If there is any agreed-upon description of what makes a “Boise State guy,” senior running back Ryan Wolpin checks all the boxes.
Unheralded? Definitely, as a former walk-on.
A bit undersized? Sure, he’s tied for shortest on the roster at 5-foot-8, and weighs 195 pounds.
Willing to work his tail off? That is his strong suit, from the weight room to the classroom to the field, where he plays on special teams.
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“His work ethic, it inspires not only myself, the running back group, but the team,” sophomore running back Alexander Mattison said. “He doesn’t shy away from any challenge. That’s what we need, that’s the type of guy that helps lead this team.”
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin only needed to look back to the Broncos’ most recent game for a perfect example of what makes Wolpin a beloved figure.
Midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s 41-14 win over Nevada, Wolpin had a 21-yard reception on third-and-9 that got the Broncos to the Wolf Pack 3-yard line. Wolpin then had a 2-yard run and finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown, the second of his career.
On the ensuing kickoff, he was the first player downfield covering the kick.
“That’s who Ryan Wolpin is,” Harsin said. “His fire is burning hot all the time.”
When Wolpin and Boise State face Colorado State in Fort Collins on Saturday, it will provide an interesting coda for the California native. He started his college career on scholarship about 30 miles away from Fort Collins at Northern Colorado, which is in Greeley. But Wolpin said “it wasn’t all I wanted out of college football.”
Wolpin was recruited as a walk-on by Chris Petersen’s staff, but most of the coaches he knew were gone by the time he decided to transfer following his redshirt season in the winter of 2013.
“I knew if I was able to get in contact with somebody, I’d make my own opportunity,” Wolpin said. “I’d always been a huge Boise State fan ... I fell in love with the culture, the underdog mentality.”
What quickly endeared Wolpin to coaches and teammates was a maniacal amount of effort.
“I knew I had to set myself apart, someway, somehow,” he said.
So Wolpin earned Special Teams Scout Player of the Year while he sat out 2014 per NCAA rules. He’s been an Academic All-Mountain West member the last two seasons. In August 2016, he was put on scholarship.
But that work while no one is watching paid off, too.
In July, Sports Illustrated listed him as one of college football’s “freaks” for his weight room prowess. He was called pound for pound the team’s strongest player, benching 383 pounds, squatting 555 and power-cleaning 361.
“He’s a beast, and it definitely translates onto the field,” sophomore offensive lineman John Molchon said.
Wolpin has 71 carries for 242 yards with a pair of touchdowns this season, plus eight catches for 84 yards. He has five special teams tackles and has twice carried the Hammer before games this season.
“Even if I’m making plays on offense, I really know I mean a lot to special teams,” said Wolpin, who ran for 194 yards his first two seasons with the Broncos. “I have to get down there, nothing changes.”
Said offensive coordinator Zak Hill: “He’s very good at a lot of different things. He’s not exceptionally fast, exceptionally physically gifted, but he just does everything really well.”
In fall camp, Wolpin emerged as a contender to start, despite Mattison coming off a promising freshman season. Wolpin led the team in carries two of the first three games before Mattison took a leap forward and became the workhorse.
Still, Wolpin simply says, “I’m just happy being a part of the team’s success.”
The pair have built a nice camaraderie, pushing one another to improve, and even have given themselves nicknames. Not content with “Thunder and Lightning,” because something more dynamic was needed, they settled on Tornado (Wolpin) and Hurricane (Mattison).
“We have to go out there with that mentality in the way we run, that we’re going to be destructive and nothing can stop us,” Mattison said.
Wolpin could have been content on scholarship in Greeley, but he took a chance at a higher level with the Broncos. The twister coming out of the backfield, the force on special teams, there’s no doubt he has made the most of it.
“I’d never trade it for anything,” Wolpin said.
Five questions with Ryan Wolpin
Why did you switch numbers, from 30 to 21?
“There’s not really too much behind it. One of my best friends, River Cracraft, who played at Washington State, he was thrilled because he wore that. I just wanted a number in the 20s. I’d love to be 5 since it was my high school number.”
You have a big tattoo on your left arm. How long did it take?
“It took forever, probably a total of 11 hours in two sessions. What inspired it is that I really like the Polynesian tattoos, and I wanted to show my Filipino heritage a little bit, so on the inside, I have a Philippine sun.”
You and CT Thomas are listed at 5-foot-8, the shortest guys on the roster. Who is taller?
“We’re the same. He’s always trying to argue with me about that, but I won’t give it to him. I haven’t found too many perks to being a shorter guy, but I’m fine with it. Sometimes if I get really low, the defense can’t see me, I guess.”
Even as a workout warrior, you have to have a guilty pleasure when it comes to food.
“Here, it’s definitely Guido’s Pizza. I love that place. If I’m back home, no knock on Boise, the sushi back home is way better. I love sushi, so I have to get it.”
If you could time travel, what time period would you choose?
“If I was going in the future, I’d probably go about 200 years from now, just to see how different it is. In the past, I’d say the 1950s. That seems like an interesting time to grow up. I probably would’ve been a Greaser, but not gotten in as much trouble.”
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 6
Kickoff weather: Upper-30s, clear
Statesman bowl projections
Las Vegas (Dec. 16): Boise State vs. Stanford
The bowl is not beholden to take the conference champ, and with San Diego State playing here last year, the Broncos could wind up in it even if they don’t win the title game. However, there’s no reason to think they won’t at this point. Stanford is 6-3 but has remaining games against Washington (late Friday night), Cal and Notre Dame. That could put the Cardinal in the No. 6 spot in the Pac-12, which is Las Vegas. It would be interesting to see the Broncos’ run defense against Bryce Love, who leads the nation with 182 yards per game.
New Mexico (Dec. 16): Fresno State vs. North Texas
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 22): Northern Illinois vs. Wyoming
Hawaii (Dec. 24): San Diego State vs. Western Kentucky
Arizona (Dec. 29): Colorado State vs. Louisiana
NEW YEAR’S SIX
Rose (Jan. 1, CFP semi): Georgia vs. Notre Dame
Sugar (Jan. 1, CFP semi): Alabama vs. Clemson
Peach (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. Central Florida
Orange (Dec. 30): Miami (Fla.) vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta (Dec. 30): Washington vs. Penn State
Cotton (Dec. 29): Ohio State vs. TCU