BOISE – Boise State’s football team had a bumper crop of true freshmen out on the field last season, and though most of their contributions weren’t major, the Broncos hope that experience catapults them into better-than-average sophomores.
It is unlikely 10 of them will play in 2017 like last year, the most in more than a decade, but a handful are likely to contribute.
“We love this class,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.
With more than two weeks left until Sept. 2’s opener against Troy, nothing is set in stone, but a few names have been mentioned more often than not during fall camp.
Drake Beasley, RB
Perhaps more than any other, Beasley has been praised by players and coaches as a standout newcomer. The 5-foot-11, 178-pounder from La Canada, Calif., impressed in a key spot last week.
“Drake Beasley, the little running back, he’s doing a great job. He had a really good scrimmage,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said Friday.
Immediately after Aug. 10’s closed scrimmage, senior tight end Jake Roh said: “He runs the ball hard. I was really impressed by him.”
Beasley is an intriguing player beyond just his talents. He did not play last fall as a high school senior when he was deemed ineligible to play after transferring schools, the state determining undue influence by the coaching staff. As a junior, Beasley ran for 1,647 yards and 17 touchdowns. In addition to Boise State, he earned offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Purdue and UCLA during his junior year of high school.
“He came in a little bit lighter than we wanted. I think he came in around 180ish,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “Obviously got to build him. The one thing you didn’t quite know, because he didn’t play last year, he’s very instinctual. Even (Aug. 10) when you watch him run, he can slither his way through there and made some really good runs.”
Though the Broncos have some depth at running back with senior Ryan Wolpin, sophomore Alexander Mattison and redshirt freshman Robert Mahone, the two who have played have only 115 combined career carries. If Beasley continues to impress, he could very well find a role.
“(Drake) is a versatile running back. He’s got some speed to him. He can hit the edge quickly,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “He’s got a little bit of that slipperiness to him. He’s seeing holes and finding his way through traffic well. He’s got a natural running style as well. It’s going to be fun to see him progress.”
Cartrell “CT” Thomas/Octavius Evans, WR
The Texas natives both bring a little something different between the 5-8, 152-pound Thomas and the 6-1, 195-pound Evans.
Thomas is a quick, speedy, slot-type receiver who worked with the veterans two of the three days the team split practices, while Evans (who was listed at 6-3 when he signed in February) is more of the prototype build.
“Both those guys have had good camps so far,” Harsin said.
With all receivers outside senior Cedrick Wilson combining for 28 career receptions, the freshmen are pushing for playing time.
“Really good group of recruits in that class,” Hill said. “A couple of those receivers are really good with CT, Octavius ... .”
Riley Whimpey, LB
Returning from a two-year church mission this summer, the 6-1, 212-pound native of San Clemente, Calif., has come in ready to compete.
“Riley’s been doing a great job. He’s picking this stuff up fast,” Vander Esch said. “... He might not know exactly what he’s doing, but he’s playing fast.”
Though it takes some time to get back into football shape off a mission, Boise State has almost always played them as true freshmen. Safety Kekoa Nawahine, nose tackle Sonatane Lui, defensive end Durrant Miles and linebacker Darren Lee are recent examples.
“Riley Whimpey’s really shown up,” Avalos said. “... He’s caught on. He’s rolling.”
Kekaula Kaniho, S
It’s probably too easy to dub him the “Flyin’ Hawaiian,” but it fits.
The Kahuku High graduate had five straight games with an interception return for a touchdown as a senior, and he’s been making plays in camp.
“That kid flies around,” Vander Esch said.
Harsin said before fall camp began he could see a true freshman finding his way into time in the defensive backfield. Others to watch include cornerbacks Jermani Brown and Marques Evans and safety Tyreque Jones.
“Those guys, especially in the safety group, we’ve got some really talented guys back there,” Avalos said. “Kekaula Kaniho, he’s done a great job. He plays a different speed — he sees, he reacts. Very, very intelligent. Football IQ’s through the roof.”
Boise State junior quarterback Brett Rypien was one of 30 quarterbacks named to the Manning Award watchlist on Wednesday. The award is given to the nation’s top quarterback, and given after the national championship game.
Also on the watchlist from the Mountain West are Colorado State’s Nick Stevens and Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Idaho’s Matt Linehan also is on it. Rypien is also on watchlists for the Walter Camp Award, Maxwell Award, the Allstate AFCA Good Hands Team, the Wuerffel Trophy and the Davey O’Brien Award.
On Wednesday, the channel was set for Sept. 22’s game against Virginia. The game, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will be televised on ESPN2.