Boise State football program welcoming changes

Worst season in more than a decade ‘is going to burn a fire’ in returning players.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comDecember 26, 2013 

Matt Miller set Boise State’s single-season receptions record this year with 88. He is one of five offensive starters expected to return in 2014.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com

— In six words, Boise State wide receiver Matt Miller summed up the story line that will follow the Broncos football program through the next eight months.

“Change,” he said after the Hawaii Bowl loss to Oregon State on Tuesday, “is coming to our program.”

And for much of 2013, the Broncos looked like a team in need of some change.

They finished 8-5 — their fewest wins since 2001 and most losses since 1998 — and lost the five most difficult games they played. Three times, they entered the fourth quarter with little chance to win.

New coach Bryan Harsin, a former Boise State quarterback and offensive coordinator, will greet the players when they return to campus next month, surrounded by a mostly rebuilt staff that will pump new energy and ideas into a program that hasn’t won an outright conference title since 2009.

“Some of the returners were already saying — some of the leaders — that this is going to burn a fire in them,” defensive line coach Andy Avalos said moments after the 38-23 loss to the Beavers. “They understand what Boise State is all about and the expectations. They’re going to work their tails off this winter, going into the spring, going into the summer. There’s going to be some excitement, rejuvenation with a bunch of new coaches, and I think everyone is going to be excited to get back to work.”

Avalos, who will coach linebackers, and Scott Huff, who will coach the offensive line, are the two confirmed holdovers from former coach Chris Petersen’s staff. Petersen offered them jobs at Washington, they said, but they chose to stay with their alma mater. The decisions allowed Avalos (a former linebacker) to move from defensive line to linebackers, and Huff (a former center) from tight ends/special teams to offensive line.

“It’s exciting for me to be able to get back to the position I played, at the university I played it at,” Avalos said. “My wife and I have only been back in Boise for two years, and we just felt like it was too soon to leave. The opportunities at Boise State are going to be great. We have a lot of young football players that I want to be around for a long time.”

The Broncos could return as many as 15 of their 24 starters next season, including nine on defense. That total doesn’t include quarterback Grant Hedrick, who was the primary quarterback for all but one series and one play of the last seven games and will be a senior.

Hedrick accounted for 22 touchdowns (16 passing, six rushing) and already has spoken to Harsin and new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford about the future.

“I’m excited to get (Sanford) here and to start working with him,” Hedrick said before the Hawaii Bowl.

Other key returners include (2014 years listed) junior tailback Jay Ajayi, Miller (a senior), junior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes, junior cornerback Donte Deayon, senior linebacker Corey Bell, junior defensive tackle Armand Nance and sophomore linebackers Ben Weaver and Tanner Vallejo. The Broncos also could return senior defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, but his NFL Draft stock might be high enough for him to leave a year early.

“We’ve got obviously some good talent coming back,” Huff said. “Buy in, bring that work ethic that we’re used to having, and then some, and we’ll be in good shape.”

The schedule sets up much better than this year. The Broncos will face seven bowl participants in 2014, and six of them come to Bronco Stadium.

But regardless of the reasons for optimism, the Harsin era will open in much the same way as the Petersen and Dan Hawkins eras before it. There’s reason to believe the Broncos can thrive, and plenty of skeptics who wonder whether the program can maintain its national relevance.

The Broncos likely won’t be ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2008. They’ll need to prove themselves all over again. That goes for each individual player, too, because they’ll be judged by new sets of eyes.

“I know (the players) are excited to meet some new people and get some new opinions on some things and hear a new voice,” Huff said. “That’s refreshing for everybody.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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