O’Brien judged on who he was—and is

One name on the list of nominees for Boise State’s 30-Year All-Blue Team may put fans in a quandary, but it shouldn’t.Joe O’Brien evokes a variety of emotions in these parts. Those who remember him only as the Broncos’ 1994 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American, the leader of a 13-2 team that made it to the Division I-AA national championship game, do so fondly. Those who remember what later happened to his coaching career? Maybe not so much. While he was defensive line coach at Montana State, O’Brien was arrested in 2003 for dealing meth and was later convicted, spending 28 months in federal prison until his September, 2006, release. But his turnaround since makes O’Brien worthy of consideration, no matter which part of his life you apply.

O’Brien’s goal since his release from prison has been to restore his good name, and the start was the brutally honest tell-all on his life in an autobiography co-authored by Bob Evancho (who also co-wrote “Pokey: The Good Fight” with the late Pokey Allen). It was released almost five years ago. O’Brien’s early childhood in Pittsburg, CA, was stunningly rough. It’s not the Bay Area you see in Chamber of Commerce materials. O’Brien’s substance abuse began in junior high. He turned to drugs in high school and started living what he calls “The Lie,” something that extended all the way through his charismatic playing days at Boise State—and worsened during what appeared to be a promising coaching career.

The book led to a sidelight vocation as a motivational speaker, as O’Brien sought to steer junior high and high school students away from the death-defying (fortunately it was defying) life he led for all those years. As a newspaper story on one of his talks once said, it was not about redemption, but prevention. Enough people believed in O’Brien—just enough—that in 2013 he landed a head coaching job at Simms High, a small school west of Great Falls. The school board vote was 4-3 in favor of hiring him. O’Brien led Simms to a nine-win season after the school had won just six games combined in the previous decade; then he resigned the following summer due to continued hostility in the community. The hope here is that he hasn’t soured on coaching.

One of the guys I have in my top five, Billy Winn, is still looking for an NFL home ahead of training camp. Winn, who was traded from Cleveland to Indianapolis last year, was not re-signed by the Colts and is an unrestricted free agent. He logged only 14 tackles (and no sacks) in 2015. Winn is responsible for what I consider to be the loudest single moment in the history of Albertsons Stadium, regardless of the color of turf. In the 19-8 victory over Oregon in 2009, Winn knifed through to corral LeGarrette Blount five yards deep in the end zone for a safety. The valley was shakin’ from Ontario to Mountain Home.

There was a photo at NorthJersey.com over the weekend of former Boise State standout Donte Deayon covering a receiver during the New York Giants’ OTAs last week, and next to those NFL guys he looked even smaller than he did in his Bronco days. But he’s excited. Art Stapleton writes that Deayon would report for training camp next week if he could. “This was big for me, and I think I’ve done well so far,” Deayon told Stapleton at the conclusion of the team’s minicamp. “I believe I can play and I know I have to keep proving myself. Making the team was the goal and still is the goal. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Notes Stapleton: “Deayon has made plenty of noise on the practice field, garnering attention by making plays despite his 5-foot-9, 158-pound stature. He has lined up in the slot with the second team, and his presence has opened eyes, putting him in position to challenge for a roster spot at the position.” Boise State has seen a number of its undrafted defensive backs flourish in the NFL, namely Quintin Mikell and Chris Carr. But if Deayon can stick, it would be an even larger feather in the Broncos’ cap.

The Boise Hawks home opener was sailing along in pitchers’ duel form last night until (pun warning) the Volcanoes erupted. It’s rare for a Northwest League starter to last into the eighth inning, especially in June, but the Hawks’ Antonio Santos rolled in riding a one-run, six-hit performance. Maybe Santos should have called it good, because he gave up five of the runs in Salem-Keizer’s six-run eighth as the Volcanoes batted around. S-K went on to a 7-2 win. The only hot Hawks bat was that of shortstop Garrett Hampson, who went 3-for-4 with a triple in his debut. The three-game series continues tonight at Memorial Stadium.

If you go to MLB.com, you can see slo-mo video of Willson Contreras belting the first major league pitch of his career for a two-run homer Sunday night. It was as sweet a home run swing as you can imagine. Contreras’ landmark blast was also notable for the fan who caught it his glove in the bleachers. He went berserk. The fan, 15-year-old Carter Clover, was there with his dad on Father’s Day. “This is my dad’s old glove, actually,” Clover told MLB.com. “My grandma gave it to me, we stopped on the way here, got the glove, came here ready. Caught a few batting practice balls…got the special one that I needed. That was the one I wanted.” Nice.

Look at Cleveland now. Just three years ago, coming off a 24-58 season, the Cavaliers took UNLV’s Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. The Cavs thought they had their building block, and the Mountain West thought it had made a lasting statement in hoops. Wrong on both counts. Bennett flamed out, and now—still only 23 years old—finds himself as a free agent without a team. Cleveland? Well, you know.

As a Golden State Warriors fan, I was trying to find the right comparison to describe the utter discomfort of watching the final three games of the NBA Finals. I settled on this. It was like watching a good comedian bombing on stage, telling bad joke after bad joke and making his audience squirm. After the first joke falls flat, you see the setup for the next one—and know it’s not going to end well. And on and on.

This Day In Sports…June 21, 1970:

Tony Jacklin becomes the first British golfer in 50 years to win the U.S. Open, and he does it in dominating fashion with a seven-stroke victory over Dave Hill. Jacklin was the only player to finish under par at Hazeltine National Golf Club near Minneapolis. There wouldn’t be another U.S. Open winner from the United Kingdom until Irish mainstays Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy took back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011. And not another true Brit until Justin Rose won in 2013.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)