On the day he was introduced in 2003 as Boise State University’s sixth president, Bob Kustra was pointed about how he viewed the Broncos’ sports teams.
“The athletic program has the most opportunity to present and build reputational currency for the rest of the university,” Kustra said.
Kustra, who announced Wednesday that he will retire in June at the end of the academic year, will be known for helping the school grow in his 15 years at the helm, but also for his impact on athletics, notably the football program.
The Broncos were in their third year in the Western Athletic Conference when Kustra started. Five months after he took the job, he said he had approached the Mountain West about joining that conference. Then-coach Dan Hawkins said he enjoyed the aggressive approach.
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In 2010, the Broncos announced they would join the Mountain West. Just two years later, in 2012, Boise State had plans to move again, this time to the Big East. Realignment prompted the Broncos to remain in the Mountain West, but Kustra helped land Boise State a beneficial TV deal to stay put.
“Thanks to the success of coach (Chris) Petersen and his staff, Boise State football is a unique program with a value in media and ticket sales attractive to a number of conferences and bowl venues,” Kustra said in a statement written on New Year’s Eve 2012.
Kustra also saw the value of the Broncos’ former head coach, saying of Petersen and the staff in 2011, “They deserve all of the support I can give them.” Petersen, who went 92-12, had a base salary of $2.2 million in his final season in 2013 — an amount that’s still ahead of its time for a program at this level. Current coach Bryan Harsin’s $1.55 million salary is tops in the conference in 2017.
Kustra played a major role in hiring Harsin in late 2013 and reshaped the athletic department with his decision to fire longtime athletic director Gene Bleymaier in 2011.
As the football team performed better, Kustra touted its impact on the school, be it from additional donors or an uptick in student applications. He also continued to seek growth, tossing the Broncos’ hat in the ring of the Big 12’s expansion that never materialized in the summer of 2016.
“There is no doubt that our national brand and reputation has been significantly impacted by the success of our football program,” he wrote to the conference.
Under Kustra, Boise State has spent $82.5 million on an indoor practice facility for football, outdoor practice field, track/high school football complex (which made football stadium expansion possible), video board, luxury suites/clubs seats complex, expanded bleacher seating and the Bleymaier Football Center, which houses the football program.
“The leadership and guidance of Dr. Kustra will be felt by generations of students at Boise State,” Harsin said in a statement. “His vision for Boise State extended to and included athletics, and has played a significant role in the growth of our football program.”
Kustra even stoked the fires of rivalry when he infamously said the University of Idaho’s culture was “nasty” and “inebriated” in 2010 a few months before the teams’ final meeting. The schools have not met since in football and have not played in basketball since 2014.
When Athletic Director Curt Apsey was hired in June 2015, Kustra expressed a desire to add a baseball program. In April, Kustra made the decision to cut the wrestling program and pursue baseball. The school is expected to hire a coach this year and recently said it plans to build its own stadium on or near campus.
“I want to build an athletics program that’s not only a symbol of excellence in athletics, but a badge of honor for the entire university,” Kustra said in April.
Apsey said in a statement, “He invested a great deal into Bronco athletics, understanding that our department was the front porch to the university, and that a successful athletic department would help raise its profile.”
PERFECT ONSIDE KICK, PERFECT TIME
Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said after Saturday’s game that Boise State redshirt freshman Joel Velazquez’s onside kick was the best he’s seen. Senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson recovered the high-bouncing kick to set up the tying score.
But just the day before the game, there wasn’t much sign it was going to work.
“Every Friday we practice that, sometimes it comes out right the first time, sometimes it takes a couple extra tries,” Velazquez said. “This past week, it took us four, maybe five tries. It worked out in the game, and I guess that’s all that matters.”
Velazquez said the key was hitting the ball on the nose and keeping it flat so it takes the big hop over the front line of the hands team. Punter Quinn Skillin faked a kick before Velazquez to keep the Rams honest, and got them to jump offside. Velazquez said that was intentional, giving the Broncos another shot in case they didn’t recover.
“None in practice have ever looked that good,” Velazquez said.
MATTISON, BRONCOS NEAR MILESTONE
Sophomore running back Alexander Mattison has rushed for 919 yards this season following his outstanding 242-yard performance at Colorado State. That means he needs just 81 yards to hit 1,000. He’s rushed for more than that in five of the past six games.
Hitting the 1,000-yard plateau would continue an impressive run for Boise State — the Broncos have had a rusher hit that mark for eight straight seasons. Boise State would tie Auburn for the nation’s longest active streak of 1,000-yard rushers with nine, as the Tigers’ Kerryon Johnson has 1,035 yards in 2017.
IN DRIVER’S SEAT
The math is simple for Boise State: a win Saturday against Air Force or in the regular season finale and the Broncos win the Mountain Division. But they might lock it up early if Fresno State beats Wyoming on Saturday afternoon. That scenario guarantees a Boise State-Fresno State championship game Dec. 2, which is set for 5:45 p.m. Mountain time on ESPN.
Boise State and Fresno State also play Nov. 25 in Fresno, potentially setting up an odd finale. The Broncos almost certainly will host the championship game if those two meet. But if the Bulldogs lose at Wyoming and San Diego State beats Nevada, that Nov. 25 game could dictate the Broncos’ opponent. If the Bulldogs lose their last two and the Aztecs win their last two, then it’s a Boise State-San Diego State title game.
▪ Join the Idaho Statesman’s Dave Southorn, Rachel Roberts and Chadd Cripe at 11 a.m. Thursday for a Facebook Live chat about the Broncos at facebook.com/boisestatesports.
Boise State basketball on TV
The Boise State men’s basketball team plays its first televised game of the season Thursday.
The Broncos (2-0) face UTEP (1-0) in the first round of the 2017 Puerto Rico Tip-off at noon Mountain time on the campus of Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
On Friday, the Broncos will play either South Carolina or Illinois State. That game will appear on either ESPN2 (11 a.m.) if it is a semifinal or ESPNU (8:30 a.m.) if it is a consolation matchup.
Air Force at Boise State
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN2 (Roy Philpott and Tom Ramsey)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 8-2, 6-0 (beat Colorado State 59-52 in OT last week); Air Force 4-6, 3-3 (lost to Wyoming 28-14 last week)
Series: Air Force leads 3-2 (Falcons won 27-20 in Colorado Springs on Nov. 25, 2016, in last meeting)
Vegas line: Boise State by 17 1/2
Kickoff weather: Upper 30s, partly cloudy