At first glance, it’s “Wow, Boise State lost a lot at wide receiver.” And that’s true when you consider Sean Modster and A.J. Richardson took career totals of 210 catches, 2,961 yards and 22 touchdowns with them. But everyone else is returning, including a bevy of underclassmen, and those guys will be on display Saturday in the Blue & Orange Game at Albertsons Stadium. The leaders of the pack are CT Thomas, Akilian Butler and John Hightower, who seems to be back in the good graces after his academics-related bowl game suspension. Among last year’s redshirts, Stefan Cobbs has had a solid spring. One of the most important aspects of spring ball for the wideouts: how much they have helped new quarterbacks Hank Bachmeier and Kaiden Bennett become comfortable in the Bronco offense.
With the youth movement at wide receiver, this group will have some longevity. Heck, let’s shorten that to just “long.” All but CT Thomas and Akilian Butler are six feet tall or more. The Broncos appear to have made a concentrated effort to get bigger at that position. Boise State’s 2019 signees read this way: Shea Whiting 6-2, Khyreem Waleed 6-3, and DK Blaylock 6-5. All three are taller than junior Octavius Evans, who sure looked large as a true freshman in 2017 at 6-1. We’re not expecting to see the injury-plagued Evans on the field tomorrow, but there’ll be plenty of audition time for players like Billy Bowens and Cobbs. Bowens got into three games last season, one under the redshirt limit, and had one touch, an 11-yard reverse at New Mexico.
ROOKIE STAFF’S REPORT CARD WILL BE DELAYED
Defense usually dominates in spring games, so tomorrow’s event may not tell us much about how well all the new faces on the Boise State coaching staff are working together. Jeff Schmedding is the defensive coordinator now; he was at Eastern Washington a year ago. Zac Alley has taken over the linebackers after a long, rewarding apprenticeship at Clemson. Jalil Brown is handling cornerbacks, coming up from Northern Arizona, although he was on the Broncos’ strength and conditioning staff two years ago. (Brown played at Colorado from 2007-10 while many Boise State guys were staffers with the Buffaloes, including Andy Avalos, Kent Riddle, Lee Marks and strength coach Jeff Pitman.) Player favorite Spencer Danielson is a holdover, but he’s in uncharted territory as defensive line coach.
REVITALIZING A DEFLATED DEFENSE
One of the goals of Idaho spring football is improvement on defense. Despite a return to the Big Sky last year, there was significant slippage on the defensive side of the ball. The Vandals allowed 37.5 points and 455 yards per game, way up from the 25.8-point and 390-yard averages during their final year in the FBS. So Idaho coach Paul Petrino is looking for catalysts to emerge this spring, and he found one Monday. “Tre Walker I would say won the day,” said coach Paul Petrino after this week’s first practice. That’s the guy who stuck out the most to me. He really got after it.” The 6-1, 226-pound sophomore linebacker from Fresno played as a true freshman last season and earned three starts. Walker made 41 tackles, three for loss.
YOTES RIDE THEIR 2018 WAVE INTO SPRING FINALE
College of Idaho’s Purple & Gold Spring Game will also be played Saturday at Simplot Stadium. The Coyotes return all 11 starters on offense and 10 starters on defense from a 6-5 team that won its final six games in 2018, so this could be the year in the Cascade Conference. C of I knows who its starting quarterback will be this year, senior Darius-James Peterson. So expect to see plenty of action from the Yotes’ three back-ups, Nathaniel Holcomb, Gage Ferguson and A.J. Bernhardt. The team is the deepest it’s been since the program began play again in 2014.
ALL UTAH ALL THE TIME
It’s a weird way to end the regular season, but that’s what the schedule says. The Idaho Steelheads and Utah Grizzlies will play three times, tonight in CenturyLink Arena and Saturday and Sunday in West Valley City. Still at stake is the ECHL Mountain Division title and home-ice advantage in each of the first two rounds of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The Steelheads are one point behind the Tulsa Oilers—each team has three games to play. The Steelies go into the final weekend sporting the league’s All-Rookie goaltender and second-team All-ECHL goalie, Tomas Sholl, who is 25-12-0 with three shutouts and leads the ECHL in save percentage at .928.
GYMNASTICS LITMUS TEST, SOFTBALL BACK HOME
The 12th-ranked Boise State women’s gymnastics team has never been to the NCAA Championships. This year’s Broncos are arguably the program’s best team ever, but the new format at NCAA Regionals will make it harder than ever to achieve that breakthrough. Boise State is in Corvallis for round one of regionals tonight, competing against No. 5 Denver, Washington and Southern Utah. The top two teams from that session will face the top two from the group that includes No. 4 Florida, No. 15 Oregon State, Stanford and Iowa on Saturday. Then the final two survivors get berths in nationals. Meanwhile, the Boise State women’s softball team, coming off a three-game road sweep at the hands of San Jose State last weekend, returns to Dona Larsen Park for a three-game set versus Utah State beginning today.
THE GENERAL IN THE HALL
Greg Patton may be gone from his head coaching post with Boise State men’s tennis, but he’s hard to forget. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association can’t forget Patton and has named him for induction into the ITA Men’s Hall of Fame. The press release from Boise State had all the perfect Patton-isms. “Saint Peter has just welcomed me through the Pearly Gates of Tennis,” he said. Patton stepped down as the Broncos coach last May following an incredibly successful 22-season run. He took Boise State to 16 NCAA Tournaments and won 808 career matches over 37 years with the Broncos, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and CSU Bakersfield. And Patton has touched countless lives on and off the court.
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April 5, 2014, five years ago today: Quarterback Brett Rypien of Shadle Park High in Spokane gives his verbal commitment to Boise State. Rypien, the 2013 Offensive Player of the Year in the state of Washington, chose the Broncos over Washington State, where his uncle Mark starred before going on to become MVP of Super Bowl XXVI. The younger Rypien would burn his redshirt year in the third game of his true freshman season and would start for the rest of his career, throwing for 13,581 yards and 90 touchdowns. He was a three-time first-team All-Mountain West pick and was Offensive Player of the Year in the conference as a senior.
(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.)