Senior tight end Ryan Putnam was all alone in the center of the formation Monday when the Boise State football team gathered for stretching exercises after its first spring practice.
He's one of four team captains — but the only healthy one. It's his fifth year of spring practices.
"I'm not perfect at anything," Putnam said. "I have a lot of work to do to get improved this spring, so I'm just like anybody else. I've just been to more of these."
Freshman defensive back Cedric Febis stationed himself in the defensive backfield as coordinator Justin Wilcox explained the first few concepts in the Broncos' defense.
Defensive backs coach Marcel Yates stood behind Febis, his hand on Febis' neck, directing his reaction to the offense's movements.
Febis joined the team in January after a semester at home in Holland. He played football for one season in America as a senior at Bishop Kelly High in 2005.
"You come in and it's like a set-in-stone defense," Febis said, "and then the offense starts to do funky stuff, switching and motioning, and you have to make new calls — and they do it in a second.
"… It was kind of scary at first."
The 15-practice spring season is a time for the Broncos to start over — relearning the basics, from tackling to the playbook, and vanquishing memories of last year's Fiesta Bowl championship season.
But starting over means different things for different players.
For Putnam, it means refining his technique.
For Febis, it means entering a new world.
"It's hard being new," BSU coach Chris Petersen said.
Ryan Putnam:For senior, spring is all about details
Putnam has been with the Broncos so long that he has participated in practices for the Humanitarian Bowl, Fort Worth Bowl, Liberty Bowl, MPC Computers Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.
He joined the Broncos in December 2002 as a grayshirt from Chino, Calif. Senior running back Jon Helmandollar of Eagle also joined the team that month.
By joining the team in December, they were able to participate in bowl practices and get a taste of college football before their first spring ball.
"I was completely lost," Putnam said.
Now he is the guide. The Broncos' other three captains — tailback Ian Johnson, defensive end Nick Schlekeway and special-teamer Ia Falo — sat out practice Monday for health reasons.
"When we start to talk about starting over," Petersen said, "a lot of that needs to come from Ryan Putnam. He needs to be the example about how we're out early for practice, how we stay late, how we run from drill to drill.The new guys will get dialed in from the old guys."
Putnam knows the offense so well that the schematic portions of spring ball will come easily. His emphasis is on the details of his position — from footwork to keeping his shoulder pads low to route running.
Still, even a wily veteran can run into one problem on the first day of spring ball.
"I was a little more winded than I thought I'd be," Putnam said.
Febis: Freshman leaves Holland to chase dream
Febis' college football odyssey began on a lark — a trip from his home in Holland to Boise to attend the Boise State camp in summer 2005.
He picked BSU because his long-lost cousin, Romeo Bandison, was the Broncos' defensive line coach and Febis' club coach knew Bandison.
Febis called home and told his parents he wanted to stay.
"I told my parents, ‘I love it here. Football is fun,' " said Febis, who is fluent in three languages and capable in two more. "My parents, they always want the best for me. They thought it was a challenge, too. … They were like, ‘Let's try it. If it doesn't work, you can just come home.' "
He returned to Holland to fill out the necessary paperwork, then flew back to Boise to begin his senior year of high school at Bishop Kelly.
He joined the football team having played just three years of club football in Holland, where his friends played soccer. He was named second-team All-Idaho and first-team All-SIC as a cornerback on a state championship team.
"For him to only play a year and play the way he did is pretty impressive," Wilcox said.
Febis signed a letter of intent with BSU in February 2006. He delayed his enrollment until this January so he could go home for the fall semester. He went through summer conditioning with his teammates before leaving.
"It was a whole different environment," Febis said. "The weight room is so aggressive and we don't have aggressive weight rooms like that back home. At first I was like, ‘Whoa, what's going on?' "
He went home in August and returned in January.
He stayed up all night to watch Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 (or Jan. 2 in Holland).
"I was the only guy jumping up and down in my living room," Febis said. "I was watching with my friends and my dad. I was so excited."
Since returning to America, he has been playing catch-up. Players met with coaches for 2 hours per week during winter conditioning. Febis also spent time on his own watching video of practices.
Monday, though, was his first on-field experience. The intensity will turn up a notch Thursday when players put on the shoulder pads and again Friday when they go to full pads.
His eighth practice — on March 23 — is a scrimmage.
That isn't much time to adapt.
Wilcox chuckled after Monday's practice while talking about the wide-eyed Febis, who will grow physically (he'll bulk up from 6-foot-2, 188 pounds) and mentally at a rapid rate over the next nine months.
Monday was just a taste.
"It wasn't the first time he heard (the schemes) today, but it was the first time he had to come out and do it," Wilcox said. "And it was live and there were people moving everywhere and there's whistles and talking and communicating. It's just like a whirlwind out there.
"He'll be fine. Four years from now, he's going to be like, ‘Ah, this is easy.' That's the difference between a young guy and a veteran guy."