He’s already regarded as one of the best all-around running backs in college football, but in his junior season, Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols really wants to do it all.
“Pass blocking. I want to be the best pass blocker. I want to be up there with the offensive linemen,” he said.
McNichols has proven he can be a workhorse in the Broncos’ rushing attack. His 240 attempts and 1,337 yards were ninth and sixth in school history, and his 20 rushing touchdowns fourth.
Through the air? He’s got that covered, too. Only two running backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision had more than his 51 receptions last season. Adding his six touchdowns via the pass, his 26 total scores were tied for second in the FBS.
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“If you’re not paying attention, he’ll run you over, but he’s also a force out of the backfield, run right past you on a pass route. ... You have to prepare for all phases with him, which is rare in a running back,” New Mexico senior linebacker Dakota Cox said.
To be a true renaissance man at running back, McNichols has focused on the finer details.
“I just feel like I’ve got a lot smarter as far as knowing what defenses want to throw at me this year, where the safeties are, where the linebackers are, when my double teams will get there,” he said. “This fall camp, I’m more of a student, learning to play without the ball.”
If Boise State wants to continue to be a run-focused offense, where the goal is “to hit people in the mouth,” as junior tight end Jake Roh said Friday, that likely means even more McNichols.
“Defenses will probably gameplan for me a little bit more, so I’ve got to step my game up. I’ve got to be more technically sound. I’ve got to be a smarter player,” McNichols said.
That approach has not gone unnoticed. His position coach evoked the name of one of the all-time greats when McNichols’ name was brought up this week.
“He’s our Marshall Faulk,” running backs coach Lee Marks said. “... He’s one of the most prideful guys I’ve been around. He’s talented, but he’s taking pride in stuff like improving his footwork or making sure he’s in the training room healing up.”
The 5-foot-9 McNichols said he weighed about 155 pounds in high school, topping out around 175 and now is listed at 212. Last season was his first as a starting running back. He said “the first couple games, I was still trying to feel myself out with the running back position.”
He averaged 68 yards per game in nonconference games, but rushed for at least 104 yards in seven Mountain West games.
Earlier this year, he consulted Boise State’s strength and conditioning coach and nutrionists for a way to feel stronger and faster without sacrificing size.
“I never really understood how much (nutrition) went into actually playing football, doing the right things for your body,” McNichols said. “This offseason, I put a plan together. ... I feel better, my body’s healthier, I feel like I can run all day.”
Then there’s a refined rushing style born out of missing last season’s loss at Utah State with a concussion. McNichols said he’s worked on redirecting hits from his head to his shoulders or legs. That way “most of the tacklers will bounce off me, and I’ll be able to get extra yards.”
He also said he does not want to give up a sack or have to cut a defender, instead, taking them straight on.
It all adds up to a better McNichols.
“I’m really more confident in what I’m doing this year,” McNichols said.
Apologies in advance to opposing tacklers.
Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_BroncoBeat