Top recruit Sumner-Gardner seizes spring opportunity

Anyone who expects true freshman Brett Rypien to win the Boise State’s starting quarterback job should remember safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner’s debut season.

Sumner-Gardner played occasional series on defense and contributed on three special teams units last season. Like Rypien, he was one of the highest-rated recruits in program history and graduated high school a semester early to start his college career as soon as possible.

A year later, Sumner-Gardner has the knowledge, experience and confidence to fit on the field with the first-teamers. He’ll play with them Saturday in the Spring Game (5 p.m., Albertsons Stadium).

“I’m more confident now,” Sumner-Gardner said Friday in his first media availability since joining the team in January 2014. “I can see things and just play football. ... Last year, I really just watched the game. Coming in, you don’t want to just get thrown into the fire. You want to get used to things.”

Sumner-Gardner, a former Texas A&M commit, has spent this spring with the first-team defense alongside All-Mountain West senior Darian Thompson.

Sumner-Gardner made 19 tackles in 13 games last season.

“He’s a smart player,” Thompson said. “Every day we see improvement with him, and I’m excited to see where his future takes him.”

Sumner-Gardner has benefited this spring from a lack of depth in the Broncos’ secondary. He is the only safety other than Thompson with game experience who is practicing.

But competition is on the way.

Junior Chanceller James, who overtook then-senior Corey Bell as the second safety in November, is expected to return from his torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for fall camp in August.

James made a spot start in September and two straight starts in November before his injury.

“His rehab is ahead of schedule,” defensive backs coach Julius Brown said. “The trainers are very happy with where he is. I’m looking forward to him to come out in fall camp and go compete and try to win his job back.”

That will be a challenge for James because he has spent the offseason helping his competition improve. James has been the biggest influence on him, Sumner-Gardner said.

The same dynamic was in play last year, when Bell mentored James — and then lost his job.

“Chance James is like my older brother,” Sumner-Gardner said. “We watch film every day. He’s helping me learn the defense when (defensive coordinator Marcel Yates) is in meetings.”

Sumner-Gardner commits himself to studying the game and has shown better understanding of his assignments this spring, Brown said.

That allows his greatest strength to shine: his physical nature.

“I definitely think he brings that edge to the defense,” Brown said.

Coach Bryan Harsin is eager to see what Sumner-Gardner looks like in August. His approach hints at more significant improvement.

“He’s a worker, now,” Harsin said. “He’s always been a worker since he showed up. He’s just got more confidence. ... He’s always been a physical player. Give him another summer to continue to develop physically. To be around a guy like Darian. To be in that secondary group with (cornerbacks Donte Deayon and Jonathan Moxey). He’s only going to get better.”

And whether or not he starts, Sumner-Gardner likely will play extensively on defense this season.

“I don’t really know what my role is,” he said, “but I know whatever Coach wants me to do, I’m going to do it.”

NOTES: At the end of Friday’s practice, with many former players on hand to watch as part of an alumni event, Bears linebacker Shea McClellin and school record-holder Chris Wing (20 sacks in 1996) addressed the team. ... Boise State players will wear pink Ws on their helmets for the Spring Game in support of director of football operations Brian Wilkinson’s wife, Tami. Tami is fighting breast cancer.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman