A day on the road with football coach Bryan Harsin's Bronco Invasion tour

Posted by Chadd Cripe on May 28, 2014 

Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin is in the closing stretch of a two-week flurry of events across the state to build excitement about the new-look Broncos. Today’s travels include events in Twin Falls, Chubbuck (outside Pocatello) and Ammon (outside Idaho Falls).

I will be following Harsin through his activities today, along with Idaho Statesman photographer Kyle Green. We’ll post notes, quotes, photos and videos throughout the day in this blog post. You also can follow along in the Cover It Live window below, which will collect tweets about the “Bronco Invasion.” I’ll try to jump in a few times and answer any reader questions.

Today’s schedule includes a breakfast event, three school visits, an in-studio radio interview and a luncheon in Twin Falls, a business meet-and-greet in Chubbuck and a public meet-and-greet in Ammon, from 6 to 8 p.m. We caught up with the traveling party at one of the school visits this morning and will stick with them through the Ammon event.

•••

9:30 p.m.

We pulled out of McCowin Park moments after Harsin signed his last autograph and posed for his last photo. The expectation was that he and the players would meet with fans from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., but the crowd of 750 or so fans changed those plans. The players signed till about 8 p.m. and then played football with kids. Harsin still had a lengthy line and refused to shut down until everyone got the photos and autographs they wanted.

“I really enjoyed myself today,” junior defensive tackle Armand Nance said. “It’s amazing to come out — how far from Boise? — and see the blue-and-orange spirit.”

6:45 p.m.

Boise State fan Brad Christensen of Idaho Falls was one of the key organizers of Wednesday’s event in Ammon.

“They said we need somebody who’s a big Boise State fan, and in Idaho Falls, who’s well-connected and I fit that mold,” the 2003 Boise State graduate said. “I put together a committee and let them kick butt. I put out the feelers and said, ‘Who wants to put on this kind of thing?’ And everyone came clamoring because everyone out here loves Boise State.”

Realistically, he estimates a quarter of college football fans in the Idaho Falls area are Boise State fans.

Christensen and friends were at the park until 1:30 a.m. painting a blue football field in the grass. It’s 35 yards wide and 18 yards across with orange end zones and the Bronco-head logo. It took 20 gallons of blue paint and 3 gallons of orange. For the logo, they used a boom truck and an overhead projector and traced the lines.

“And we hoped that it would be just exactly this,” he said of the turnout. “We got Bronco Nation out here in full force wearing their blue.”

Harsin and the players were so popular that they stayed at the park signing autographs and posing for photos past 8 p.m. (they started at 6:30 p.m.). The event was expected to conclude by 7:30. At one point, an announcement was made that Harsin wouldn’t leave until every fan got an autograph or photo.

“This is just indicative of what he’s doing with the program, which is reaching out to a whole new demographic and getting them involved in football not just four months a year but 12 months a year,” Christensen said. “To do this type of event speaks to his passion for broadening the audience.”

6:30 p.m.

David Kinard, associate athletic director for development, saw a familiar sight at McCowin Park.

“You could transplant this into the east stadium (parking lot) and you wouldn’t miss a beat,” he said.

Kinard estimates that 80 to 90 percent of Bronco Athletic Association members live in the Treasure Valley. He hopes the Bronco Invasion can expand the program’s reach to other parts of the state. The plan is to create chapters around the state by the start of football season and have those groups put together watch parties and barbecues.

“Ultimately, we’re just trying to engage our base and grow our base,” he said.

Eventually, he said, the hope is to increase the BAA membership from 4,500 to 9,000. One way to do that is to get fans who aren’t regulars at games to donate to the Bronco Nation Fund, which helps pay scholarship costs. The fund doesn’t have a minimum. Benefits start at $100.

“You can see there’s a lot of potential out there,” Kinard said. “It’s going to be on us to continue to cultivate this. We have to continue to come back.”

The effort has gotten a boost from Harsin, who was willing to spend a big chunk of May on the road.

“It makes our life a little easier,” Kinard said. “I don’t think you’d draw this crowd if I came and said, ‘Hey, the associate AD is here.’ It’s an opportunity for him to get his name out there and get his brand out there, too.”

