In front of more than 100 people, a mix of strangers and teammates, Boise State redshirt freshman linebacker Zeke Noa had no stage fright.
The day before Thanksgiving last week, he and junior nose tackle Sonatane Lui sang for the crowd at Cathedral of the Rockies, at which the Broncos were helping serve meals.
“That was fun — they asked me to do it, so I was like, ‘OK, let’s do it,’ ” Noa said.
But that outgoing persona, it’s not exactly what Noa projects when he’s walking around Boise State’s facility.
“Zeke and I are up to a total of 25 words spoken to each other since he’s been here,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said at his weekly news conference Nov. 11. “He’s kind of the quiet assassin.”
Perhaps that is the best summation of what makes the 5-foot-11, 243-pound Noa the sort of player for whom coaches have had some high hopes. For the record, Noa said it isn’t nerves, he’s just a man of few (spoken) words.
It’s always the ones who don’t say much who let the pads do the talking and make the most noise, isn’t it?
Noa has 21 tackles and a forced fumble in the Broncos’ last three games since he moved into the starting spot at weakside linebacker following Riley Whimpey’s torn ACL.
“He is a physical linebacker, especially for a freshman. ... He’s a kid that can pack a punch,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said, adding “he’s going to be a good player for us here.”
Avalos may have meant it figuratively, but Noa could do some serious damage if he ever was in the ring.
During offseason conditioning, when the Broncos worked out with Jesse Brock, a former Boise State wrestler and now MMA coach, the pop of punches was loud, but when Noa threw them? Thunderous.
Lui said in September if he had to pick a teammate to be his superhero sidekick, it would be Noa.
“Most definitely he’d have super strength — we’ll walk down the hall here, just touch his shoulders like, ‘Do you ever not work out?’ ” Lui said.
Harsin said of Noa: “Zeke’s probably going to move somebody when he hits (them). He’s physical.”
Sturdy and athletic — he also played running back in high school in San Diego — Noa often repeats the mantra of “separation in preparation.” He said confidence “was an issue I had before,” but the last few weeks have let him prove to himself he’s fully capable of getting things done at this level.
Coaches like Avalos have said Noa likely would have played last season as a true freshman, but he had ACL surgery after his senior season at Helix High in January 2017, which didn’t let him practice until late last fall. He had a minor surgery that forced him to miss the first three games this season, too.
“It was difficult, but the main thing I learned was patience,” Noa said of waiting to see the field.
Working behind Whimpey and senior Blake Whitlock, Noa got his feet wet this season before Whimpey’s injury, again staying patient. Now, with his opportunity, one that is bittersweet because it came via injury, Noa is confident and ready to be the physical presence the Broncos need to beat the Bulldogs.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Noa said. “Trying to seize every moment I have. The better I know the playbook, the more plays I’ll make on the field.”
Mountain West Championship
Who: Boise State vs. Fresno State
When: 5:45 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN (Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Todd McShay)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 10-2, 7-1 (won 33-24 vs. Utah State on Saturday); Fresno State 10-2, 7-1 (won 31-13 vs. San Jose State on Saturday)
Series: Boise State leads 15-6 (Broncos won 24-17 on Nov. 9 in Boise)
Vegas line: Boise State by 2 1/2
Weather: Mid-30s, cloudy with chance of rain
Tickets: Office on the west side of Albertsons Stadium, visit BroncoSports.com/tickets or call 208-426-4737. Boise State reported just more than 20,000 tickets were out as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.