From Gridiron to Mid-Iron
A football All-American at Boise State, Mark Villano now serves the game of golf on the IGA Board of Directors.
by Rob Lundgren
Mark Villano has had a long love affair with the game of golf, and the Idaho Golf Association board member still remembers his early days on the golf course.
“I worked on a golf course in Coeur d’Alene when I was a kid,” he said from his home in Pocatello. It was an executive par-3 course and the 12-year-old Villano mowed the tee boxes and raked the bunkers. “Then I played free for the rest of the day.”
Villano’s family moved to Pocatello where he played baseball and wrestled in high school, but football was the sport where he truly excelled and made a name for himself.
Mark was recruited out of high school by Boise State’s legendary coach Tony Knap, who left for another coaching job after Villano’s freshman year. He then played for Jim Criner.
One of his teammates was Caldwell native Dee Pickett who gave up a promising college career at quarterback for great success on the pro rodeo circuit. Villano also recalled playing against Idaho State stars Dirk Koetter and Marvin Lewis before their coaching days at the college and pro levels.
Villano played for the Broncos from 1975-78, and capped his outstanding college career as the team’s starting center by earning All-American honors for two years in a row. Recently he was recognized as one of the 10 greatest Boise State offensive linemen.
After graduating, Villano hoped to continue playing at the next level. “I was told I’d be drafted,” he said, “so I hung around Criner’s staff for a season.” But the NFL never called, so Villano joined his father in the beer and wine distributing business. After 30-plus years he sold the business in 2010 and now works for Great Western Malting in Pocatello.
Nowadays, Villano cheers on the Bengals from Idaho State, but also closely follows his alma mater. “I still follow the Broncos,” he said. “I like to keep tabs. There’s a big group of guys I played with so it’s kind of a neat network. We go to the reunions in the spring and try to go up there every year for a couple games.”
By today’s standards, Villano’s playing weight of 230 pounds would be considered downright puny for an offensive lineman at the college level. “I think the most I ever weighed was about 250 pounds, so yeah the game has changed a ton,” he says. “There are also so many new rules, they’re hard to follow. But I think speed and size are the most dramatic changes.”
An avid golfer and modest 17-handicapper these days, Villano enjoys the challenge of the game. “It’s the last real competition I’m doing in my life,” he explained. “I’m a competitive guy and golf gets the juices flowing. I haven’t mastered the game yet.”
A member and longtime board member at Pocatello’s Juniper Hills Country Club, Villano decided to submit his name for a spot on the IGA’s Board of Directors after talking with a former Board member. “There was an opening in the eastern Idaho area, so I applied, and was selected,” he recalled.
Villano became a board member in 2015, joining 11 others from all areas of the state. The board meets officially every spring, summer, and fall, and each member specializes in a specific area of interest. For Villano, that’s been participation on the handicap committee. “I think it’s important for everyone to have one and to use it the right way by posting all your scores,” he said.
As an IGA Board Member Villano has had an opportunity to check out the future of the game in Idaho. “I think our Junior programs are excellent,” he said. “I see continued growth in golf in Idaho.”
Rob Lundgren is a longtime contributor to Pacific Northwest Golfer. He has recently moved to the “far north” in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where he plies his skills at the city-owned Mirror Lake Golf Course.
This story was originally published in the November 2018 edition of Pacific Northwest Golfer Magazine.