A deeper look into Boise State’s defensive recruits

The Boise State Broncos added 28 players officially Wednesday, signing 24 newcomers in addition to the four who signed in December.

Here is a look at the Boise State football signing class on the defensive side, what the coaches liked about their new additions, how they got them, and a few fun factoids.

The pursuit of the recruits can wear on a coach, and especially defensive line coach Steve Caldwell, who inked six to his group.

“One week, they nearly killed me. I started in Portland, left early one morning, spent the whole day up there, flew out of there late afternoon, landed in Dallas at midnight, 2 a.m. I was in my room. Had an 8 a.m. meeting, three visits that day, in bed at 11 p.m., got up at 4, flew out a 5 a.m. to Vegas, met Andy (Avalos) in Ontario, worked until 11 p.m., came in Friday morning for a recruiting weekend.”

DT Daniel Auelua, 6-2, 290, Jr., Mesa CC (Alpine, Utah)

Bio: Recorded 2.0 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss among his 39 tackles with three forced fumbles over nine games in 2015 at Mesa...As a freshman (2014), played 10 games, recording 38 tackles (15 solo) with a forced fumble. Played at Lone Peak High.

Inside look: Committed from May to December to his home state Utah State Aggies, the Broncos pushed hard as soon as the regular season was finished. He took an official visit to Boise the weekend of the Broncos' final home game and was visited by former OC Eliah Drinkwitz on Dec. 1, then committed the following week. With the top four interior linemen graduated, Auelua fills an immediate need.

"We needed some help quick," defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. "... I think Daniel's going to be a real good player, be able to help us next fall."

Auelua highights - HS senior

DL Emmanuel Fesili, 6-2, 280, Fr., Long Beach (Calif.) Poly HS

Bio: Three-star recruit per, and helped take Poly to the PAC-5 semifinals in 2014...earned spot on the All-CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division Team as a senior...named to the Long Beach Press-Telegram 2015 Dream Team Second Team...recorded 8.0 tackles-for-loss among his 39 tackles (28 solo) as a senior for Long Beach Poly...that performance followed up a junior season in which he made 97 tackles (83 solo) with 3.0 sacks and 10.0 TFL.

Inside look: One of four Boise State commits that USC tried to swing at the 11th hour (only JC commit Josh Fatu left for the Trojans), Fesili was a longtime silent commitment, not announcing his choice publicly until Jan. 25. He has the size to contribute quickly.

“A big young man,” Caldwell said. “... he withstood the pressure. He’s a true nose guard, one of those kids that right now has the strength and the size. When a freshman comes in, especially at that position, you've got to really be something special to play, and I think he has that.”

Fesili highlights

S Jordan Happle, 6-1, 180, Fr., Jesuit HS (Portland)

Bio: Metro League Defensive Player of the Year both his junior and senior seasons for head coach Ken Potter...three-year letterwinner was also first-team all-league at both safety and wide receiver in each of his final two seasons...was named Class 6A All-State on both sides of the ball each year, earning first-team honors on defense both years...was first-team all-state on offense as a junior, and second-team all-state as a senior...helped lead Jesuit High School to league championships his sophomore through senior seasons, winning the state championship during his final also finished runner-up during his sophomore year and made the quarterfinals during his junior season...caught 50 passes for 779 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior...junior season hauled in 74 passes for 1,416 yards and 15 touchdowns, leading the Metro League in each statistical category...had six interceptions as a senior...finalist for the Oregon Sports Awards Prep Football Player of the Year following his junior season...lettered three times in basketball and twice in track and field.

Inside look: The Oregonian called him “one of the state’s most overlooked talents.” He had offers from Eastern Washington, Hawaii and Montana State before he took his official visit to Boise last weekend. He committed hours after being offered. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos called him “one of the best tacklers we’ve seen on film.”

“He was a guy we’d been watching all along, just kept going ‘we have to find a way to get him,’” Avalos said. “It worked out here down the stretch. Very, very smart football player.”

Happle highlights

Happle’s father, who works in sports marketing, became friends with actor Mark Wahlberg through his job. Wahlberg tweeted this Thursday:

CB Reid Harrison-Ducros, 5-11, 175, Fr., Heritage High (Colleyville, Texas)

Bio: Three-star recruit per, rated as the No. 66 player at his position...three-star recruit according to 247 Sports Composite, rated No. 181 nationally for his position...member of the USA Football U19 National Team that defeated Canada, 33-0, at the International Bowl Jan. 31 at Cowboys Stadium...made three solo tackles, including one for loss, in the second-team all-state selection in Texas as a senior...first-team all-district honoree and second-team academic all-state his senior season...recorded 68 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception his final year at Colleyville Heritage HS in Colleyville, Texas...played varsity football for three years and was also a member of the National Junior Honor Society.