Boise State has offered $25 single-game tickets in Twin Falls and Idaho Falls during the Invasion. They’re good for any game but BYU. The school sold more than 150 in person but fans could take home coupons good until the next morning.

6 p.m.

The Invasion reached a public meet-and-greet at McCowin Park, just outside Idaho Falls. More than 500 mostly blue-and-orange-clad fans were there to greet the Broncos before the official start time — and the park featured a 35-yard-by-18-yard section painted blue with orange end zones and the Bronco-head logo at midfield.

“This is a real home-field advantage,” Harsin told the crowd. “… We’ve been across Idaho and we’ve had no type of reception like this, where we’ve got blue grass out here.”

Harsin spoke about his three years away from the Boise State program.

“What I missed the most was that blue field, but more importantly the people in the stands who support our program,” he said. “Some things have happened at Boise State, but we’re going to be OK.”

4 p.m.

The Invasion stopped at Idaho Central Credit Union headquarters in Chubbuck, just outside Pocatello. ICCU has about 200 employees at the headquarters and 500 in the state. It will open its 25th branch this year, all in Idaho. Fourteen of those are in the Treasure Valley, which is where the business started.

ICCU is in its fourth year as a Boise State sponsor. One of its promotions is Start a Ruckus, where two Honda Ruckus scooters drive on the field to excite the crowd. The scooters are given away at the end of the season.

“We have a lot of BSU enthusiasts,” said Michael Watson, the marketing manager for ICCU. “Our team members love BSU. We didn’t want to miss this opportunity. How often do you get to meet the new coach? We definitely took advantage of it.”

Harsin addressed the ICCU employees in their two-story lobby and spent 23 minutes answering questions. Then he posed for photos and signed autographs.

Here are some highlights from Harsin’s talk:

— “We put a lot of time in each and every year for 36 hours — that’s what we get judged on — 3 hours a game, 12 games.”

— “We have a mission statement and it’s we want to be the very best, and it’s that simple. And we do that through relationships — that’s the key part of it. We do it through development, we do it through recruiting and we do it through winning and those things all have to happen in order for us to have the type of success in our program we want to have.”

— Harsin said the team only met part of its goal last season. “Our team has class, they’ve done things off the field well,” he said. “The team has integrity. We don’t worry about guys in that building. And we have academic excellence. The other part of that goal is to win our conference and to win a bowl game. We didn’t do that last year. So we have a lot of work to do and we’re going to need everybody’s support, everybody in Albertsons Stadium. When those opponents come into our stadium and they leave, I want them thinking, ‘I don’t want to come back’ because of the people there.”

— “Our mentality is simple in the program, it’s a fourth-and-1 mentality. Every single day, we’re trying to attack — every single day we walk into that building, we’re trying to do something to make ourselves better.”

— Boise State is putting together a “Harsin’s Heroes” program that will help children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend Broncos games get tickets. Harsin told the ICCU employees that their company is going to be a part of that.

Highlights from the Q&A:

— An ICCU employee offered to play for the Broncos. “That’s why we brought (the equipment truck),” Harsin said. “We’re also picking up players along the way.”

— On the 2015 recruiting class: “We have a tremendous start to this year. We have a few guys committed … we’ve got some good ones. … One thing we talk about is ‘our eyes, our ears’ in recruiting. We want to make sure that we identify who we want in our program and we go out and we target those guys and we find them more than looking at the stars and those types of things.”

— Chaz Anderson on running into Bronco Stadium: “I don’t think we can explain it or put it into words. We know deep down inside it all comes from the fans. The louder, the better. … It’s something that has my heart racing right now. I can’t wait.”

— Harsin on uniforms: “My favorite is the all blue. That’s a classic look. But we have the white helmets, we’ve got the black helmets, we’ve got the blue helmets. We’ve got white jerseys, black jerseys, gray jerseys, blue jerseys — I think that’s all we got. So we have enough to go out there and have some fun.”

