Boise State Football

BSU’s Thomas Sperbeck continues to prove doubters wrong

Boise State receiver Thomas Sperbeck on breaking receiving record and Wyoming

Boise State senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck speaks about breaking the Broncos' career receiving yardage record and looks ahead to Wyoming on Oct. 26, 2016.
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Boise State senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck speaks about breaking the Broncos' career receiving yardage record and looks ahead to Wyoming on Oct. 26, 2016.

Thomas Sperbeck is adept at just about any activity.

“Thomas is a guy that can pick up a tennis racket, a golf club, a hacky sack, you name it, he’s probably good at it,” Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin said.

Sperbeck could play just about any position for the Broncos. The senior wide receiver played quarterback in high school and initially came to Boise State as a safety.

“Sperbeck, he’s the guy in the Mountain West Conference that doesn’t get near enough credit,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “He does everything. He throws every trick pass and catches every trick pass that somebody else wants to throw. He’s involved in everything. The guy could probably be the backup quarterback.

“I love that kid, watching him (play).”

Sperbeck is not good at everything, though. He’s bad with names.

“Terrible,” his father, Marshall said. “He loves to be challenged, and picks up just about anything quickly, but any time we had a family get-together, he’d be like, ‘What’s my uncles’ names again?’ 

Everyone knows his name.

In Thursday’s 28-27 win over BYU at Albertsons Stadium, Sperbeck had 109 yards and broke Boise State’s all-time receiving yardage record, previously held by Titus Young (3,063 yards from 2007-10). Sperbeck has 3,139 yards, with 3,099 coming in the past 31 games since Sep. 27, 2014, when he burst onto the scene with a no-look catch at Air Force.

“It felt great. I’m pretty proud of that accomplishment. That’s something I can look back on and say was pretty cool, what I was able to do here,” Sperbeck said.

From receiving to passing (he has four touchdown throws) to special teams (he tackled BYU punter Johnny Linehan on the Cougars’ ill-fated fake punt Thursday), Sperbeck is one of the most versatile players ever at Boise State, a place not lacking for such players.

“There are guys who look pretty, and there are guys who get it done,” Harsin said. “Thomas, that guy just gets it done in every way, shape and form.”

It’s complimentary, but it’s also part of why “Thomas is Thomas,” as sophomore cornerback Tyler Horton says. At 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, and with a calm, unassuming demeanor, plenty of people who pass by each day may know his name but probably don’t realize he has the sixth-most career yards of any receiver in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Take, for example, New Mexico senior linebacker Dakota Cox at Mountain West Media Days this summer in Las Vegas.

“This was the guy that had 281 yards on us?” Cox said upon meeting Sperbeck face-to-face. “He shows that size doesn’t mean anything, as long as you try hard and have the heart to do it. He proves so many people wrong every day.”

Or even Boise State’s first-year co-offensive coordinator, Zak Hill.

“I was talking to (receivers) coach (Junior) Adams, and Sperbeck was in his office, and he’s like, ‘This is our leading receiver, Thomas Sperbeck,’ and you’re like, ‘Really? OK ... ,’ ” Hill said.

It all is something Sperbeck has learned to embrace, part of an even-keeled persona he carries with him all the time. Sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien said he is the “same guy he is on a Tuesday practice as he is a Saturday game.”

“I know how I look and how the average football player looks,” Sperbeck said. “I don’t think it’s a knock on me; I kind of just look like the average Joe, I guess. That’s fine with me. I guess I’m a different guy (on the field).”

Growing up, Sperbeck had a good example in his own home. His father was a quarterback at Nevada and head coach at Sacramento State from 2007-13. His football intelligence has often been praised as part of his skillset, and he was a no-brainer to be named one of the team’s four captains in August.

“His work ethic is so different, his attitude and mindset. He’s not that guy that wants praise or talks about it, or acts like he’s Thomas Sperbeck, even though he is. That’s what’s so cool about him,” said senior linebacker and fellow captain Ben Weaver.

“People look at him like he can’t do what he does. And he beats them.”

Sperbeck might carry that cliched chip on his shoulder because he isn’t the protoype for his position, but it isn’t obvious. His consistency on the field is clear, with five 100-yard games so far this season. But it also comes from that work ethic during practices, and effort that is “the same from play 1 to play 60,” as Adams said.

And that not-too-high, not-too-low demeanor is there in all four quarters.

“What I think you can’t see on the surface is that he’s a fierce competitor, but he doesn’t get upset,” Marshall said. “I wish I could be that way. He always keeps his composure, when guys are talking to him, trying to rough him up, he stays on task. He thinks they’re silly, things that don’t have anything to do with the game.”

At his current pace of 115 yards per game this season, Sperbeck could finish among the top 25 receivers in NCAA history. SMU’s Emmanuel Sanders is No. 25 with 3,791 yards from 2006-09.

Not bad for an average Joe.

“I don’t really know how he does it. He’s just a ballplayer,” Rypien said.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_BroncoBeat

No. 13 Boise State at Wyoming

  • When: 5 p.m. MT Saturday
  • Where: War Memorial Stadium (29,181, FieldTurf); Laramie, Wyo.
  • TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Adam Archuleta, Cassie McKinney)
  • Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
  • Records: Boise State 7-0 (3-0 Mountain West); Wyoming 5-2 (3-0)
  • Kickoff weather: Low 60s, clear with 20 mph winds
  • Vegas line: Boise State by 13 1/2
  • Series: Boise State leads 10-0 (won last season 34-14 in Boise)

Sperbeck by the numbers

  • 191 career receptions (fifth in school history), 3,139 yards (first), 18 touchdowns
  • 7-of-12 passing for 148 yards, four TDs, one interception
  • Tied for program record with 13 100-yard games
  • This season: 47 receptions, 810 yards, seven TDs; 2-for-2 passing, two TDs
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