The 2010 Boise State football season came to a close Wednesday night with a 26-3 win over Utah in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Along with it came the close of several great Bronco careers as the most prolific senior class in program history now moves on. From individual accolades to team success, no group of Broncos have ever massacred the record books or led the program to such storied heights as the 2010 seniors.
This group of Broncos began arriving on campus for the 2006 season and while a handful of those recruits delayed their enrollment and will be seniors next season (including local stars Kyle Efaw and Nate Potter), most of them began practicing as redshirts that fall. Two integral players joined them as non-scholarship walk-ons and began their careers with much to prove. These redshirts were a critical part of the team that won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, participating with the scout team and often emulating their opponents to prepare the team during the week. Yet despite not playing, it was simply being a part of that team that instilled an attitude that saw them win more games than any other Broncos before them.
Redshirts from the 2006 recruiting class: Right Guard, Will Lawrence; Right Tackle, Matt Slater; Offensive Lineman, Kevin Sapien (Retired following 2009 season); Safety, Jeron Johnson; Running Back, Jarvis Hodge; Tight End, Tommy Gallarda; Safety, Jason Robinson; Linebacker, Derrell Acrey; and Quarterback, Mike Coughlin
Walk-ons from the 2006 recruiting class: Defensive End, Ryan Winterswyk; Kicker/Punter, Kyle Brotzman
Following the Fiesta Bowl win in 2007, Boise State enhanced their national profile and began to attract even greater talent. In addition to the redshirts who prepared to play in their first games in the fall of 2007, five true freshmen joined them as part of the best recruiting class in Boise State history. One player from that group, Punter Brad Elkin, redshirted the 2010 season and will have one additional year of eligibility.
True freshmen from the 2007 recruiting class: Wide Receiver, Titus Young; Wide Receiver, Austin Pettis; Running Back, Jeremy Avery; and Cornerback, Brandyn Thompson
Three junior college transfers joined over the next two years to contribute to the success of Boise State as well, making up the final members of the 2010 graduating class.
Junior College Transfers in 2008 and 2009: Tight End, Sean King; Linebacker, Daron Mackey; Nickelback, Winston Venable
Collectively, this group of seniors has compiled a ridiculous 48-4 record including bowl wins in 2009 and 2010. They won or shared the WAC championship in each of their last 3 years and were part of the school record 14 wins compiled by the 2009 team. The team achievements during their tenure are enhanced by the depth the program has built but would likely not be possible without some of the individual stars that have played on the blue.
When people think of Boise State football, they think wide open offense. Quarterback Kellen Moore has already set many of the school passing records but he could not do it without the help of some playmakers around him and an offensive line that has protected him better than just about any quarterback in the country. Offensive linemen Will Lawrence, Matt Slater and Kevin Sapien were part of a group that allowed just 14 sacks combined in the past two years. Only 20 other teams gave up fewer than that in 2010 alone.
Running back Jeremy Avery took a backseat to Doug Martin in the running game this year after posting 1150 rushing yards a season ago. However, he did develop a knack for the end zone by scoring 11 rushing touchdowns on 94 attempts after only 6 last season in more than twice the carries. He moved up to 6th in school history in all-purpose yardage and his versatility in the wildcat formation as well as his ability to catch passes out of the backfield may get him a look in the NFL.
When it’s all said and done, Moore will own every meaningful record in Boise State history as a passer and he has two unbelievable weapons to thank for that. Titus Young and Austin Pettis both stepped onto the field as true freshmen ranked as the 94th and 99th best wide receiver prospects in the country respectively. They leave as the greatest receiving duo in school history and arguably the best in the country this year. Young became the career receiving yardage leader earlier this season despite missing most of his sophomore year with disciplinary issues. He has grown as a man and a player over the past two seasons and will be an excellent professional prospect. Pettis was Mr. Reliable who was nearly automatic on 3rd downs and in the red zone which led to his career records in receptions and touchdown catches. He too will hear his name on draft day.
Despite all that offense, the Broncos have made themselves into a perennial top 15 program by improving their defense over the past several seasons. No defense has been more dominant in BSU history than the one led by these seniors. In 2010, the Broncos ranked 2nd nationally in scoring defense, 3rd in passing defense and 4th in total defense. They led in rushing defense as well until two uncharacteristically poor games against Nevada and Utah State bumped them all the way down to 7th.
Safety Jeron Johnson, cornerback Brandyn Thompson and nickelback Winston Venable led a ferocious secondary that was opportunistic and physical. Prolific passing offenses looked pathetic against Boise State this season and those three were a key reason. Thompson moved into the top 10 in school history with 13 career interceptions as he had a flair for the dramatic big play. Johnson and Venable were just vicious as they didn’t just tackle anything that came by, they flattened them. Their intense style of play was termed dirty by some but in all but a scant few occasions was just hard-nosed football.
The emotional leader of the Broncos was undoubtedly linebacker Derrell Acrey. After an acclaimed redshirt season, Acrey struggled with injuries and inconsistency for much of his career but he never stopped being the leader of the defense. He was the man in the middle literally and figuratively as he got the Broncos amped up before each game.
Defensive end Ryan Winterswyk embodied everything great about the Boise State program. Arriving on campus as a 210 pound safety, Winterswyk beefed up and became one of the most prolific pass rushers in school history. Earning All-WAC 1st team honors for three consecutive years, Winterswyk was a monster on the line disrupting opposing offenses with regularity. He ended his career ranked 4th on the all-time list in tackles for loss and sacks. His presence alone in 2010 allowed fellow linemen Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford to play pinball with the quarterback game after game as Winterswyk was consistently double and triple teamed.
Another walk-on in 2006 was kicking specialist Kyle Brotzman. In what has become a tradition at Boise State, the local product earned a scholarship by winning the placekicking job as a freshman and adding punting duties off and on throughout his career as well including two of the top four punt average seasons in school history. He will go down in Bronco lore as the kicker who missed a chance to beat Nevada on a last-second kick and potentially send BSU to the Rose Bowl. What he should be remembered for is his clutch performance that helped win the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and his career record for scoring by a placekicker in NCAA history. No small accomplishments for an unrecruited kicker.
As the long winter rolls on following football season and months before spring practices and eventually fall camps arrive, it’s a wonderful time to reflect on an amazing season and an astounding run of success in the Western Athletic Conference. No doubt, the sting of the loss to Nevada will linger in the minds of fans, coaches and players for some time. Yet the ability to block that out long enough to record two great wins to close the season, and careers, of these great players should be enough to bring a smile to the faces of Bronco Nation.
We’ve been blessed with an incredible run of success that no single loss can overshadow. As historically elite programs like Texas, Florida and USC struggled this year, it makes it all that much more clear how amazing a decade it has been and how fleeting that success can sometimes be. Disappointment in a 12-1 season is silly, but it just proves how high the bar has been set. These 18 seniors can walk off the Boise State campus as proud as any group in school history for what they’ve accomplished.