Boise State LB Benton Wickersham on his unique path to the Broncos
There really was only one spot in Elko, Nevada, where a young Boise State football fan could hear radio broadcasts more than a decade ago.
Benton Wickersham, today a sophomore linebacker for the Broncos, was that rabid fan.
Even before he was old enough to play football, he was committed. Back in the dark ages, when not every game was on TV, he and his grandfather would get in his truck, drive to the top of a big hill and listen if they couldn’t watch.
“For some reason, the only place we could hear it pretty clear was next to this old auto shop,” Wickersham said. “Occasionally, we’d have to move the truck back or forward a little bit, but we got it.”
Wickersham had some local heroes who donned the blue and orange, from wide receiver Tim Gilligan to twin offensive linemen Jeff and Pete Cavender in the early to mid-2000s. His family attended plenty of games and traveled to bowls. One of his earliest football memories, Wickersham said, was a long touchdown by current offensive graduate assistant Derek Schouman.
“I had a dream to play college football, but it was very specific – I wanted to play for Boise State,” Wickersham said.
Last season, Wickersham’s dream came true, not only suiting up for the Broncos as a true freshman walk-on, but seeing some legit game action, too. He appeared in all 14 games (including a start against Air Force) as Tyson Maeva’s backup at middle linebacker, making 16 tackles. He also posted a 3.93 GPA as a business major in the fall semester.
Playing right away is an accomplishment in itself. Doing it as a walk-on is even more rare. And his path to get to this point, it’s downright unique.
Wickersham was a three-sport star at Elko High, where his father, Tim, is the principal, and his mother, Colette, is a school psychologist. Tim played football at Nevada, and Benton appeared to be following his father’s path as a college athlete. He was named Nevada’s Division I-A lineman of the year on offense and had eight sacks on defense as a junior.
But that future was put in doubt in February 2015, when Benton fell ill late in the basketball season. His body fought a flu virus that continued to attack even after it was supposedly gone.
“Some sort of auto-immune (ailment), something crazy. I ended up in a wheelchair for a couple months,” Wickersham said. “... going to the point where you can’t really walk, you kind of take a step back and think, ‘It’s something to be thankful for.’
“Now I wake up a little sore, and I’m like, ‘At least I can get up and walk.’”
He recovered in time to play baseball that spring (hitting .408), and returned to the football field in the fall. Going into his senior year, he had earned an offer from Hawaii but had not committed anywhere.
Early in the second game of the 2015 season, he tore his ACL. The Warriors’ offer was still there, but was pulled after a coaching change in Honolulu. Without many options, he made sure his grades were good, he worked hard at rehab, and after a baseball game his senior year, Boise State reached out to him about joining as a walk-on in January 2017.
It was the call he’d always wanted.
Wickersham enrolled in school and got a job on campus working in the ticket office. He spent the 2016 season not on the team, but realizing those fans buying seats might one day see him on the Blue.
“It was really weird, you’re never really sure if it’s going to happen, especially it being my childhood, lifelong dream,” Wickersham said. “... It was kind of a weird dynamic.”
The 6-foot-2, 231-pound Wickersham quickly adapted, despite having played in just five quarters of football the two previous falls. He learned the playbook and tried to catch coaches’ eyes whenever a big-play opportunity rolled around. Once fall camp rolled around, it was evident he would have a role.
“Benton’s a great football player, me and him get in the film room a lot,” sophomore linebacker Riley Whimpey said. “... It’s fun to play alongside him. He’s a hard worker.”
As if it wasn’t fateful enough for Wickersham to end up playing for Boise State, before spring practices began last year, he was asked what number he might prefer. He wore No. 26 in high school, so something like that would have been cool. Cornerback Avery Williams already had that, though.
Growing up, Wickersham’s favorite Bronco was linebacker Korey Hall, who wore No. 25. They played the same position and came from small communities (Hall is from Glenns Ferry), and Hall made plenty of big plays as Wickersham’s fandom was growing.
“I wanted to be just like him,” Wickersham said. “So when I came into the locker room and saw my first practice jersey was No. 25, I was like, Oh, yeah, it’s meant to be.”
With a childhood dream achieved, even when it looked doubtful a few years ago, Wickersham is savoring every moment, eager to help however he can.
“I cherish the memories, being in those stands all bundled up, wearing a Boise State jersey, and now I’m there on the field in one,” he said. “It’s just surreal.”