In the few minutes leading up to every game, before the Boise State football team goes out on the field, Alexander Mattison lies down in full pads in front of his locker.
The song he listens to every time is “No Weapon” by gospel singer Fred Hammond.
“Don’t be afraid of the arrows or the snares/Set by your enemies,” Hammond belts out.
Mattison, a sophomore running back, was a bit unsure of himself just a few weeks ago. The 5-foot-11, 214-pounder more often than not walked into those traps. But coming into Saturday’s game against Wyoming, Mattison is confident as ever.
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After setting personal highs in rushing yards each of the Broncos’ past two games, Mattison is starting to scratch his potential as the team’s workhorse.
“I live for it,” he said.
As good as his last two games have been, with 52 carries for 246 yards and three touchdowns, the two games prior to that could not have been much worse.
Mattison had 13 carries for 21 yards against New Mexico and Virginia, looking hesitant more often than not.
“I was in my own head, coming off a (foot) injury in fall camp. I had shoulder surgery after last season. It hit me hard, more than I showed to other people,” Mattison said. “I stopped myself from reaching my full potential. I dug deep after that, said there’s no more time to waste.”
So the San Bernardino, Calif., native stopped wasting time. He stopped worrying about getting hurt. He stopped, well, stopping, and ran hard.
“During the season, there’s always a process of getting guys into game shape and game ready,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “... There’s not that indecisiveness in the way he’s running.”
In the first four games this season, Mattison had 40 carries, but he has taken over the role many expected, as the Broncos’ No. 1 option in the rushing attack. As a true freshman last season, he rushed for 328 yards on 67 carries behind Jeremy McNichols. He has 412 yards this season, and if he keeps up his recent pace, he could make it nine straight seasons that Boise State has had a 1,000-yard rusher.
“Alex was expected to do huge things. That expectation can work a lot of different ways,” Hill said. “He didn’t have the early season (success) he wanted, he expected and that we expected. He’s turned it into a positive. You can tell he’s running with a passion.”
While Mattison struggled, coaches looked for answers. They gave more snaps to redshirt freshman Robert Mahone, who started Oct. 6 at BYU but fumbled on his second carry. Mattison stepped in and was given the ball a career-high 29 times, seeming to realize that he must take advantage or potentially be passed up by a teammate.
As Boise State has struggled to find a consistent passing attack, Mattison and the Broncos’ offensive line have found a recipe to get the ball moving while avoiding turnovers. The staff has continued to stress a search for balance, but the attack starts with the run.
“That helps me, knowing that going into the game, they trust me to have the ball 20-plus times,” Mattison said. “... They have to hit it hard, I have to hit it hard, or it’s not going to work.”
It’s a tenacious mentality he carries with him during the week in practice, too, much to the chagrin of defenders who usually aren’t allowed to be in full-contact mode against the offense.
“In practice, I’ve almost had to fight him a couple times because of how hard he’s trying to run at me,” sophomore safety DeAndre Pierce said. “... I like that part about him, as much as it gets me mad I can’t hit him, but it’s something he does in practice that translates to the game.”
With the Broncos continuing to rely on their strengths, Mattison is rewarding that trust just as he’s coming into his own, saying, “I’m built for this.”
“It feels good to be able to run behind a line confidently and being able to produce the way a lot of people expected me to, get back to who I am,” Mattison said.
Five questions with Alexander Mattison
You were in a Spanish immersion track in high school. What do you like about learning that way?
“Even recently, I’ve tapped back into that part of me. I’d been kind of deviating from that, so I’ve been talking to friends in Spanish, watching Spanish-language shows, listening to music. The complexity of it, the way it changes how I think of things in two languages, expands different parts of my brain.”
When you were growing up, whom did you look up to?
“There were players I liked, looked up to guys in the spotlight like Adrian Peterson, Troy Polamalu. There were guys from my area that accomplished big things like Damontae Kazee, he plays for the Falcons now. My family, too, my mom, my aunt, they really showed us how a family should be.”
What is your favorite song?
“The one that always gets me is ‘Let’s Get Married’ by Jagged Edge. I loved it as a kid, and I always have to get up, dance and sing along.”
Are you a superstitious guy?
“I don’t tend to go on the field before we have our regular team warmup. There’s no need for me to do that, it’s usually just for show. I lay out in front of my locker, relax and breathe, let out some nerves, before we break it down to go out on the field before the game.”
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
“I like to watch ‘The Voice.’ I think a part of me definitely would like to be a better singer than I am, so seeing people do it well brings me joy.”
Wyoming at Boise State
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf); fans are asked to wear orange in sections 27-30, 101-104, 127-130, North End Zone and Stueckle Sky Club; blue in all other sections
TV: ESPN2 (Roy Philpott, Tom Ramsey)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 4-2, 2-0 (beat San Diego State 31-14); Wyoming 4-2, 2-0 (beat Utah State 28-23)
Series: Boise State leads 10-1 (Wyoming won 30-28 on Oct. 29, 2016)
Vegas line: Boise State by 14 1/2
Kickoff weather: Mid-40s, cloudy, 50 percent chance of rain