Rice ready to ride – 24 years after Pokey

The walk across the Boise River has graduated into a horseback jaunt through the Boise State campus for coach Leon Rice. The next big game on the docket in Taco Bell Arena is this Saturday night versus UNLV—and with a midweek bye this week, the Broncos have all sorts of time to promote it. Rice says he’ll ride a horse through campus if fans sell out the house for the Rebels, three weeks after the announced sellout for the San Diego State game and the river crossing. Boise State tweeted a shot of Rice and a horse named Max (with presumed apologies to his son Max, the Bishop Kelly star), walking along the river, along with a video. This is a doable thing. UNLV is now playing like the team it’s always hyped to be. And hey, it’s a 6 p.m. tipoff.

Longtime fans have clamored for this idea, remembering the late Pokey Allen’s famous ride in 1994. The occasion was the semifinals of the Division I-AA Playoffs, with Marshall coming to town. Early in the week, Allen and I taped a TV spot with light snow falling, saluting hardy fans in Green Bay and Buffalo. Pokey ripped off a ski mask and declared, “If we get 20,000 fans in Bronco Stadium for the Marshall game, I’ll ride a horse down Broadway!” The 20,000 was going to be a challenge, because it was the third week in a row Boise State had to sell the stadium from scratch for a playoff matchup. But fans responded, and on that Monday, after a 28-24 victory over the Thundering Herd, Pokey mounted the horse for a ride of about three blocks amidst more snowflakes.

Week 2 of Boise State’s “Ironmen of the Week” awards during offseason conditioning produced Brett Rypien and Riley Whimpey as the winners. For Rypien, the weight room rockstar status is a continuation of the leadership skills that rose to the top late in the 2017 season. He’s a senior, and it’s “do as I do” time. Whimpey provides some encouragement after the early departure of Leighton Vander Esch to the NFL. Nobody is poised to duplicate Vander Esch next season for the Broncos, but Whimpey is looking like a solid candidate to take over that starting spot at linebacker. He had 17 tackles as a freshman last season, including one for loss. Whimpey played some significant defensive snaps in addition to special teams.

Here’s our Super Bowl preparatory stat of the day (local edition). Pro Football Focus drills down the numbers, and Philadelphia’s Jay Ajayi has the most yards-after-contact per rushing attempt of any NFL running back in the playoffs this year at 3.27. The former Boise State star has 127 yards on 33 carries in two postseason games, an average of 3.8 yards per tote. So does that mean Ajayi first gets hit just half a yard into each rushing try? Come to think of it, it looks like that when you watch him. His YAC performance is a switch from early this season when he played for Miami. Before the Halloween trade to the Eagles, Ajayi was at the bottom of the NFL in tackles-for-loss, having been stopped behind the line of scrimmage 26 times. Making something out of nothing will be one of his challenges against New England on Sunday.

Cedrick Wilson’s postseason travelogue now includes a stop at the 2018 State Farm All-Star Football Challenge Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Wilson is among 24 top college players who will be divided into six teams—one for each Power 5 conference and a “Wild Card” team that combines the Group of 5 and lower divisions. The series of skills competitions will be telecast on ESPN2. Joining Wilson in the Wild Card group are Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside, UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport, and UTEP guard Will Hernandez. Wilson is the only Mountain West player participating.

“I have made so many mistakes I have become a little ashamed of being Titus Young.” That was part of a 141-page diary written by Young that was shared with the L.A. Times by family members. A story about it by Nathan Fenn in yesterday’s Times won’t make you feel any better about the former Boise State wide receiver, whose NFL career with the Detroit Lions came crashing down after locker room strife and subsequent crime sprees in 2013. The diary, written over about two months early last year when he was mostly in lockdown at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles, includes references to Young hearing voices.

“A lot of the stuff I have done was out of my control during the time,” he wrote. “Hearing voices is no joke, it’s actually very scary.” His family linked Young’s alarming behavior over the last five years to a concussion during his rookie season in Detroit. Fenn notes that Young “accumulated at least 25 criminal charges—including 10 for assault or battery—in Southern California since 2013.” Perhaps the most revealing passage from the diary: “I believe God has a plan for me and deep down I believe it’s to dominate the NFL.” Young is up for parole in March. (That doesn’t mean he’ll be released.) This remains probably the saddest tale in 50 years of Boise State football.

Wishing a speedy recovery to former Boise State women’s basketball coach June Daugherty, who’s on a leave of absence from her post as head coach at Washington State. “The medical procedure I had a few weeks ago was successful, but I need some additional time to rest and heal,” Daughterty said in a statement. “I have great confidence that my staff will continue to coach the Cougs to their best play yet, I believe in this team and I am excited to see them continue to have success in Pac-12 Conference play.” Daugherty’s husband, Mike, will fill in while she’s out. June is in her 11th season as head coach at WSU and her 29th overall (her first head coaching job was with the Broncos from 1989-96).

This Day In Sports… January 30, 1996:

Magic Johnson returns to the Los Angeles Lakers lineup for his first regular-season appearance since his November, 1991, announcement that he had tested positive for HIV. Johnson was 36 years old by then—and 30 pounds heavier—but he played 27 minutes, contributing 19 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in a 128-118 win over the Golden State Warriors. Johnson appeared in 32 games for the Lakers that season before retiring for the final time.

(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.)