Seven days removed from their convincing 56-24 win over Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Boise State must now turn their attention toward the 2012 season and beyond. The next big milestone day for the program will be National Letter of Intent Day, February 1st, 2012. Five weeks from signing day, the Broncos still have a lot of work to do.
Although new commitments have been relatively quiet during the football regular season, the Bronco recruiting class is shaping up to be one of the best in school history. Boise State had several positions of need that they have highlighted coming into the season, chief among them the two areas that suffered from injury concerns during a rough patch in midseason: cornerback and running back.
Here is a quick look at the commitments Boise State has received so far. Verbal commitments are non-binding until the Letter of Intent is signed. Committed recruits in bold, prospects in italics.
Quarterback- The Broncos had two quarterbacks targeted in this class and went aggressively after both. One, local phenom Tanner Mangum of Eagle, chose an offer from Brigham Young rather than staying close to home with the Broncos. He is the rare athlete that chose to leave the Treasure Valley despite strong interest from the hometown team. As an outstanding consolation prize, the Broncos were able to reel in Nick Patti from Orlando, FL. Patti possesses a rare combination of athletic ability and pocket passing. He, like a certain Bronco quarterback of some renown, is considered undersized but he is a winner that could become a factor in the 2012 quarterback battle simply because he chose to graduate early and enroll at Boise State in January. He will be on campus and part of the spring practices, giving him a shot to show what types of skills he possesses. Coeur d’Alene prospect Chad Chalich was offered preferred walk-on status but chose to accept a scholarship offer from Idaho.
Running Back- Boise State’s running back depth was severely tested early and often this season as junior Matt Kaiserman was forced to retire due to injuries, sophomore Malcolm Johnson tore his ACL during fall camp and redshirting freshman Jay Ajayi later went down with a torn ACL of his own. The top three tailbacks were mostly intact this season although star senior Doug Martin did miss the TCU game with an injury, a huge setback considering the eventual outcome. D.J. Harper bounced back from two straight injury-shortened seasons by staying healthy and he earned a sixth year of eligibility. He returns to lead a group that includes former walk-on Drew Wright. The Broncos will have just one scholarship underclassman next year so running back is certainly a recruiting priority. The team feels they have a couple of diamonds in the rough in Texas stars Jack Fields and Devan Demas. Boise State gave out as many as eight scholarship offers to running backs this year but appear to be quite satisfied with the pair they are bringing in.
Fullback- The Broncos have begun to phase the traditional fullback role out of their offense with the exception of some specialty running sets so this is not a huge recruiting priority. Senior Dan Paul will return after he missed the 2011 season with an injury to his hip. Freshman walk-on Jamal Wilson redshirted this season and has good size. Linebacker Tommy Smith chipped in at the spot at times last year and tight end Chandler Koch also dropped into the backfield on occasion. The Broncos have not extended an offer to any fullbacks yet in this recruiting cycle although Johmel Charles is listed by Scout.com as having high interest in the program. He currently holds offers from Fresno State, Idaho, New Mexico and SMU, among others.
Wide Receiver- Tyler Shoemaker is the only senior of the wide receiving corps as they welcome back a veteran group, one year after being a big question mark. Matt Miller and Mitch Burroughs return as starters and will be supported by a big group of contributors including Kirby Moore, Chris Potter, Geraldo Boldewijn, Aaron Burks and Dallas Burroughs. Freshman Troy Ware was impressive in the spring and would have played this fall without the depth in front. Needless to say, wide receiver was not a huge area of concern during this recruiting cycle. The Broncos bring in diminutive Texas Shane Rhodes, a 5’7” speedster but he is their only committed recruit at the position. Boise State did offer several other players as they will need future depth. Six receivers will be either juniors or seniors in the fall and the Broncos traditionally rotate a large group of players at the position. Lanky Jake Maulhardt from Camarillo, CA is one potential target for the group as he has expressed interest in the program previously. There are currently no scholarship offers to uncommitted players at the wide receiver spot.
Tight End- The Broncos lose Kyle Efaw, by far their most experienced tight end, to graduation. Coming back next year are Koch, Gabe Linehan and Kyle Sosnowski. They will be joined by redshirt freshman Holden Huff as well as grayshirt Hayden Plinke. The group also got a boost from a recent announcement as JC transfer Connor Peters signed his letter of intent during the fall junior college period. Also on board with the Broncos is Armand Nance, another Texan who helped lead his team to the state title. With the late addition of Peters, it is unclear whether the remaining scholarship offers to uncommitted prospects are still on the table as there will be at least seven scholarship tight ends on the roster next season with only one senior.
