Boise State has had a player depart early for the NFL Draft for five consecutive years now. Here’s the 20/20 hindsight report card: good idea for DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014 and Jay Ajayi in 2015, maybe not so good for Kamalei Correa in 2016 and Jeremy McNichols in 2017, and great (although the jury will be out for a while) for Leighton Vander Esch in 2018. Lawrence’s rise as a Cowboys sackmaster is well-documented, Ajayi has been sized for an Eagles Super Bowl ring, Correa has posted only 19 tackles and a forced fumble in 25 games for the Ravens, and McNichols has not yet touched the ball with the 49ers (and the Buccaneers before that).
For McNichols right now, perception is reality. He got off on the wrong foot with Tampa Bay last summer after being drafted in the fifth round, getting a public dressing-down or two from one-time Boise State coach Dirk Koetter after he had difficulty putting the playbook into action. McNichols didn’t make it to Opening Day before being cut by the Bucs. He ended up on the practice squad in San Francisco and was activated in December, but he never saw the field outside of a special teams cameo. McNichols is buried on the 49ers depth chart; Patrick Holloway of fan site NinersNation.com see him as a practice squad player again at best this season.
Who would be a candidate to leave Boise State early after this season to enter the draft? Kekoa Nawahine? He of the 108 tackles and three interceptions last year? There isn’t really anybody among the Broncos’ 22 juniors who jumps out at you and says “NFL-ready.” But a year ago we were all sitting here thinking Leighton Vander Esch might be good enough to start at linebacker for Boise State. We were smart. This might be the first time since 2012, though, when all of the returning juniors eventually become seniors.
Summer conditioning and player-run practices are already underway for Boise State. The Broncos hit the turf running on cue yesterday, the day after Memorial Day. The one coach who is hands-on for the next seven weeks or so is strength and conditioning coach Jeff Pitman, who could be pointing to the upper deck at Albertsons Stadium as we speak. That’s where players will be “running the decks,” an old Pitman tradition. The weather comes into play—at some point the Broncos will be doing it under 100-degree sunny skies. But it’s going to be in the 70’s the next few days.
It seems this angle bubbles up every year at this point for Boise State: Brett Rypien spending the summer working on timing and communication with his receivers. Last year it was all about Cedrick Wilson getting back into football shape after missing spring ball, and developing replacements for the graduated Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson. Everything worked out last season, although Wilson had 50 more catches than the second-leading Bronco wideout, AJ Richardson (83 to 33). Now, it’s almost a blank canvas. We don’t know yet exactly who will be the go-to guy for Rypien, much less his second and third options. The player-run practices will be interesting as new faces filter in—highly-touted true freshman Khalil Shakur and junior college transfer John Hightower, for example.
The National Football Foundation released its recap of attendance and TV viewership for the 2018 college football season yesterday. Attendance at the Las Vegas Bowl between Boise State and Oregon registered the fifth-biggest increase of the bowl season, 7,146 (the total at Sam Boyd Stadium was 36,432). TV viewership for the Vegas game reached 3.8 million, the most for the event since the Broncos faced Washington in 2012. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl garnered 1.5 million viewers for Wyoming’s win over Central Michigan. Also of note, the Big Sky had two of the top five attendance leaders in the FCS—No. 1 Montana at 23,535 per game and No. 5 Montana State at 18,617.
With Boise State baseball set to debut in, like, 21 months, it behooves us to drop in a paragraph on the Mountain West season. San Diego State won its fifth MW Tournament in the last six years when the Aztecs drilled UNLV 14-5 last Saturday. Nevada took the conference’s regular season title but lost its first two games in the tournament. SDSU moves on to the NCAA Tournament’s Corvallis Regional, where it faces perennial power LSU on Friday.
Boise’s Sofia Huerta is on a roll. The 25-year-old Centennial High grad was one of 24 players named yesterday to the US Women’s National Soccer Team for two friendlies next month against China, one on June 7 in Sandy, UT, and the other on June 12 in Cleveland. Huerta is also in her fourth season with the Chicago Red Stars and is the reigning NWSL Player of the Month. Huerta has played five games (five “caps”) previously with the national team. In April she became the first player ever to compete both for and against the US national team and the Mexican national team. Huerta played for Mexico from 2012-13.
This Day In Sports…May 30, 1998, 20 years ago today:
In the Cardinals’ 3-2 loss to San Diego, St. Louis first baseman Mark McGwire continues the torrid, juice-aided pace that will make him baseball’s all-time single season home run champion. Big Mac hit his 27th homer in the Cards’ 53rd game, jumping well ahead of Roger Maris’ pace when he set the record with 61 homers in 1961. The previous record for home runs prior to June was 24, set the previous year by Ken Griffey Jr. of the Mariners.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)