Jay Ajayi is poised to put up the first significant Super Bowl stats ever from a former Boise State skill player when the Eagles meet the Patriots Sunday in Minneapolis. The first from any player with Idaho ties, as a matter of fact.Heck, Ajayi could exceed those numbers in the first quarter. Here’s the entire list. Former Bronco Korey Hall had one reception for two yards for Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV against Pittsburgh seven years ago. Former Idaho Vandal Jeff Robinson had two catches for 18 yards for St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI versus New England. In that same game, Idaho alum Yo Murphy made one grab for 11 yards (although he did have three kickoff returns for 81 yards). No player with Idaho ties has had so much as a rushing attempt in a Super Bowl. History is about to be made by Ajayi. He can hardly help it.
I thought it would be interesting to track down what we were hearing about Ajayi when he committed to Boise State in the summer of 2010. He was the Broncos’ third commit out of the state of Texas that year during a time when the Boise State staff was capitalizing on the foothold it had down there. Ajayi was coming off a junior year at Liberty High in Frisco that saw him rush for 1,627 yards and 20 touchdowns, and at that point he had offers from Minnesota, Tulane, Wyoming and New Mexico State. By the time his senior campaign rolled around, he was getting ink in a column in the Dallas Morning News. “He’s shaping up as one of those classic late-blooming Bronco finds,” I wrote in this column. Well, we got that one right.
It was only a matter of time before he’d be summoned to Indianapolis. Now Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch has received his coveted invitation to the NFL Combine four weeks from now. That’s where NFL executives, coaches and player personnel people will get to see if they could really believe their eyes when Vander Esch dominated for the Broncos last year on the way to Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors. The pride of Riggins really did come out of nowhere. A year ago, Vander Esch wasn’t even projected to be a starter at linebacker until Joey Martarano left Boise State to concentrate on his baseball career at the beginning of spring football last March. It’s been fairly amazing.
There’s a little more substance to the Boise State-Colorado State rivalry now. Dallas Holliday, a 6-4, 300-pound lineman out of Westlake Village, CA, and Oaks Christian High, has flipped his commitment from the Rams to the Broncos. 247 Sports recruiting expert Brandon Huffman reported yesterday that the news came from Oaks Christian coach Jim Benkert, who said the three-star prospect will play on the offensive line for Boise State after starring on the D-line in high school. Huffman notes that Holliday originally committed to San Diego State but didn’t sign with the Aztecs in December. It’s a tangled Mountain West web indeed.
Someday we’ll hear Jon Helmandollar’s full story, but it’s a good one right now, as the former Boise State running back has been named the new head coach at Nampa’s Columbia High. Helmandollar was a short-yardage behemoth for the Broncos as a freshman in 2004, coming off a Gatorade Player of the Year season at Eagle High. Late that fall, he became the first Boise State player ever to score five touchdowns in a game. Then off-field problems slowed Helmandollar’s Bronco career to a crawl, ultimately ending it before the 2007 season. He later righted the ship and got into coaching, taking Wendell to the playoffs in 2012 for the first time in eight years. Helmandollar has since been coaching in Oregon at Toledo, Springfield and Hillsboro. Columbia is on the rise, going 4-5 last season and just missing the playoffs a year after snapping a 25-game losing streak.
Despite being “held” to 16 points in the win at Air Force, Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison still leads the Mountain West in scoring at 19.7 points per game, one-tenth of a point better than Nevada’s Caleb Martin. A guy Boise State faces Saturday night, UNLV freshman phenom Brandon McCoy, is on pace to break the Mountain West freshman record of 16.1 points per game set by the Rebels’ Anthony Bennett five years ago. McCoy is averaging 17.5 per outing. If he’s thinking of a one-and-done move to the NBA, he may want to research Bennett’s star-crossed pro career after being draft No. 1 overall in 2013.
While Boise State savors its Mountain West midweek bye for this season, McCoy will be in action tonight when UNLV hosts San Jose State at the Thomas & Mack Center. Shakur Juiston will be in action, too. The Rebels have found their rhythm, with McCoy and Juiston putting up 21 points apiece in last Saturday’s 88-78 win over San Diego State. Juiston also pulled down 11 rebounds and McCoy seven. For UNLV, SJSU should just provide a warmup for the main event in Taco Bell Arena—that despite the fact it took overtime for UNLV to beat the Spartans in San Jose 82-76 four weeks ago.
The Idaho Steelheads now deal with Utah on the road tonight before facing the Grizzlies twice in Boise this weekend. The Steelheads, who were swept in three games at Colorado last week, suffered the same fate the last time they played Utah in a two-game series in West Valley City on New Year’s weekend. The Steelies, in fact, have suffered three consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season—and have surrendered five goals or more in three straight games for the first time this season. Captain Jefferson Dahl and Corbin Baldwin will miss tonight’s contest as they serve the second game of their two-game suspensions following a fight-filled contest at Colorado last Friday.
The Statesman’s Michael Deeds reports that a new indoor football team, the Idaho Horsemen, is negotiating with the Ford Idaho Center to begin play in 2020. The Horsemen plan to begin play next year—if the Nampa facility is willing. The indoor game has a lukewarm history in the Treasure Valley. The Idaho Stallions played three unpredictable seasons from 1999-2001, one of them at the Idaho Center and two at what was then the Bank of America Centre in Downtown Boise. The Boise Burn played three relatively stable seasons from 2007-09, but that squad folded when changes in the structure of Arena2 football didn’t fit its plans.
This Day In Sports…January 31, 1988, 30 years ago today:
Washington’s Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl, goes 9-of-11 for 228 yards and four touchdowns, while rookie teammate Tim Smith rushes for 122 yards and a TD. All that in the second quarter in a 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos. The Redskins amassed a Super Bowl record 602 yards, while Williams finished the day with 340 yards passing and earned the game’s MVP honor.
(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.)