Bronco Beat: Hammer continues to drive Boise State players

ccripe@idahostatesman.comSeptember 12, 2013 

For his third college football game, Boise State redshirt freshman linebacker Chris Santini will lead his teammates into Bronco Stadium on Friday night for an ESPN showdown with Air Force (6 p.m.).

The honor comes with one of the most coveted prizes in the Broncos’ locker room: the Hammer.

Santini won the award for his crushing tackle in kickoff coverage during last week’s game against UT Martin. Watch video of the hit here.

“I remember last year seeing all the older guys carrying it out and just thinking that I wanted to do that sometime this year,” he said. “And luckily, it’s sooner rather than later. I’m really excited to do it and it’s an honor to know the people who have carried it out before me.”

The Hammer tradition was started in 2006 by first-year special teams coach Jeff Choate, who did something similar at his two previous jobs.

“The longer it’s around, the bigger deal it will become,” he predicted in a 2007 Idaho Statesman article.

The award primarily goes to the player with the biggest hit on special teams in the previous game but occasionally has been distributed to others. For example, safety Gerald Alexander won the Hammer for his helmet-dislodging hit in 2006 at Utah — and carried it in his 2007 bobblehead — and the offensive line received it in 2011.

The Hammer has taken on perhaps added significance this year with the Broncos moving into the Bleymaier Football Complex. There are several Hammer images in the facility, including a Hammer display in the locker room that identifies winners.

“We’ve got kind of like a shrine of the Hammer almost,” Santini said. “It reminds us every day what it is to be blue collar.”

Said coach Chris Petersen: “That’s one thing I want to be very big. We try to make it mean more than even a really good tackle. We try to make it about special teams, where a guy didn’t come here to run down on the kickoff. That was probably an afterthought of a guy when he was being recruited. It’s about the team and representing the program and representing the guys who played in the past and everything that we want to be all about. That’s what that Hammer is all about, so I hope it’s a big deal to the guys.”

Hammer shots will be more difficult to find with the recent rules changes in football. This year, the NCAA added defenders hit with blindside blocks to the list of “defenseless players.” That means a high block, or one delivered with the crown of the helmet, can be considered targeting and get a player ejected.

Still, the Broncos are looking for big hits like Santini’s.

“There’s no gray area in it,” Petersen said. “It’s all about playing physical football and doing it cleanly.”

Junior linebacker Blake Renaud is the current champion of the Hammer hit. He won the Hammer four times last year, increasing his career total to six, and carried it for this year’s opener.

“It’s a way to get the special-teams guys fired up,” he said, adding that it’s more fun to lead the team onto the field at home. “It makes you want to play special teams, to get an opportunity to run out with the Hammer.”

The Hammer was on Santini’s mind immediately after he made his tackle last week.

“I was like, ‘I’m hoping that will hold over for the rest of the game,’ ” he said.

And now he gets to fulfill one of his career goals.

His teammates, none of whom were around when then-freshman tailback Doug Martin hammered the Idaho Vandals’ logo in 2008 in the Kibbie Dome, made a few helpful suggestions.

“They were saying run out like you’re riding a Bronco or a horse,” Santini said. “Or run out like you’re playing guitar on it.

“No, I’m just going to do the normal up in the air.”

•••

Boise State defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski called last week’s 63-14 defeat of UT Martin from the press box and plans to work up there for the rest of the season.

Kwiatkowski moved in response to the Broncos’ rash of alignment errors in the opener at Washington. They didn’t have a full-time defensive assistant in the box for that game because linebackers coach Bob Gregory moved to the sideline this year to increase communication with his players.

Kwiatkowski, the former defensive line coach, was a little worried about the new setup going into the season but also didn’t want to give up face-to-face contact with the players. Kwiatkowski worked from the sideline in his four years as the line coach and three previous years as coordinator at Boise State.

“It was good — good to see it all,” Kwiatkowski said. “You’re removed, so it’s not nearly as emotional. … It made a huge difference as far as seeing what we needed to adjust and what they were trying to do.”

•••

Senior quarterback Joe Southwick wasn’t available to the media last week, when we printed our story on the Broncos’ offensive changes. He said this week that the simplicity is in the terminology and teaching, not the playbook.

“We haven’t really thinned out anything,” he said. “It’s just simplified in the way we teach it, which helps a lot for the young guys especially. Young guys in the future, they’re going to be able to learn the offense a lot faster than when we had a lot of terminology. … My first two years here, it was kind of like a whirlwind. You’re trying to learn as much as you can, but it’s hard.”

•••

True freshman linebacker Tanner Vallejo was “on standby” the first two weeks of the season so coaches were able to insert him into the UT Martin game after backup middle linebacker Travis Saxton was injured. Vallejo, who was on the bubble to redshirt, attended all of the linebackers meetings just in case.

Vallejo is the second true freshman linebacker to play — Darren Lee was the other — and Gregory expects to stop there. The Broncos have lost Saxton for the year and co-starting strong-side linebacker Jonathan Brown for six weeks.

•••

Senior wide receiver Aaron Burks, on the fan reaction to the 38-6 loss to Washington: “I felt it. I was in a store and heard a couple people say some things. It hurts a little, but at the same time, that's just how life is. … We just have to show them. It felt good on Saturday to finally get out there, put those points on the board, show people it's the same good offense that's a huge threat.”

•••

Sophomore safety Darian Thompson said the new targeting rule still is on his mind two games into the season.

“That’s something I still have to think about because it’s brand new to me,” he said.

Seven players were ejected in the first week of the season.

•••

Boise State has continued its recent tradition of using single-game captains instead of season-long captains.

“That’s really the best way and the only way,” Petersen said, “because I don’t think there are two or three guys who run the team. If you’re going to do it right, everyone has to take some ownership.”

Chadd Cripe is in his 12th year as the Idaho Statesman beat writer for Boise State football. He also is a voter for The Associated Press Top 25. You can contact him at ccripe@idahostatesman.com, follow him on Twitter at @IDS_BroncoBeat and read his blog at blogs.idahostatesman.com/broncobeat.

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