Inside look: A longtime, steady commitment, Harrison-Ducros came onto the Broncos’ radar in the summer when the staff was impressed with what he could do in front of them and how he responded to coaching.

“He wears No. 5 ... you don’t ever want to put a kid in big shoes, but he reminds us of a No. 5 we had here, or a couple of them,” Avalos said, alluding to recent standouts Donte Deayon and Jamar Taylor.

Harrison-Ducros highlights

DL Chase Hatada, 6-2, 255, Fr., Rocklin (Calif.) High

Bio: Three-star recruit according and 247Sports Composite, which ranked him as the No. 67 amongst all strong-side defensive ends in the a senior, was named the defensive player of the year in the Sierra Foothill League after registering 40 tackles and six sacks...first-team All-Metro, All-Sac-Joaquin and All-Northern California his senior season...recorded 45 tackles and eight sacks his junior year, earned first-team All-Metro and All-Sierra Foothill League selections as well...named to the all-state team for juniors that same year...his father, Ian Hatada, attended Boise State and was a Big Sky 110-meter hurdles champion in 1996.

Inside look: Rocklin has provided its fair share of Broncos, including a Chase (Baker) who also played defensive line. Hatada's family history made it an easy choice to pursue him, and he returned the favor as the longest-standing commit of the class, doing so May 25.

“Just an amazing young man,” defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “Everybody was like, ‘coach, that’s what Boise State is built around.’ He DM’d me (Wednesday) and said it was the most exciting day of his life. It means something to him, so he’s going to give you whatever it takes to make this place special.”

Hatada highlights

CB Robert Lewis, 5-10, 170, Fr., Hawkins HS (Los Angeles)

Bio: Ranked as a three-star recruit per 247Sports Composite, rated as the No. 166 player at his also has him rated as three-star and the No. 111 at his position, including the No. 19 cornerback in the state of all-league selection both his junior and senior seasons, and tacked on an all-city honor during his senior year...combined for 81 tackles, six sacks, and three interceptions over the course of his junior and senior seasons...lettered in track and field three times along with doing so twice in football...honor roll member.

Inside look: Boise State had him in its summer camp, and he impressed quickly, getting an offer and committing soon after.

“We're excited about Rob, he's awesome,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.

Lewis highlights

LB Tyson Maeva, 6-0, 230, Fr., Cathedral Catholic HS (San Diego)

Bio: Three-star recruit according to,, and 247Sports...two-way player saw action at both middle linebacker and fullback...first-team All-San Diego Section at linebacker following his senior campaign...junior year recorded 80 tackles, two interceptions and one sack. Signed in December and will join the team for spring practices.

Inside look: The first player from his high school to graduate early, enabling him to get a head start by joining the team early. He missed most of the season with shoulder and knee injuries. Not surprisingly, his intelligence was widely praised by coaches. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said his size and smarts are a perfect fit in the middle, able to adjust on the fly with the Broncos’ multiple fronts.

“He’s a MIKE linebacker, and the thing I’ll say about him is he's like a coach on the field,” Avalos said. “... he was like an assistant coach.”

Maeva junior highlights

CB De'Andre Pierce, 5-11, 175, Fr., Long Beach (Calif.) Poly HS

Bio: Three-star recruit per ESPN, Rivals and to the USA Football U19 National Team that defeated Canada, 33-0, in the International Bowl on Jan. 31...made a solo tackle and broke up a pass in the contest...helped take Long Beach Poly to the PAC-5 semifinals in 2014...intercepted a pair of passes and recorded 54 tackles (37 solo) with 2.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles-for-loss as a senior...picked off a pair of passes as a junior along with 73 tackles (64 solo), 3.0 sacks and 6.5 TFL...knocked down a combined 13 passes over his final two seasons...played at Poly under his father, Antonio Pierce, ESPN analyst and former Pro Bowl linebacker and Super Bowl XLII champion with the New York Giants.

Inside look: The Broncos were eager to snare a talented player from one of the top high school programs in the nation, and one with a strong lineage, to boot. He committed in early September, but was able to keep it fairly silent until December. He camped in Boise in the summer and said “I wanted Boise State just as badly as they wanted me,” and said it was “time to represent” when he made his commitment public. He also has been quick to defend Boise State at times, notably telling QB decommit Micah Wilson to change his Twitter bio right after he switched to Missouri and said the team would be fine with Brett Rypien.

"He's versatile, he can play all over the secondary," defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. "The thing you get from him, football's the family business. He's going to be a great leader."

Pierce highlights

Pierce also tweeted out one of the better photos of the recruiting cycle with himself and the Bronco staff. What makes the photo is the portrait of Antonio on the right. And it was quite intentional.

"He had to leave the night before to do television, since he wasn't there, we thought it'd be fitting to take the photo with him in the background," Avalos said. "It was totally his wife, she had it planned out."

DE Kayode Rufai, 6-4, 240, Fr., Lincoln HS (Portland)

Bio: Three-star recruit according to and 247Sports...ranked No. 7 in Oregon per 247Sports and No. 9 in the state by Rivals...began his high school career at Lake Oswego High School before transferring to Lincoln High School for his senior season...named first-team All-Portland Interscholastic League and honorable mention all-state following his final prep campaign.

Inside look: One of the sorts of recruits who waited to take his official visits until late November, his attention picked up once the season was completed. Defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said the staff went to Portland last Thursday and “won the family over.” He also said Rufai “should really be able to contribute early - he’s very special off the edge.”

“That was another battle,” Caldwell said. “We fought Oregon State the first three weeks, thought we got over that hump, then last week Oregon comes in and offers him a visit to come up and they were trying to get on him.”

Rufai highlights

DE Derriyon Shaw, 6-3, 230, Fr., Legacy High (North Las Vegas, Nev.)

Bio: Three-star recruit per ESPN,, his senior season at Legacy after moving to Nevada from Georgia, where he played at Lanier Legacy in 2015, was selected to USA TODAY High School Sports' All-USA Nevada First Team...also named to the All-State Second Team, All-Region First Team and All-Southwest League First Team after making 7.0 sacks among his 48 a junior at Lanier, made 61 tackles with 11.0 sacks...helped lead Lanier to state playoff appearances in 2013-14 and a region title in 2014...lettered one year in track and field at Lanier.

Inside look: Committed Nov. 1 a week after visiting Boise, but the Broncos had to be patient after he visited San Diego State and Washington State in December. With his size and speed, should work early as the Broncos' DE/LB hybrid spot vacated by Kamalei Correa. His brother plays at Georgia State. He earned some recruiting attention while in Georgia, but the move benefitted the Broncos.

“He’s a STUD type ... I think he was in a program that was down a little bit, and so we felt like we were able to sneak in there and get one,” defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “If he’d been in another program, might’ve been really tough for us to get.”

Shaw highlights

K/P Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 230, Fr., Trabuco Hills HS (Mission Viejo, Calif.)

Bio: Three-star recruit per ESPN, to the All-CIF Southern Section Southwest Division Team as a punter in 2015...named to All-Sea View League First Team, Orange County Register's All-County Third Team as punter...was a perfect 35-for-35 on PAT attempts and went 6-for-9 on field-goal attempts...sent 41 of his 54 kickoffs for touchbacks...averaged 39.4 yards over 56 punts with a long of 72...competed in shotput and discus for the Trabuco Hills track and field team, earning three varsity letters...holds top-10 school marks in 10-lb. and 12-lb. shotput events, and in 1.6-kg discus.

Inside look: Not your standard kicker, he also played fullback and linebacker until his junior year. Boise State will initially have him mainly focus on placekicking and kickoffs. Special teams/tight ends coach Kent Riddle said he ate well at the Velazquez house, too stuffed to try any of the cupcakes at tight end signee Nick Crabtree’s work. “He’s got a huge leg ... when he kicks the ball, you hear a ‘boom,’” Riddle said, adding that the power reminded him of former Colorado and current Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby. He also will fit right into the Idaho outdoors.

“He showed up for his visit wearing a Bass Pro Shops hat,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “(He said) ‘Is that a river out there?’ (I said) ‘Yep, it’s full of bass.’”

Velazquez highlights

S Jalen Walker, 6-0, 175, Lawndale (Calif.) HS

Bio: Played both defensive back/linebacker and wide receiver for Lawndale High School...recorded 116 tackles (76 solo) during his final prep campaign, including 23 for-loss and four sacks en route to Defensive Player of the Year honors for the Ocean League...junior year had 46 tackles (17 solo)...intercepted a pass both seasons...offensively, caught 12 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns as a senior, and 27 passes for 458 yards and six scores as a junior...was named first-team All-Ocean League as a junior at wide receiver.

