where farming and agriculture was prevalent and important. The state’s flagship university played an important role in this. His principle at school played football at Idaho, and the principle’s son played football at Idaho when Pilant was 11. His teachers attended Idaho. It all led him to UI’s college of agriculture.
“At that point and time I was hook, line and sinker a Vandal.”
From then on he dreamed of attending the University of Idaho. He’d dream of what it’d be like to be a student in the students section of games.
He’d moved to Enumclaw, Wash. and started attending University of Washington games in the early 80’s in the midst of Don James forming the Huskies into a national powerhouse. It only made him more excited for what to expect when he arrived at Idaho.
Though, despite all of Idaho’s success while in the Big Sky, it wasn’t anything like what he expected when he arrived in 1986. Crowds didn’t show up for non-regional opponents and home playoff games were cavernous because of the holiday breaks.
“When I finally got there it was actually kind of a letdown because there was just a lack of spirit even though they were winning. For me it’s always been frustrating that there isn’t a hardcore interest that I see in other places.”
Pilant carried on as one of Idaho’s biggest fans as a student through the end of the Keith Gilbertson and the beginning of John L. Smith’s charge, when Paul Petrino first came to Moscow as an assistant.
He joined the sports information department and enjoyed Idaho’s continued success in the Big Sky, always wondering what could happen if Idaho took that next step.
He was only a few years out of school when the Vandals finally made the move to the Big West and FBS in 1996. He was overcome with an immense amount of pride and immediately began giving to the Vandal Scholarship Fund. When he became a little more financially stable he bought season tickets and would make the trek over from Oregon for as many games as he could.
He experienced the triumph of the Humanitarian Bowl win in 1998, but went through disappointments Idaho didn’t develop plans for football facilities and couldn’t build on its only FBS conference championship.
He experienced a decade of losing seasons, and then came the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl victory. Then the WAC disintegrated and it took another seven years before Idaho was on the precipice of another bowl appearance. This time in the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Add it all up and, that’s 15 losing seasons and three seasons where Idaho had something to look forward to in December. Like any Vandal fan, Pilant can list off the disappointments and reasons he thinks Idaho has consistently drowned into football obscurity.
None of it has made him waver from being a VSF donor and a season ticket holder. And he’s never held it against the players. Instead, he loves to highlight individual performances and Vandals who make it to the NFL.
“While I don’t think there was enough leadership in the very beginning of UI going FBS I’ve just felt that conference instability has been the heart of the problem. Meanwhile, I think some of the past UI presidents were just kicking the can down the road,” Pilant said. “So, while I’m extremely disappointed in the decision I can’t bring myself with hold my support from the other student athletes. I’ll still buy season tickets but I will be very selective about which games I attend.”
And this is perhaps why president Staben has so much confidence in the future of donor support even in the face of the negative publicity of his decision.
“It’s not going to change how I feel about the university and I’m still going to go to games and support no matter what,” Pilant said. “I couldn’t not do it. I guess it’s just in my DNA to do it.”