The pattern is clear, even if the explanation is not.
Brett Rypien doesn’t just makes his teams better. He makes his teammates better, too.
Rypien has turned the Boise State football team’s offense into one of the nation’s most explosive since he became the quarterback in the second half of the Idaho State game on Sept. 18.
The Broncos have averaged 47 points and 540.3 yards per game with Rypien at the helm. Those numbers would rank second and first in school history if compiled over a full season.
“He’s been that hidden spark that we didn’t have when we first started,” senior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes said.
Coaches struggle to explain why Rypien (6-foot-2, 199 pounds), a true freshman and the highest-ranked quarterback recruit in program history, has made the usually dicey transition to college look so easy.
Those who coached him through youth football, junior high and high school in Spokane, witnessed similar feats and describe a similar “it” factor.
A lot of it comes down to what is hard to explain. ... He’s got a good feel.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin on Brett Rypien
Rypien developed his feel for sports and leadership through a childhood spent competing. He played youth hockey from ages 5 to 10, traveling so much that his parents finally told him he had to choose between the ice and the gridiron, and was so talented as a baseball catcher that his dad expected him to play that sport in college or professionally. Tim Rypien was a pro catcher in the Toronto Blue Jays minor-league system and his brother Dave played baseball in the Olympics for Team Canada.
“(Brett) was a better player than I was,” Tim said.
Rypien also showed beyond-his-years ability as a quarterback, the position played by his uncle Mark Rypien — the MVP of Super Bowl XXVI for the Washington Redskins.
Rypien began playing in third grade. By sixth grade, he was calling the plays at the line of scrimmage from several options provided by coach Grant Alford. Rypien led Alford’s Pop Warner teams to 10-0 records in fifth and sixth grade before losing in regional games in California.
Alford, a former quarterback at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, continued to work with Rypien as a private quarterback coach through junior high and joined the staff at Shadle Park High, where he was Rypien’s quarterback coach for all four years of high school.
Tim credits Alford for much of Rypien’s development as a passer. The two spent many hours perfecting footwork.
“The biggest thing was his work ethic,” Alford said. “It’s infectious. ... He had some talented kids around him, but there’s no question that because of his work ethic we got more out of them.”
Tommy Boyer-Kendrick, the director of strength and conditioning at Rockwood Sports Performance in Spokane, noticed a similar effect Rypien had on his workout facility.
Boyer-Kendrick, a former strength and conditioning coach under Chris Tormey (Rypien’s uncle on his mother’s side) at Idaho, worked with Rypien throughout high school.
Rypien calls Boyer-Kendrick to schedule workouts every time he comes home.
“He’s literally exactly the kind of athlete a coach wants,” Boyer-Kendrick said. “He’s so confident and enthusiastic. He’s supportive of his teammates. He lifts others up.”
That was most apparent with the downtrodden Shadle Park football program. Rypien went 6-0 on the junior varsity team as a freshman. Coach Alan Stanfield decided to play him on varsity for the last four games of the season, all losses.
But those experiences — and Sunday throwing sessions in the offseason organized by the Rypiens — helped produce a record-setting passing attack over the next three seasons.
“His sophomore and junior years were off the charts statistically,” said Stanfield, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Whitworth before Rypien’s senior year. “I was always more impressed by his mindset for the game and wanting to learn and always competing. Those were the things I saw that were special in him.”
Rypien threw for a state-record 13,044 yards in his high school career, including a state-record 4,552 yards (and 50 TDs) as a senior with all new wide receivers. He put up those numbers despite never having another Football Bowl Subdivision recruit on his team.
“He outweighed half of his offensive line,” Alford said. “And that is not an exaggeration. He was 185, 190 (pounds). His center was 145. Brett, he’s not the greatest athlete in the world, but I told him to make your footwork your identity. That’s what made up for the lack of talent he had around him — he was so clean and polished.”
Rypien received scholarship offers from Washington, Oregon State, Arizona State, Washington State and Mississippi State, among others.
He visited the four Pac-12 schools and concluded his tour at Boise State, where he committed on the spot. Most of the schools told Rypien that they offered scholarships to two quarterbacks and the first to commit would get it, Tim said. Jake Browning took the Washington offer before Rypien finished his visits.
Rypien’s final decision came down to Boise State or Washington State — the school where Mark is a legend, his mother Julie graduated and his dad signed to play baseball before turning pro.
“Let’s just say I lost a few nights of sleep over it,” Rypien said when he committed (he hasn’t been available to the media since arriving). “... (Boise State) really just blew my mind.”
Rypien, 19, graduated from high school in January to join the Broncos for spring ball. Still, he was expected to redshirt until sophomore starter Ryan Finley broke an ankle in the Idaho State game. Sophomore Tommy Stuart was the immediate replacement but coaches decided at halftime to turn the team over to Rypien.
As confident as they were in him, they admit they expected some bumps. Outside of Rypien’s five-turnover stumble in the loss at Utah State, he has played like a veteran. He threw for a Mountain West and school freshman record 469 yards two weeks ago at UNLV.
“The biggest thing that stood out to me about Brett is his preparation,” tight end Jake Roh said. “It’s unreal. It’s really cool to see how much he’s in the film room and understands stuff at such a young age. We kind of lose track of the fact that he is a true freshman.”
Harsin often remarks that Rypien’s ability to see what he needs to see on the field — one of the more difficult skills for a quarterback to acquire — sets him apart. Coaches rarely need to explain a judgment error to him.
Rypien acquired some of that knowledge through discussions with Mark, whose influence on his nephew has come largely on the mental side of the game. They have watched video together and even reviewed old Redskins playbooks.
He also benefited from all those throws in high school.
When Harsin and then-offensive coordinator Mike Sanford searched for a quarterback for the 2015 recruiting class — the new staff’s first full class — they placed a premium on a quarterback with extensive passing experience.
“It’s very hard to make up as coaches all those reps that he got,” Harsin said.
Rypien’s growth has continued through his freshman season. He already has thrown 234 college passes — and he ranks 20th in FBS in pass efficiency with 12 TDs and four interceptions.
“He’s executing his job at a high level,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. “I’m proud of him for that and we’re going to have to continue to build.”
New Mexico at Boise State
▪ When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
▪ TV: ESPNU (Mike Corey, David Diaz-Infante)
▪ Radio: KBOI (670 AM), KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
▪ Records: Boise State is 7-2, 4-1 Mountain West; New Mexico is 5-4, 3-2
Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (19-4, second year; 26-9, third year overall); New Mexico, Bob Davie (16-30, fourth year; 51-55, ninth year overall)
Series: Boise State leads 6-0 (Broncos won 60-49 in 2014 in Albuquerque)
Vegas line: Boise State by 30 1/2
Kickoff weather: Mid-40s, clear and dry with 12 mph winds