Holden Huff started last football season as an intriguing young player likely to play a limited role.
He ended the year as one of Boise State's most productive receivers.
Now a sophomore, Huff is in position to compete for a starting job amid a tight end corps that features two veterans returning from season-ending injuries (senior Gabe Linehan and junior Kyle Sosnowski) and two up-and-coming players who played sparingly last year (junior Connor Peters and sophomore Jake Hardee).
"(Huff) really came along - just like the rest of the offense," said senior quarterback Joe Southwick, whose four-game breakout late last season mirrored Huff's. "You can tell he's hungry and wanting to get better, and that's a big thing."
Huff made nine catches (third-most on the team) and caught four touchdown passes (first) in the final four games - including two TDs in the MAACO Bowl win against Washington.
He made eight catches and didn't score a TD in the first nine games.
His emergence was a combination of his own improvement - he caught coaches' attention as early as last spring - and mounting personnel losses that included injuries to Sosnowski (didn't play) and Linehan (played parts of four games) and the career-ending suspension to Hayden Plinke in October.
Huff participated in four offensive plays in the season opener. By November, he was sharing the job with then-senior starter Chandler Koch.
"I was hoping to gain more playing time as the year went on," Huff said. "I didn't know how that would work out. The circumstances weren't great. You've got to step up when you have to step up - there's no other option."
Huff averaged 25-30 plays per game, he said. He's 6-foot-5 and played at 213 pounds - two pounds lighter than wide receiver Matt Miller.
Huff has grown to 222 pounds this offseason and hopes to enter the season opener Aug. 31 at Washington at 230.
"I want to work it mostly into my legs, so I have power in the legs," he said.
That's essential for the blocking assignments that are the tight ends' primary obligation in Boise State's offense. They play a critical role in the run game, which coaches are determined to improve this year.
The weight and strength help, Huff said, but improving his footwork and other elements of his technique is more important.
"I've definitely made big strides in blocking," he said. "I want to make big strides in catching, too."
Tight ends coach Scott Huff (no relation) said this spring he wants Huff to focus on his "attention to detail."
"Now we're kind of to the point where, 'OK, I know where to line up, I have a pretty good idea of the play - let's know every little detail inside and out on it,' " Scott Huff said. "And I'd like to see him take the next step, too, just being a playmaker so when the ball's in the air, we know he's going to come down with it."
That was one thing missing from Huff's game early in the season. There were some chances to make tough catches that he missed.
He began his late-season run with a leaping, 24-yard catch at Hawaii. He absorbed a wicked hit in the back but hung on to the ball.
He made a similar grab - minus the hit - in spring practice last week. The cornerback was in good position, but Huff beat him with his vertical range.
"He's a big target - that makes it easier on the quarterback," Southwick said. "You can throw it a little higher."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat