Boise State football invades eastern Idaho

ccripe@idahostatesman.comMay 29, 2014 

AMMON — Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin's Bronco Invasion reached its farthest point from Boise on the second-to-last day early Wednesday evening.

The Broncos on the trip — including Harsin, junior defensive tackle Armand Nance of Houston, sophomore cornerback Chaz Anderson of Los Angeles and Buster Bronco — found a welcome sight at McCowin Park.

Blue turf.

The 35-yard-long, 18-yard-wide swatch of painted grass included orange end zones and the Bronco-head logo at midfield. It was surrounded by about 750 blue-and-orange-clad locals who showed the traveling party why it was worth venturing 281 miles from Albertsons Stadium.

The Broncos' base is in the Treasure Valley, but their reach extends to the eastern border of the state.

"It gave me 10 times the energy," said Anderson, who spoke to five elementary school groups in Twin Falls earlier in the day. "You felt the energy as soon as you walked up. Kids were playing football, adults were sitting there conversing and guys were asking me to race. The enthusiasm was there."

•••

The Bronco Invasion was Harsin's answer to the Bronco Blitz, an April event during which his assistants visited every football-playing high school in the state.

The Invasion included events Tuesday-Thursday last week and this week. It reached as far west as Ontario, Ore., and concludes Thursday with meetings in Idaho Falls and Pocatello.

The totals: 860 miles of driving, 17 business meet-and-greets, five breakfast presentations, five luncheons, 14 school visits, three public meet-and-greets and 11 interactions with chamber of commerce groups outside of Boise.

All on a budget of about $7,000.

"Ultimately, we're just trying to engage our base and grow our base," said David Kinard, the associate athletic director for development. "… You can see there's a lot of potential out there. It's going to be on us to continue to cultivate this. We have to continue to come back."

The Invasion, like the Blitz, isn't likely to be repeated next year. But Harsin and his staff will search for ways to continue their outreach.

The timing was right for the road trip this year, Harsin said, because of the change in the Broncos' program. He replaced Chris Petersen, who led the program for eight years and transformed the Broncos into a national brand.

"We've had a long span here of success, but you've still got to stay connected to your fans," said Brad Larrondo, the assistant athletic director for football who accompanied Harsin from event to event. "It's safe to say we got a little bit disconnected the last couple years. … 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."

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Anderson made an impression on more than 1,200 schoolchildren Wednesday with his message, "You are who you roll with."

He and Nance addressed 700 kids in an assembly at Sawtooth Elementary, 400 more in an assembly at Bickel Elementary and three groups of fifth-graders totaling about 150 at Perrine Elementary.

"I wasn't a good kid," Anderson told the students.

He didn't get in big trouble, he said, but he didn't fare well in school. He didn't follow rules and talked too much in class.

He changed in high school, when his mom suggested he mimic his friend Kodi Whitfield, now a wide receiver at Stanford.

"I started living with (Whitfield) in a sense — so I could see what he did," Anderson said. "He's an excellent student, an excellent young man. His way about life began to rub off on me. I'll never forget that."

Some of the students who saw Anderson on Wednesday likely won't forget him, either. His message resonated with Perrine fifth-grader Kyler Western.

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

•••

Nance also spoke at the three Twin Falls elementary schools. He was a natural with the kids — and even tweeted that his speech at Bickel was the best of his life.

His message: "Get involved." He got the kids to chant it.

"(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 grew up in New Orleans and Houston. The team is on a two-week break but he didn't go home. He opted to join the three-day trip to Idaho Falls and back rather than hang out in Boise.

"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."

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On the drive from Twin Falls to Ammon, the Bronco Invasion caravan — four blue Ford F-150s flying Boise State flags and an Air Van moving truck — stopped at the Idaho Central Credit Union headquarters in Chubbuck, just outside Pocatello.

Harsin spoke to the 200 employees who work at the headquarters of one of the athletic department's key sponsors. He answered questions for 23 minutes, signed autographs and posed for photos.

Fourteen of ICCU's 25 branches are in the Treasure Valley.

"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."

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."

•••

Harsin, Nance and Anderson were expected to sign autographs and pose for photos from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Ammon. The players signed till 8 — then played football in the park with kids.

Harsin, who refused to send anyone home disappointed, still had a lengthy line. It was nearly 9:30 by the time he signed his last autograph, posed for his last photo and headed for the hotel.

The group spent Tuesday night in Twin Falls, after visiting Mountain Home Air Force Base.

"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," said Brad Christensen, a Boise State graduate who lives in Idaho Falls. "To do this type of event speaks to his passion for broadening the audience."

Christensen was one of the key organizers of the Ammon event.

"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," Christensen 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."

Christensen's group was at the park until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday painting a blue football field in the grass. The project required 20 gallons of blue paint and 3 gallons of orange. For the logo, they used a boom truck and an overhead projector to create a pattern and traced the lines.

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

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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