Offensive Tackle- Star left tackle Nate Potter moves on to the NFL but experienced depth remains at the tackle position. Sophomore Charles Leno returns and is a candidate to shift to the left side although that spot could be taken by rising senior Faraji Wright. Michael Ames also has starting experience. Adam Sheffield was the top-rated tackle recruit in last year’s class and there are currently no tackle commits in the 2012 group. The Broncos had offers out to five different tackles that chose Pac-12 scholarships instead. Boise State has a plethora of versatile linemen that could play inside or out but it is at least mildly concerning that they don’t appear poised to bring in a tackle in this recruiting period, short of a last-minute surprise.
Offensive Guard- Senior starter Chuck Hayes moves on but the Broncos return four guards with starting experience and appear to have solid depth at the position. Joe Kellogg is back at left guard and Jake Broyles looks likely to grab the starting spot at right guard that he claimed in fall camp last year before a foot injury cut his season short. Brenel Myers and Spencer Gerke also return as well as a pair of guards from last year’s class in Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo. The latter has the size and quickness to potentially move out to tackle and his future could eventually be on the outside. The linemen the Broncos are bringing in this year include Travis Averill who is a highly-recruited player out of Anaheim, CA. Joining him will be Texan Steven Baggett. The duo both have the versatility that Bronco offensive line coach Chris Strausser craves.
Center- The Broncos lose four-year starter Thomas Byrd to graduation but return a pair of centers with starting experience due to Byrd’s injury struggles this past year. Cory Yriarte is the favorite to start after being granted a sixth year of eligibility. He will be joined in the competition by Matt Paradis. The Broncos had scholarship offers out to a pair of California prospects but they appear to have accepted Pac-12 opportunities instead of the chance to join the Broncos. One of the other interior linemen could be in the mix at center as Yriarte has a significant injury history and there doesn’t appear to currently be another center prospect on the board for the Broncos this year.
Defensive End- The Broncos lose their top three defensive ends including all-conference performers Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford. Jarrell Root has also exhausted his eligibility. The trio saw the vast majority of important snaps this season although true freshman, and former grayshirt, Tyler Horn did get on the field early last season. A pair of rising juniors, Kharyee Marshall and Nick Alexander, had injury-marred campaigns and have yet to scratch the surface of their potential. Robert Ash and Samuel Ukwuachu were highly-regarded recruits from last season’s class that could figure into the rotation next fall. Nevertheless, the Broncos need to address the defensive end position and may have found another star in junior college transfer Demarcus Lawrence. He chose the Broncos over some other big-time offers such as Tennessee, Clemson, South Carolina and Kansas State. He has a chance to play immediately. They appear to be in a fierce battle with some Pac-12 schools for Arizona prospect Dylan Cozens and it would be a shock if he chose the Broncos. Boise State did ink another under-the-radar prospect in Elliot Hoyte, a physical specimen from England. Hoyte will join the team in January and has some impressive physical abilities.
Defensive Tackle- Billy Winn and Chase Baker, stalwarts of the defensive interior for the past four seasons, are gone. The cupboard, however, is far from bare. The Broncos had solid depth at the position last year with Mike Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, the favorites to grab the starting positions in the fall. Greg Grimes, Darren Koontz and Justin Jungblut also have game experience and the team welcomes Jeff Worthy, another highly-regarded freshman who redshirted this season. There is only one uncommitted player that appears to have mutual interest in the Broncos and that is Aaron Curry out of Keller, TX. Boise State will have to fight off offers from Iowa, Missouri and Oregon and Curry holds over a dozen other offers as well. He would be a tremendous pickup for the Broncos, who don’t appear to have anyone else lined up at the tackle spot.
Linebacker- The Broncos lose a pair of senior starters in Byron Hout and Aaron Tevis and they will be replaced by rising seniors Tommy Smith and J.C. Percy. Freshman Blake Renaud was a special teams standout and looks poised to join the rotation on defense this year. Local star Dillon Lukehart redshirted this fall but the remainder of the depth chart consists of a handful of walk-ons. The Broncos are definitely looking for more depth at the linebacker spot and have a couple of intriguing prospects coming in. Ben Weaver and Andrew Pint are a couple of physical linebackers who have both seen their recruiting pick up since committing to Boise State. The Broncos aren’t done recruiting the position as they have a couple offers out to uncommitted prospects. The best bet on the board may be Reshawn Hooker, a Fontana, CA product who appears to be leaning toward UCLA. The Bruins have been hot on the recruiting trail since naming Jim Mora, Jr as their coach so it remains to be seen whether they are still pursuing Hooker, who has at least five other Pac-12 offers.
Nickelback- Hunter White finally began to break out toward the end of the season and the special teams star will be missed. The Broncos have solid depth behind him in rising senior Dextrell Simmons and expected starter Jonathan Brown. Also in the mix is Corey Bell out of Capital High who saw the field as a true freshman this fall. In a move that signals that the position is likely here to stay, the Broncos specifically targeted Christopher Santini out of San Jose. Santini chose Boise State over Oregon State and Utah and looks like he could be the next great nickelback for the Broncos.
Safety- Four-year starter George Iloka moves on as well as fellow seniors Cedric Febis and Travis Stanaway. The trio were the rocks of the secondary late in the season when injuries shifted Iloka to cornerback. There is talent waiting in the wings as rising sophomore Jeremy Ioane started the season opener before giving way to Febis and Stanaway. Also seeing significant time this season, although not at safety, was true freshman Lee Hightower. The lanky sophomore-to-be appears to be the heir apparent to Iloka at free safety if the Broncos can regain their depth at cornerback next year. Also in the mix is 6’4 specimen Taylor Loffler out of British Columbia and walk-on special teams ace Hazen Moss. The only official commit at the safety spot thus far is Chanceller James out of Spring Valley, CA, although local product D.J. Dean may find himself at safety during his Boise State career. The former Eagle High School quarterback is an athlete who could end up on either side of the ball but likely will start on defense for the Broncos. There are not any other offers out to uncommitted prospects but there is one intriguing player to watch in Texas product Jared Johnson. The former Baylor commit was originally recruited as a quarterback by the likes of Oregon and Pittsburgh in addition to the Bears. He re-opened his recruitment and is an outstanding athlete who could be an interesting safety prospect.
Cornerback- The Broncos were decimated by injuries at the cornerback position this year after it looked like it would be one of the deepest position groups on the team. Senior Jerrell Gavins played in just three games before tearing his ACL in practice but was given a redshirt season and will return in 2012. Rising senior Jamar Taylor had a momentum-swinging touchdown that was returned for an interception in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas to cap a roller-coaster season filled with injuries. In their absence, Ebo Makinde was up and down before an injury sidelined him for the season. Quaylon Ewing-Burton struggled in his opportunities and freshman Bryan Douglas failed to capitalize as well. That left true freshman Lee Hightower to experience trial by fire and he was mostly solid. He is expected to shift back to safety this year however and there is room for some young players to make statements. Freshmen Eric Agbaroji and Darian Thompson redshirted last fall and Thompson may also shift to safety. The Broncos had an early commitment from Marcus Rios, their highest-rated prospect this season, but he dropped Boise State in favor of UCLA. In his place, the Broncos reeled in a pair of intriguing corner prospects in Donte Deayon and Chaz Anderson out of southern California. Ryan Santos, a high school teammate of wide receiver commit Shane Rhodes, has an offer from the Broncos, one of five remaining offers to uncommitted prospects. The depth chart should be loaded next season but the injuries to the starters and ineffectiveness of the reserves last year prove that there are opportunities available.
Kicker- The Broncos bring back co-starters Michael Frisina and Dan Goodale, neither of which endeared themselves to the Boise State faithful with their uneven performances last season. Freshman scholarship kicker Jake Van Ginkel was unable to beat out the duo in fall camp and redshirted. He will have every opportunity to win the job this season. With three kickers on the roster, there is next to no chance that a scholarship will be awarded at the position this year. The kicking competition is completely open heading into next season, however. If you have a great leg, and more importantly if you can kick under pressure, you too may have a shot to be the Boise State kicker in 2012.
Punter- Brad Elkin had a solid senior season and will be missed next year. There are no scholarship punters on the roster and it is unlikely the Broncos will add one this season. Kickoff specialist Trevor Harman is the leading candidate to replace Elkin although there will be likely competition from a walk-on or two next season.
Rory Connop, a Canadian prospect who was moved from the defensive line to the offensive line, is officially a 2011 recruit who redshirted this season. Many recruiting services were adding him to this year’s group. As mentioned above, the Broncos welcome grayshirt Hayden Plinke who originally signed as part of the 2011 class last February and delayed his enrollment. The Broncos will be limited by three scholarships in the 2012 class due to NCAA sanctions.
Boise State’s recruiting class stands at 18 at the moment with 14 high school seniors, foreign prospect Hoyte, two junior college transfers and 2011 grayshirt Plinke. There is room for at least four additional recruits with the offensive and defensive lines likely being the areas the Broncos could still use some help.