— On his program: “Three things that we talk about with our team are discipline No. 1, toughness No. 2 and conviction No. 3. Those things we feel like we have to have in our program in order to continue to have success. The discipline part of it is very simple. It’s doing something tedious and boring for long periods of time to get a desired result. It’s just over and over and over. You’ve got to be mentally tough to play this game. And then when you put that much time and energy into something, you believe it. You see a team that believes, you see 11 guys out there like Chaz is saying, all working together, trusting each other that they’re going to get their job done. That’s what we’re working toward. We showed signs of that in spring.”

— On new traditions: “The tradition we can continue to build on is what we do even in the pregame with our fans out there. We come out there and we’re out there about 2 hours before the game and guys are out there and we do a walk, it would be great to see Bronco Nation out there, when we walk along Broadway and we head back into our facility, to have people out there and see them before the game. To see the look on their faces before we go out and play. Little things like that we hope to build toward.”

— On replacing Chris Petersen: “Because I did have the privilege of working with Coach Petersen, I understand the expectations. I was here for a lot of those years that we had that success. But ultimately, more so than the wins and the losses and the record and all that is the integrity of the program, where he had it, and to continue to build on that. There’s a lot of philosophies that are the same. There are new ideas and new ways to do certain things. Working with Chris over the years and sitting in his office and brainstorming things we wanted to do in our program helped me become the coach that I am now. That’s always going to be important. We go back and talk about embrace the past, that’s always going to be a part of it. We talk about attack the future — we have new players with new ideas and we’ve got guys that are ready to make their mark on the program. We have new coaches with new ideas that are ready to make their mark on the program. And you’ve got to allow guys to do that. Change is OK. We embrace that and we accept that.”

2:30 p.m.

The caravan is on its way to a business meet-and-greet in Chubbuck, just outside Pocatello. Before they left Twin Falls, I spoke to players Armand Nance and Chaz Anderson about their participation.

Nance was a natural with the kids at the schools — and that’s no accident.

“(My mom) ran a day care out of the house, so I’d come from school and help out with the kids,” Nance said. “That’s what I really like to do — to see a kid smile. That’s really where it all started.”

Nance is one of a handful of out-of-state players who stayed in town during the team’s two-week break. He figured he wouldn’t have much to do, so he went on the Invasion tour. He is from Houston and New Orleans.

“It’s beautiful,” he said of the Idaho countryside. “We really need to take like a team trip and come out here. It’s really gorgeous.”

In addition to the schoolchildren, he met with airmen at Mountain Home Air Force Base on Tuesday, signed autographs for fans at the Magic Valley Mall on Tuesday night and had lunch with some local fans Wednesday.

“I try to leave them with, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it to the fullest of your ability’ and try to get them to come out to a game and see us,” he said. “They saw us in person without the face mask and helmet. It would be great for them to see me in action.”

Anderson didn’t have any experience talking at schools. He gave his presentation five times Wednesday, including in front of a group of 700 students at one school.

“It was nice,” he said. “The opportunity to put smiles on kids’ faces was phenomenal, of course. It was funny because I remember myself being that young. When you see them, just all the smiles and the bright faces, you can’t do anything but absolutely enjoy it.”

Anderson, who is from Los Angeles, never had anyone like him come to his school.

“That’s why I take a lot of pride in doing this, because I know a lot of kids may not always have the opportunity to do such a thing,” he said.

He also likes giving the kids a different image of the Broncos.

“We aren’t just football players,” he said. “We’re individuals who care.”

Anderson used his personal history to get across his point: “You are who you roll with.” He told students he turned his life around midway through high school by changing his friendships.

“I didn’t always hang around the right group of people,” he said in an interview. “… I knew it would be easy for me to get the point across.”

Anderson credits his mom and high school teammate Kodi Whitfield, a Stanford wide receiver, for his turnaround.

Anderson’s mom came up with the catchphrase he used Wednesday.

“My mom actually enforced that when I was younger,” Anderson said. “… About my sophomore year or my junior year, I started getting on the right path. I started living with (Whitfield) in a sense — so I could see what he did. He’s an excellent student, an excellent young man. His way about life began to rub off on me. I’ll never forget that.”

Anderson said it wasn’t difficult to tell strangers his story.

“It would probably be hard if you weren’t in the position I am in now,” he said. “But seeing things don’t always have to be fine and dandy for you to be successful — successful enough, I’m only in college — it’s awesome. That’s not tough at all. You just have to be honest and that’s something I take pride in being.”

A few excerpts from Anderson’s speeches:

— “I wasn’t a good kid. And that didn’t do me that much justice. I surrounded myself with people who weren’t doing the right things, which wasn’t one of the best ideas.”

— “What I want to talk to you guys about today is really making sure you’re surrounding yourself with individuals who will better you guys, in less of a selfish way.”

— “I’m 20 years old. I still need help. Just because I’m older doesn’t mean I know everything. I live with three responsible individuals. I chose my roommates not because they play, not because I like being with them off the field — I chose them because of how responsible they are and how I see them interact outside of football.” His roommates: defensive backs Donte Deayon, Bryan Douglas and Darian Thompson. “They’re all people who are willing to learn, but they’re willing to teach at the same time. Because we’re constantly learning, not from ourselves, but from the people we surround ourselves with.”

— “If one of your friends is a troublemaker, you’re going to be assumed to be a troublemaker. … You don’t always have to be a follower. Be a leader. Be a leader in the most positive way possible.”

Noon

Harsin, junior defensive tackle Armand Nance and sophomore cornerback Chaz Anderson are meeting with a small group at a luncheon at the Canyon Crest Event Center in Twin Falls.

11 a.m.

Boise State junior defensive tackle Armand Nance, sophomore cornerback Chaz Anderson, assistant athletic director for football Brad Larrondo, Buster Bronco and two cheerleaders met with three groups of fifth-graders at Perrine Elementary in Twin Falls. Earlier in the day, they spoke at assemblies of 700 students at Sawtooth Elementary and 400 students at Bickel Elementary.

They spoke to 26 talented-and-gifted fifth-graders at Perrine, then two groups of about 60 fifth-graders each.

Nance’s message: “Get involved.”

Anderson’s message: “You are who you roll with.”

In each classroom, the cheerleaders and players led chants of “Boise! State!”

“We’re all cheerleaders for Boise State,” teacher Kaylyn Van Ostran said.

Larrondo started the meetings by talking about the Broncos’ culture of getting a little better every day.

“Our culture is about our personal best,” he said. “… Over five years, imagine how much better they get.”

The meetings ended with Larrondo asking the kids to do two things when they get home: thank their parents or whoever else takes them to their activities and clean their rooms. And he passed Boise State posters to each of the kids.

“They’ll say, ‘What happened at school today?’ ” Larrondo said. “Tell them you learned about being a positive influence.”

Perrine fifth-grader Kyler Western plans to apply Anderson’s message to his life.

“You need to be with good friends so you can be a good influence, especially being the oldest in my family, so I have to be a good example to my little sisters,” he said. “I need to have good friends so I can be a good example.”

Fifth-grader Abby Stokes has blue-and-orange roots. Her dad graduated from the school and helped arrange the school visit. She went to the Bronco Shop at the Magic Valley Mall on Tuesday evening, when about 500 fans turned out to meet coach Bryan Harsin and the players.

“That was awesome,” she said. “I’m a big Boise State fan.”

She, too, enjoyed the players’ message.

“ ‘Get involved’ and ‘You are who you roll with’ — I think those are really good life goals,” she said.

Principal Bill Brulotte said this was the first time in his nine years at the school that it had a visit from major college athletes.

He likes the example the players set because they’re successful at their sport but also serious about academics.

“They did a really nice job — getting kids excited a little bit and getting them to think a little bit,” he said. “I appreciate that.”

Brulotte said Twin Falls traditionally leans more toward the Vandals but he’s seen a shift in recent years. He holds Boise State, Idaho and Idaho State days at the school each year for kids to dress in school colors.

“Just to get the message out to the kids about colleges,” he said.

9:45 a.m.

Harsin spent nearly a half-hour on-air with 1310 AM in Twin Falls and took some listener questions at the end.

— On running back depth: “Jack Fields is a guy who we thought did really well this spring and we’re excited about. Derrick Thomas … had a really good first half of spring. He needs to have a great summer. Devan Demas, he’s more of a scat back, he showed up this spring. We feel like we can utilize him in different ways. We have two (freshmen) coming in. … We have depth. We just have more unproven guys behind Jay (Ajayi), which those guys are going to have to step up and this summer is huge. They did some of that in spring, but that still remains to be seen. The talent is there, but we have to take advantage of our opportunities.”

— On the College Football Playoff: “The committee that’s going to be selecting these teams, nobody’s quite sure exactly how they’re going to view that or how they’re going to rank the teams.”

— On the response he’s getting on the road: “Not a whole lot of questions, just people excited, people saying they’re going to be at the games. … The big question we get is about what we’re going to do offensively and defensively. … What I’m hearing and what we’re hearing is about people looking forward to the season — that gets us excited and it gets our players excited, too, and motivates us even more.”

Earlier this morning, Harsin had breakfast with about 20 community leaders in Twin Falls.

8:20 a.m.

As I depart the Albertsons Stadium parking lot (with someone else driving, thankfully), here’s some background on the Bronco Invasion:

— Events were held Tuesday-Thursday last week and this week. Through Tuesday, the Invasion had covered 411 miles and connected with the community at 14 business meet-and-greets, three breakfast presentations, three luncheons, eight elementary school visits, three middle school visits and two public meet-and-greets. It hit seven chamber of commerce groups outside of Boise.

— Today and Thursday, the Invasion will add two more breakfasts, two more lunches, three more school visits, three more business meet-and-greets, one more public meet-and-greet and four more chamber of commerce groups to the mix — all while driving another 450 or so miles.

— Most of the Invasion has taken place outside of the Broncos’ home base of Ada and Canyon counties. The three-day journey to Twin Falls, Pocatello and Idaho Falls will get the program exposure to a population of more than 250,000, said Brad Larrondo, the assistant athletic director for football. “We felt it was an area we could really cultivate and grow,” Larrondo said. “… And a lot of them are Boise State graduates. We have a tremendous amount of growth that can take place in the Magic Valley and eastern Idaho.”

— Six players have been involved in the Invasion events, earning credit toward the program’s community service requirements. Junior defensive tackle Armand Nance of Texas and sophomore cornerback Chaz Anderson of California have given up three days of their two-week break to make this week’s trip. Other participants have included senior defensive lineman Tyler Horn, senior wide receiver Dallas Burroughs, sophomore offensive lineman Kellen Buhr and freshman tight end Alec Dhaenens. The total caravan — which includes four Ford trucks with Boise State flags and the Air Van equipment truck — includes 16-20 people. Cheerleaders, Buster Bronco and representatives of the ticket office, marketing department and Bronco Athletic Association have joined Harsin and the players. “No doubt, the star of the show is having the head coach on the road with you,” Larrondo said.

— Harsin’s outreach is not unprecedented in college football, but it’s certainly a departure from predecessor Chris Petersen’s more insulated approach. “We felt it was very important with this time period in the program,” Larrondo said. “You’ve got a new head coach who has roots here and has some excitement going. We’ve had a long span here of success, but you’ve still got to stay connected to your fans. It’s safe to say we got a little bit disconnected the last couple years. By getting reconnected with coach Harsin and doing ‘grassroots political campaigning’ — Hars and I joke about that, that it’s a little like the political trail, where you’re kissing babies and signing T-shirts, signing posters — we felt like that’s what built Boise State 15-20 years ago, investing in the community. … Probably the next biggest thing for this program is to dominate those markets outside of Boise so we have another base to draw from to fill that stadium every Saturday.”

— The Invasion has cost Boise State about $7,000, likely far less than the value of the publicity it’s generated. “Our strong feeling is it’s hard to measure the return on investment of that, but we know we’ll get people who will come to the stadium because of this and buy tickets,” Larrondo said. “We know the energy we’ll create and the excitement we’ll create will pay dividends five years, 10 years down the road. It will be well worth investing a few thousand dollars.”

— Like the Blitz the assistant coaches did, hitting every football-playing high school in Idaho, the Invasion isn’t likely to be repeated next year. But elements of it will be. “We’re going to be committed to getting out there,” Larrondo said. “Will it always involve the head football coach? Probably not.”

•••

On Tuesday, the Invasion hit Mountain Home Air Force Base and Twin Falls:

Email me at ccripe@idahostatesman.com.

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