Boise State Football

Developing youngsters at this spot hasn’t been easy, but Boise State is getting better

Boise State OC Zak Hill on Broncos' improving offense

Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill holds his weekly press conference in advance of the Colorado State game. (Video courtesy of Boise State)
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Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill holds his weekly press conference in advance of the Colorado State game. (Video courtesy of Boise State)

When Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin thought of players brought in straight out of high school as wide receivers who were developed quickly and into productive targets, he mentioned Austin Pettis and Titus Young.

Those guys got here 10 years ago and were NFL talents.

Matt Miller was excellent from 2011 to 2014, perhaps the best since Pettis and Young to fit that mold. Tyler Shoemaker had a huge 2011, but he had earned his way up from a walk-on. Shane Williams-Rhodes hauled in 233 catches from 2012 to 2015, but he never averaged more than 9.1 yards per catch in a season. Thomas Sperbeck is one of the best in school history, but he initially was slated to be a safety.

“If you’re trying to teach a guy coming out of high school how to run a route properly, how to catch a ball properly, I think it just takes time,” Harsin said. “Not everybody just rolls into the facility and has all these tools. We’ve got to be able to coach them up.”

The Broncos’ best receiver on the roster is senior Cedrick Wilson, a junior college transfer. Juniors A.J. Richardson and Sean Modster have had moments but have not been consistent playmakers. They have combined for 38 catches and 398 yards receiving in 2017, with just one touchdown.

Harsin said they’ve done well, but not in ways that show up in the stats, whether it’s freeing up others with their routes or blocking on runs or screens.

“It’s definitely been kind of slow, can’t lie about that, it shows on the field. But I think we’ve been trying to make plays even if we don’t have the ball,” Richardson said. “... It takes patience, for sure. You’re not just going to come in here and be the guy. You’re gonna have to work for it.”

Attrition has been an issue, too. Seven scholarship receivers since the start of 2015 have either transferred or did not finish their eligibility at Boise State. Three have left since the end of spring practices this year.

Improving the talent level and stocking up on numbers obviously are keys in the Broncos’ recruiting — they have picked up commitments from four players at wide receiver, including three high schoolers, for the 2018 class in the past two weeks.

And the Broncos know improvement must come quickly, with Wilson graduating. There have been signs of potential as true freshmen CT Thomas and Octavius Evans have combined for nine catches, 93 yards and a touchdown in the past two games. They had eight catches for 32 yards in the first seven games combined.

“Early in the season, you were pretty much talking about a new, inexperienced group of guys. We knew there were going to be some ups and downs,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “Our offense isn’t the easiest to just pick up.”

First-year wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau is well-known for being strong at teaching fundamentals. After bouncing around college football for a few seasons, he said after he was hired that he hoped to stay for some time, a good recipe for development.

“We’ve seen dramatic improvement in that group over the year,” Hill said.

ANOTHER HONOR FOR VANDER ESCH

On Tuesday, junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Burlsworth Trophy, an award honoring the nation’s best player who began his career as a walk-on.

Vander Esch, a Salmon River High graduate, redshirted in 2014 and was put on scholarship the following spring. He leads the team with 86 tackles (three sacks) and has two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

“I think he’s a next-level player, reminds me of the kid from the Carolina Panthers in the way he plays the game, (All-Pro Luke) Kuechly,” Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said.

RAMS’ NEW LOOK IS QUITE DIFFERENT

Colorado State will sport new uniforms and helmets Saturday that resemble the Centennial State’s flag. The all-white look (which has more blue than the school colors of green and gold) means Boise State will be wearing a color scheme more akin to what the Broncos would wear at home.

BSU’s IMPRESSIVE STREAK CONTINUES

The Broncos clinched a 20th straight winning season last Saturday with their win over Nevada, a streak that dates to the team’s third year in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Only one other school has a longer active streak — Virginia Tech, at 25. Technically, Florida State is on a 40-year run, but the school vacated 12 wins in the 2006 and ’07 seasons because of NCAA violations.

SEASONS OVER FOR ODHIAMBO, McCLELLIN

Former Boise State standouts Rees Odhiambo and Shea McClellin won’t be playing again this season for the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, respectively.

Odhiambo was put on injured reserve after needing surgery on both hands. He started the first seven games at left tackle. McClellin has yet to play this season because of concussion problems. He was eligible to return Sunday against Denver, but a setback means he will be shelved.

“We won’t be activating Shea to the roster,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn

Boise State at Colorado State

When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: CSU Stadium (36,500, FieldTurf)

TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, David Diehl, Jenny Dell)

Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)

Records: BSU 7-2, 5-0 (beat Nevada 41-14 last week); Colorado State 6-4, 4-2 (lost to Wyoming 16-13)

Series: Boise State leads 6-0 (Broncos won 28-23 in Boise on Oct. 15, 2016, in last meeting)

Vegas line: Boise State by 5 1/2

Kickoff weather: Mid-30s, clear

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