As spring practices ended for the Boise State football team last weekend, it gave the Broncos a shot to let its healthy veterans establish themselves in key roles, but it also let new faces insert themselves into the discussion.
When most players redshirt, they work on the scout team, getting their feet wet with the team without a ton of responsbility. But in the spring, the reins come off, and some showed they will be factors in the fall.
“You’re seeing some new faces out there ... the young guys that are getting reps that were redshirting that are getting more reps in spring, it’s really helped those guys because you’re seeing experience happening out there,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Here’s a look at four players who redshirted last season, and one who joined the program in January that stepped up during the 15 spring practices.
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AVERY WILLIAMS, DB
The walk-on may not have that designation much longer, as the 5-foot-9, 197-pound Williams has proved himself worthy of a scholarship in his year with the team. Williams was the Special Teams Scout Team Player of the Year last season as he redshirted.
This spring, Williams has seen time at cornerback, nickel, running back and punt returner.
“He’s a guy that we expect will be out there playing for us and playing for us early in the season,” Harsin said. “He’s one of those guys that had an opportunity to come here and get his shot and he’s taken advantage of it.”
Williams had an interception in the spring game and was a ball hawk throughout the team’s practices. He also can be a playmaker with his hands on the ball: as a high school senior, he rushed for 1,175 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“He’s got an attitude about him and I love it,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “ ... He makes plays every day. He doesn’t take a day off. He’s consistent.”
EZRA CLEVELAND, OL
Last season’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year, the 6-foot-6, 304-pounder was excellent this spring, mainly working as a first-team tackle.
“Ezra’s an animal, he’s going to be really good,” sophomore STUD end Sam Whitney said.
This fall, the Broncos will bring back four potential starters who missed the spring in center Mason Hampton, guard Garrett Larson, guard/tackle John Molchon and tackle Archie Lewis. Even with some veteran competition, Cleveland could earn a starting job as a redshirt freshman.
“I think he’s going to be a good player,” Harsin said. “He’s got to get some more experience, get in the film room and learn a little bit.”
JOHN BATES, TE
He is part of a deep, experienced group that currently is set to run seven-deep this fall, but Bates’ 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame offers some enticing possibilities. Tight ends coach Kent Riddle said he has “unlimited potential.” In high school, Bates played wide receiver, defensive back and punter, plus played basketball and won state track titles in the 110-meter hurdles and javelin. He had three catches in the spring game.
“As a whole group, we have pretty high expectations this year,” Bates said. “... it helps me, confidence-wise, I’m still a redshirt freshman, I haven’t played before, but I still have to work my butt off to prove I can play.”
DESMOND WILLIAMS, LB
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 203 pounds, he isn’t the typical size for a strongside linebacker, but Williams has a ton of athleticism and a nose for the ball. He dropped what looked like a pick-six in the spring game and forced a fumble, but the ball carrier was ruled down. Often in the spring, he worked with the first team, and could bring a unique twist to the position come fall.
“(Avery) and Dez Williams have done a really good job there, those are young guys that learn, make good plays,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “(March 30) Dez made an interception to end the 2-minute period ... he took it all the way to score a touchdown.”
MIKE YOUNG, CB
A transfer from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, Young played safety for the Conqs and at 6-foot, 209 pounds is a good-sized cornerback for the Broncos. Coach Ashley Ambrose said he tossed him in the deep end, working him early with the first team. Young quickly thrived on and off the field. Ambrose said Young texts him every four or five days to say thank you for bringing him in.
“He’s just happy to be in the opportunity in this situation, to be in such a great place, everyone’s been phenomenal to him,” Ambrose said.
As a strong, experienced presence, Young could very likely be the starting cornerback opposite junior Tyler Horton on Sept. 2.
“I’ve been happy with his performance and what he’s been able to do,” Harsin said, adding that Young is “gonna really help us.”