Boise State Football

BSU’s Vallejo has always been a team-first guy. Then came a tough personal choice

Boise State linebacker Tanner Vallejo receives a hug after the Broncos’ win over Washington State on Sept. 11. The senior injured his wrist in that game, an injury that forced him to prematurely end his college career.
Boise State linebacker Tanner Vallejo receives a hug after the Broncos’ win over Washington State on Sept. 11. The senior injured his wrist in that game, an injury that forced him to prematurely end his college career. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

For nearly two months this football season, Tanner Vallejo would have to go to the sideline to pop his right wrist back into place.

Off the field, simple tasks like buckling his seat belt caused his wrist to move out of place.

The Boise State senior linebacker did not take the decision to end his senior season lightly, but the ligaments he injured Sept. 10 against Washington State were not making life easier, so he opted to have surgery Nov. 14. With a heavy cast stabilizing the wrist, with pins in it to keep it locked into place, Vallejo spoke with reporters Tuesday.

“It was probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make,” Vallejo said. “... I think it was what’s best for me. My wrist just wasn’t getting better, so I had to get it fixed up.”

Boise State will play its regular season finale without Vallejo on Friday against Air Force (1:30 p.m., CBSSN).

Boise State senior LB Tanner Vallejo's season is over after having wrist surgery. He met with the media Nov. 22, 2016.

Coach Bryan Harsin said the pain Vallejo felt week after week was not something anyone wanted, and the day-to-day struggle was too much to force him to continue playing. Vallejo is second on the team with 69 tackles, but the injury began to affect his play and the amount of time he spent on the field.

“When a guy has a cast or something on there that’s limiting him, you’ve got to consider that, but at some point you have to sit down and make a decision,” Harsin said. “The biggest thing for Tanner is it improving? Are you helping this guy by going out and playing?”

At points during the season, Vallejo played and practiced with braces on both arms, as he had a sprained left hand last month. Being less effective now, and also considering his potential as an NFL player, getting the surgery done sooner than later became a priority. He will have the cast on for about a month.

“I honestly felt it was getting worse, and the recovery is pretty long,” Vallejo said. “You definitely think of that, but I wanted to kind of live in the moment, hearing the rehab process, wanted to get it going.”

Junior Blake Whitlock, who started in Vallejo’s place Oct. 1 against Utah State and last Friday against UNLV, was next to Vallejo for all those painful moments.

“He’s a different breed,” Whitlock said. “It’s something he definitely didn’t want to do, he’s Boise State through and through. It hurts him, I’m sure it does, but he’s tried to keep a smile on his face, help me out especially, help us all out any way he can.”

Ultimately, Vallejo said it was time to make the choice best for himself, and he had the support of those around him.

“I’d been thinking about it for weeks, talking to the coaches,’’ Vallejo said. “We all felt like it was the right decision.’’

LEWIS FINDING CONFIDENCE, CONSISTENCY

Offensive lineman Archie Lewis had his share of struggles last season. Against top-notch defensive ends like BYU’s Bronson Kaufusi, Lewis at times looked overmatched.

A starter the first two games of 2015 as a sophomore, Lewis was moved into a backup role following the BYU loss for the next five games, but started the final six after injuries forced the line to shuffle.

Although not a perfect measurement, Pro Football Focus has Lewis ranked as the No. 30 left tackle through the first 11 weeks of this season, and the Broncos’ line at No. 10.

At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds and healthy after missing spring practices, he’s about 10 pounds heavier than last season and feeling more confident.

“It was stuff I knew I had to learn from. It’s what I put my whole focus on this offseason,” Lewis said. “At some points (it was tough). It was a learning experience, learned to put on more weight, gotta get stronger.

“I can feel the improvement from last year to this year, most definitely.”

Said Harsin: “Much more consistent. ... He’s taken last year’s experience and applied it to this year. You’re seeing a more mature player.”

CALHOUN HAS HIGH PRAISE FOR BRONCOS

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun is never short of compliments for opponents, but often his most glowing reviews are left for Boise State. Take what he said Tuesday, for example.

“It’s probably one of the four best teams we’ve played here at the Air Force Academy,” Calhoun said.

Those other three, per Calhoun? Michigan State in 2015, which made the College Football Playoff; TCU in 2010, which went undefeated and won the Rose Bowl; and Utah in 2008, which also went unbeaten and won the Sugar Bowl.

And he’s firmly on the Jeremy McNichols bandwagon. The junior (1,575 rushing yards, 26 total TDs) was not a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back.

“Quite frankly, a guy that should be one of the top four or five contenders for the Heisman Trophy,” Calhoun said.

The Boise State football team helped serve Thanksgiving meals to families in need Nov. 23, 2016 at Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise.

THANKSGIVING A UNIQUE WEEK

With no classes this week, players have been around the Bleymaier Football Center more than usual, an exciting development for coaches. When at home, they can catch up on classwork, too.

It also gave the team a chance to do some community service. On Wednesday, players helped serve meals for the homeless and less fortunate at Cathedral of the Rockies in Downtown Boise.

“Today’s about being thankful for the opportunities we have, pouring ourselves into this community,” Harsin said.

The travel team will have its own Thanksgiving meal Thursday before flying to face Air Force, while non-travelers will head home for a few days.

QUICK HITS

To recap: The only way for Boise State to win the Mountain Division is to beat Air Force on Friday and have Wyoming lose at New Mexico on Saturday. Any other scenario gives Wyoming the division crown. ... It was a big week for the offensive linemen. On Tuesday, the group was named one of 18 semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line unit. On Wednesday, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Scott Huff was named a nominee for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. Finalists for the Moore Award will be named next week, and finalists for the Broyles Award announced Monday. ... Boise State has lost its last two against Air Force. Only twice has Boise State lost to a team three straight seasons: Idaho from 1982-93, and Nevada from 1996-98. ... Boise State is 29-7 in regular-season Friday games.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_BroncoBeat

No. 20 Boise St. at Air Force

  • When: 1:30 p.m. Friday
  • Where: Falcon Stadium (46,692, FieldTurf), Colorado Springs, Colo.
  • TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell)
  • Where to find CBS Sports Network: Cable One (channel 139, 1139 HD), DirecTV (channel 221) and Dish Network (channel 158)
  • Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
  • Records: Boise State 10-1, 6-1 Mountain West; Air Force 8-3, 4-3
  • Series: Tied 2-2
  • Last four meetings: 2015 — AF def. BSU 37-30; 2014 — AF def. BSU 28-14; 2013 — BSU def. AF 42-20; 2011 — BSU def. AF 37-26
  • Vegas line: Boise State by 9  1/2
  • Kickoff weather: Upper 40s, sunny with slight winds
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