BOISE — One of the most meaningful symbols of the Boise State football program has a new name.
The Hammer has been renamed in honor of former Boise State fullback and special-teamer Dan Paul, who died in July of unknown causes. Paul played at Boise State from 2008 to 2012.
The “Dan Paul Hammer” traditionally goes to the player who made the biggest hit on special teams in the previous game, although that definition has expanded over the years to include other significant plays and performances. The player with the Hammer leads the Broncos onto the field for the next game.
“It was a huge honor to carry the Hammer,” Jeff Choate, the Montana State football coach who started the award as Boise State’s special teams coach in 2006, said in an audio recording provided to the Idaho Statesman by Montana State. “It came to kind of signify our blue-collar work ethic, put the team first, that type of attitude, and I just think it’s awesome that Dan would be the guy that would have the opportunity to have it named after him.
“... He embodied everything about being a Boise State Bronco during that time, as far as not a five-star recruit, just a five-star person.”
Hammer imagery is omnipresent in the Bleymaier Football Center, including a giant photo that can be seen by those passing by the building. The Hammer display in the locker room has included a photo of Paul since the building was completed in 2013, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Paul appeared in 49 games while playing some of the most physical roles on the team, carrying the Hammer once in 2012. Current members of the football program are wearing “Live Like Dan” wristbands.
“He was a great Bronco,” Harsin said. “... The Hammer was a pretty easy decision based off what he did here, what (the Hammer) represents, who he is, was, and what we want to be able to do moving forward.”
Paul will be honored before Saturday’s game against Hawaii with many of his family members and former teammates in attendance.
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His best friend on those Broncos teams was linebacker/defensive end Byron Hout, who is now the defensive line coach at Montana State. Hout won the overall Hammer award for the 2011 season.
“Just one of those guys that always had a smile on his face, was always excited about life, always brought the best out of people, and it didn’t matter who you were,” Hout said, also in audio provided to the Statesman by Montana State. “... That was the reason why we were such a tight-knit group and such a tight team was he was kind of the glue guy. He brought everybody together.”
Hout and Paul often went head to head in practice, smashing into each other. But they had an unwritten rule, Hout said — no cut blocks.
“Anything you asked him to do,” Hout said, “he was just excited about it and would give you maximum effort doing that.”
The Hammer tradition was started in 2006 by staff newcomer Choate, who remained in the Broncos program through 2011. It quickly became symbolic of the “blue collar” mantra that is a key part of the football program.
“What’s more blue collar than going out and busting your tail on special teams?” Choate told the Idaho Statesman in 2007. “It’s a major badge of honor.”
But it wasn’t his idea for the Hammer winner to lead the team onto the field. That happened organically, with players telling the first winner — defensive back Austin Smith — to move to the front as the team took the field.
“The kids decided on their own that that would be the guy to lead the team out of the tunnel,” Choate said in 2007. “That’s how tradition is developed. That’s a big deal, getting to lead that group out. ... Hopefully it will be around here a long time. The longer it’s around, the bigger deal it will become.”