Like kids on Christmas morning, the Boise State football team gathered around the Christmas tree on Sunday. Sure, it was inside their hotel in Phoenix, and they didn’t run downstairs in their pajamas, but they still had a little celebration.
Coach Bryan Harsin had freshmen Jordan Happle and Ezra Cleveland lead the team in singing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” then members of the coaching staff recalled their favorite Christmas memories. Co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Scott Huff said he and his wife are expecting their third child, and as a gift this week, they had baby clothes wrapped up so they could find out if it would be a boy or a girl. They were pink, so Scotty and Sully will have a little sister.
Each member of the team chose a number out of a hat, and underneath the tree were gifts with corresponding numbers marked on them. A group of five members of the operations staff wrapped all 104 gifts Saturday night and Sunday morning, while the gifts were sent down from Boise on the team’s equipment truck.
“I think the reaction of all the guys was the best part,” said director of operations Taylor Tharp. “... It was a lot of fun.”
Tharp said it was important to clear it with compliance first, which gave the stamp of approval for the gifts, which varied from about $15-$25.
“All of us that are here that are part of the bowl are sacrificing something, away from family and friends, how we’d normally spend it,” Tharp said. “It’s about bringing out that spirit on this day.”
Senior defensive end Sam McCaskill got a stainless steel coffee mug.
“We spend so much time with all these guys, they’re basically our family. I think it’s really special, all the time and commitment it takes with all the coaches and all of our operations people ... kind of making it feel like home,” McCaskill said.
The Broncos’ redshirts and a few with season-ending injuries then went from the team hotel after breakfast to downtown Phoenix, where the Salvation Army was hosting a Christmas event at the convention center. Approximately 5,000 people were given a free meal, and the Broncos signed autographs, took photos and helped serve food.
Freshman defensive end Kayode Rufai gave his gift from the Broncos’ team Christmas to a little boy at the event.
“My brothers back home are too old for it, they told us we were going to come out here, so I thought I’d bring it, maybe make someone else’s day,” Rufai said.
After a little more than an hour at the convention center, the Broncos hopped back on the bus and drove to Chaparral High, where the team had its final practice of the season. There will be a walkthrough Monday, then the Cactus Bowl concludes the season Tuesday.
“We had our fun with the team, then we come out here and it’s business,” junior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said before practice.
Among the handful of players at a Salvation Army event Christmas Day was sophomore STUD end Jabril Frazier. Players who typically go to those events usually miss game-planning meetings.
All others who went were redshirting freshmen or players with season-ending injuries (Tanner Vallejo, Gabe Perez and Evan Tyler were there).
Harsin is likely to address Frazier’s game status Monday.
Frazier played in the season finale Nov. 25 at Air Force. He has four sacks, playing in all 12 games (seven starts). Sophomore Durrant Miles, who has started five games at STUD, would be the likely starter in Frazier’s place.
Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Zak Hill is enjoying a new experience at the Cactus Bowl: it’s his first bowl game.
A former quarterback at Division II Central Washington and assistant at FCS Eastern Washington, Hill was looking forward to the trip, a different sort of postseason than he is used to seeing.
“It’s awesome because my kids and my wife got to come down here,” Hill said. “It was awesome having the playoffs when I was at Eastern, which is cool in its own way, but you always kind of wondered what the whole bowl thing was like.”
I asked Hill about sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, who has said this year has at times been a challenge on and off the field. His yards per game and completion percentage have dipped a bit, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio and pass efficiency have gone up.
“He’s a very analytical guy, he’s still young, and I think we sometimes forget that,” Hill said. “He’s still managing the game, managing his thoughts. He does a great job preparing, and it’s like at some point, he just has to let it go, go play. If something doesn’t go right early, he can’t let it affect him early in a game. Things tend to build a little bit through a game if it’s not going great. But he’s got a really good perspective, definitely overly critical of himself, but I just tell him to keep it simple. Hopefully he can do that in this game and we can keep it going from there.”
Former Boise State sports information director Max Corbet, who joined the Broncos’ staff in 1986 and is a College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame inductee, has announced his retirement. The Cactus Bowl will be his last football game as a Boise State staff member. He transitioned into an administrative position a few years ago.
On a personal note, I’ve known Max for more than a decade, and always enjoyed talking with him, though we inevitably butted heads a few times. I’ll never forget him telling me to put the cookies I had taken at halftime back where I got them. I’d taken about eight, intending to bring them back for those who were still doing work. He told me they could get their own. I put them back. The plaque commemorating the incident still has not been put in at the Stueckle Sky Center, despite my best hopes.
Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor
▪ Time: 8:15 p.m. Tuesday
▪ Where: Chase Field, (40,400, grass, home of baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks), Phoenix
▪ TV: ESPN (Rece Davis, Joey Galloway, David Pollack, Molly McGrath)
▪ Radio: KTIK 93.1 FM, KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
▪ Vegas line: Boise State by 7 (over/under is 67)
▪ Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (31-8, third year; 38-13, fourth year overall); Baylor, Jim Grobe (6-6, first year; 116-121-1, 20th year overall)
▪ 2016 records: Boise State 10-2, Baylor 6-6
▪ Key stats: Boise State’s two losses this season were by a combined nine points; Baylor has lost six straight games by a combined 262-157 points.
▪ Bowl records: Boise State 11-5 (won six of past seven), Baylor 11-11 (lost four of past seven)
▪ Series: First meeting
▪ Weather: Chase Field has a retractable roof, which is expected to be open for pre-game activities and closed for the game. Tuesday’s forecast calls for sun, highs reaching 70 and lows in the mid-40s.