Thinking Thomas Sperbeck – August, 2014

One year ago right now Thomas Sperbeck was battling for a backup spot in Boise State’s wide receiver corps. Let’s see, where was Thomas Sperbeck one year ago right now? He was battling for a backup spot in Boise State wide receiver corps, coming off a true freshman season that saw him make all of five receptions for 40 yards. To fans, Sperbeck was one of those semi-anonymous squad members. On the other hand, there was a reason he was activated as a true freshman. Sperbeck had instinct beyond his years. Besides, he was a coach’s son, like so many successful Broncos have been. Then came September of 2014. Zero receptions until the second half of the Air Force game, when he made the catch of the year, a blind grab of a Ryan Finley throw over his opposite shoulder (yes, it’s hard to describe if you haven’t seen it).

Turns out that was only the beginning as Sperbeck did his best Matt Miller impression the rest of the season, netting 51 catches for 877 yards and three touchdowns. Sperbeck averaged 17.2 yards per reception by going vertical—witness his 78-yard touchdown that broke the game open in the 55-30 win over BYU. Of course, it doesn’t get any better than the Fiesta Bowl, where Sperbeck came tantalizingly close to his first 200-yard game. He had 12 grabs for 199 yards on his way to Offensive MVP honors in the 38-30 triumph over Arizona. In one whirlwind year, Sperbeck has gone from an unknown quantity to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, and he has earned it.

Sperbeck signed with Boise State in February, 2013, as a safety out of Jesuit High in Carmichael, CA. That position was a placeholder on Letter of Intent Day; the Broncos knew he could end up in any number of places. Sperbeck was up for anything, but he’s glad things worked out like they did. I asked him yesterday if he ever imagined it would shake out this way—he had been a quarterback at Jesuit and could have been a safety, a wideout, or something else as a Bronco. “I came here for safety, but them switching me—I was pretty thankful, because I like offense better,” he said with a smile.

Yesterday Washington coach Chris Petersen held his first press conference since the Sam Ukwuachu story boiled over, and Petersen made it clear it was about the Huskies and not about the one-time Freshman All-American at Boise State who was convicted last week of second-degree sexual assault while a student at Baylor. According to the Seattle Times’ Adam Jude, Petersen was asked if he could provide clarity on his conversations with Baylor coach Art Briles about Ukwuachu’s troubles in Boise before his dismissal. “I really appreciate that question because I think it’s an important one,” Petersen said. “But I don’t have anything more to add than what my statement was. I really don’t. This is about our football team and that’s really where I’m at on that whole thing.”

Also yesterday, a story at said if Baylor didn’t already know about Ukwuachu’s past, Florida did. The Gators were considering the defensive end after he was kicked out of the Bronco program—until “a Boise State athletic department employee detailed Ukwuachu’s troubles with a girlfriend, according to two former Florida athletic department employees.” The Florida officials said there was “no way” then-coach Will Muschamp would touch him. “Just a bad situation,” one of the former Florida staffers told SI. “It just wasn’t good.” Keep in mind that former Bronco offensive coordinator Brent Pease held the same post with the Gators at that time.

Boise State released a statement late yesterday on the matter that read, in part: “The incidents and factors that contributed to Sam Ukwuachu’s dismissal from the Boise State football team had nothing to do with accusations of any sexual assaults or with accusations that he physically assaulted any women. However, federal laws protecting privacy prohibit Boise State from releasing information about what did result in his dismissal from the Boise State University football team. Boise State University never received any reports nor had any knowledge of Sam Ukwuachu being involved in any accusations of sexual assault before or during his time at Boise State.”

Idaho State is in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated. Mark Liptak of Chubbuck made sure of it. In a Letter to the Editor in response to SI’s feature on trickery in its College Football Preview issue—one that prominently features Boise State’s Statue of Liberty in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl—Liptak writes, “You missed one of the best trick plays of all time, the Globe of Death. With 22 seconds left in Idaho State’s 24-20 upset of Boise State in 1992, Bengals return man Robert Johnson hauled in a kickoff at the 12-yard line. ISU’s players huddled around Johnson before taking off in different directions, with each pretending he had the ball. Johnson ran it back 50 yards against the confused Broncos, before receiver Rommie Wheeler scored the winning touchdown two plays later.” Liptak got it right. It was classic.

Boise State is now single-digit days away from the showdown against Washington. The College of Idaho’s countdown is on one hand, as the Coyotes open the season Saturday at Simplot Stadium against Eastern Oregon. If you need any reminders that the Yotes have a two-pronged history, there’s this. Since the 1917 season, the C of I has posted a 33-24-1 record in season openers, including last season’s 35-34 win at Pacific. The Coyotes are 22-11-1 in home openers since 1942, including nine straight wins from 1962-70. Last season’s 31-28 win over Montana Western ended a seven-game home opener losing streak, dating back to 1971. Not to forget the program’s 37-year hiatus that ended a year ago.

Colossal bummer for Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick. It looks like the former Boise State standout will miss the entire 2015 season after a knee injury in practice yesterday. Scandrick told ESPN via text message that he tore both the ACL and MCL in his right knee. It happened as he made a break on a pass—practice had to be halted while trainers attended to Scandrick, who remained on the ground, screaming and covering his face. He had become a feature player in the Cowboys secondary with his eighth NFL season approaching.

The Boise Hawks piled up 10 runs in the first three innings last night in Vancouver. Things got a little dicey when the Canadians had eight of their own at the end of four, but the Hawks were able to get by with a 12-8 victory at Nat Bailey Stadium. Every Hawk in the batting order had at least one hit in the 16-hit attack, and six players had multi-hit games. Batting has not been the issue with the Hawks this season—they’re third in the Northwest League with a .264 average. Pitching has been a problem, as they’re last in the league in ERA at 4.88. The fourth of the five-game series in B.C. is set for tonight.

Coach Neil Graham’s stocking of the Idaho Steelheads roster continues with the additions of two players from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Forward Damian Cross was Carleton’s captain last season—and its second-leading scorer. In his career, Cross notched 54 points in just 45 games. Defenseman Tim Billingsley was a blue-line force for Carleton. Billingsley put up 11 goals and 43 assists in 85 games for the Ravens. The Steelheads’ training camp begins the first weekend in October.

This Day In Sports…August 26, 1939:

Major League Baseball is broadcast on live television for the first time, as the station that would become WNBC-TV shows a doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodgers from Ebbets Field. It was tied into the 1939 World’s Fair, where television was one of the prize exhibits. The medium was in its infancy, as there were only about 400 TV sets in New York City at the time. The Reds and Dodgers split the twin bill.

(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.)