Inside look: A late addition to the class, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said the staff had a strong relationship with Walker’s high school coach. Also helping their cause late was the addition of defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose, to whom Walker was quickly impressed by: “their relationship and bond made a huge difference, I think that’s won the battle for us.”

“Jalen is physical player, now,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “... you see him line up in the box in the run game, he has a good feel, loves playing and he’s going to finish physical.”

Walker highlights

DL Jabari Watson, 6-3, 255, Summit HS (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)

Bio: Three-star recruit according to,, and 247Sports...three-year letterwinner helped lead Summit High School to the Sunkist League championship during his final prep campaign, registering 85 tackles and team highs in both tackles-for-loss (19) and sacks (nine) for head coach Nick Matheny...also had an interception and four forced fumbles...named first-team All-Sunkist League, first-team All-CIF and San Bernadino Sun All-Area...selected to the Inland Valley Football Classic Eastern All-Star roster...prior to attending Summit High School, attended Rancho Cucamonga High School, where he garnered all-area and all-league honors as a junior...had 72 tackles and 16.5 sacks that season for the Cougars en route to first-team All-Baseline League accolades...sophomore year picked up five sacks, earning honorable mention all-league honors...was a two-time Scholar-Athlete Award winner, picking up the accolade as a junior and senior...honor roll all four years...two-time letterwinner in track and field.

Inside look: A late bloomer, defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said the staff was interested and wanted to keep an eye on his growth. Sure enough, he turned into the sort that Caldwell said “could play inside or out.” He visited two weeks ago, and was aided by a strong connection with Summit, where former cornerback Donte Deayon and basketball player Montigo Alford went. Another of the four commits USC made a late push to get. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos saw the video below of him running on a treadmill and said “I’m going to use this as motivation to show the linebacker how our new D-linemen are running.”

“I saw him in person and I said ‘holy cow,’” Caldwell said. “He’s really developed his body in the last year. He’s another kid I think can come in and help us something next year.”

Watson highlights

DE Curtis Weaver, 6-4, 280, Fr., St. Anthony HS (Long Beach, Calif.)

Bio: Three-star recruit according to,, and of the top 10 defensive ends in California per Scout...four-year letterwinner saw action on both offense and defense for head coach Mario Morales...registered 60 tackles and seven sacks during his final prep campaign...earned All-CIF Southern Section honors...junior year picked up 55 stops, 13 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks, helping to lead the Saints to their first league title in 15 years...was also named first-team All-CIF Southern Section...was also named honorable mention Long Beach Dream Team...sophomore year recorded 42 tackles and six sacks en route to second-team all-league honors...also saw varsity action as a freshman, recording 25 tackles and a sack...offensively, caught 14 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns as a senior...rushed 11 times for 40 yards and five touchdowns, while catching three passes for 36 yards and a score as a junior...sophomore season caught six balls for 59 yards and a touchdown...also lettered twice in basketball.

Inside look: The final addition to the class, he was pursued by USC late, and had offers from Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin and more. He was hosted by defensive end Sam McCaskill on his visit. Another big help came from school president Dr. Bob Kustra - “he was instrumental in getting him,” because Weaver and his mother expressed a major interest in the academic side of his future.

“He’s very athletic, one of the most athletic big men I’ve been around,” defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said.

Weaver highlights

S/LB Desmond Williams, 6-0, 190, Centennial HS (Corona, Calif.)

Bio: A three-star recruit according to, rated as the No. 120 player in the country at his position and the No. 19 player at his position in California...made 67 tackles, two tackles for a loss and one interception his senior season at Centennial HS...helped Centennial to a No. 2 final MaxPreps national team ranking after losing to De La Salle in the CIF State Championships game...second-team all-league as a junior and first-team all-league as a senior...won back-to-back PAC-5 Championship titles in his last two seasons.

Inside look: A versatile presence on one of the California’s top schools, Williams committed in June and held steady. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos noted his ability to contribute to many wins, calling him an emotional leader and a “dominant player on the edge.”

“Really a fantastic football player, very physical,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “Maybe one of the most physical players we’ve seen on the defensive side. ... Could be a guy that could be an impact guy maybe early.”

Williams highlights