It only took a few days on campus for Brett Rypien to understand what a Boise State quarterback’s legacy can mean.
Excited to join the program in January 2015, it began to feel real when Rypien got his first locker, and with it, the jersey he wanted — No. 11.
“A couple days later, I come back and my nameplate is gone. I had no idea what was going on. I was like, ‘Did I get kicked off the team?’ ” Rypien said. “But pretty quickly I understood why.”
No. 11 is what Rypien wore throughout his life, and was the number his uncle Mark wore in the NFL. It also is the number Kellen Moore wore as Boise State’s starter from 2008 to 2011.
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Putting those sorts of expectations on a true freshman, even one as highly touted as Rypien, was not what the coaching staff wanted to do. So, Rypien had to make No. 4 his own. The Mountain West’s all-time leading passer (13,581 yards), Rypien always has been cognizant of perception — he once famously quipped that he jumped out of his uncle’s shadow and into Moore’s.
And Rypien’s legacy is a somewhat conflicted one. The Broncos didn’t reach the heights they did in Moore’s heyday, but as a three-time captain Rypien has put up big numbers, was a three-time first-team All-Mountain West pick and has won 37 starts over the last four seasons entering Wednesday’s First Responder Bowl.
No. 23 Boise State plays Boston College at 11:30 a.m. MT in Dallas (ESPN).
“I get that the expectation is perfection, and I didn’t achieve all of my goals, but I feel we did some really good things, I got better and I think I’m leaving the program in a better place,” Rypien said. “And I’m excited to help whoever the next guy is, just like the ones before me did.”
That select group has been a vital resource for Rypien. To handle the high standards and withstand the ups and downs, Rypien said he keeps in touch with most of Boise State’s starting quarterbacks from the last 20 years.
“It’s hard for me to not text him every single game, because it can be a little lonely when you’re the quarterback,” said Grant Hedrick, who started 19 games in 2013 and 2014. “It’s just expected at Boise State that you play great and win all the time. But if you don’t play well and you lose, it’s all on you. That can be a tough spot to be in.”
When Rypien struggled against Fresno State on Dec. 1 in the Mountain West championship, one of those former starters, Ryan Dinwiddie (2001-03), was attending the game. Afterward, he told Rypien that “one game shouldn’t sour what you’ve done for four years.”
“It’s a really scrutinized position, but you can tell him something you went through, that it might relate to him,” Dinwiddie said. “Here, if it’s not a Fiesta Bowl, it’s almost a down year, so you have to be reminded, sometimes the ball bounces the wrong way, it’s not all on one guy.”
But if you’re good enough, one guy will get the most credit, and Moore understands that best. He went an otherworldly 50-3 and holds just about every major passing mark. When he is the bar, it’s tough for any quarterback to rise above, even one like Rypien who currently ranks 13th in FBS history in passing yardage.
“I think what he’s accomplished has been awesome,” Moore said. “... I think he’s faced some really good teams, seen more challenges than most of the guys before him, and he’s handled it really well.”
As well as coaches and the former starters say Rypien has handled the pressure, he admits it got to him midway through his career. Rypien started as a true freshman and mistakes were chalked up to youth by many. It was easy to project what could be, the rare four-year starter. He had a solid sophomore season but struggled early in 2017 with Montell Cozart pushing him.
“I was trying to make myself play like Kellen. I was thinking about that too much,” Rypien said. “It took until halfway through my junior year that I had to be myself, had to bring my own flavor.”
Rypien said he tried to replicate Moore down to how he stood when waiting for a shotgun snap, how his feet moved in the pocket, and his eye movement. But he understood no one is quite like Moore, the last left-handed quarterback on an NFL roster and 2 inches shorter than Rypien.
“He’s a competitor, I’m sure he was like, ‘How do I go 51-2?’ ” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, a former Broncos backup quarterback. “But he knew he could only do all he could to make himself the best he possibly could. There are guys that do things well, he does things exceptionally.”
Perhaps trying to impersonate Moore was not the best tribute, but that’s part of Rypien’s attention to detail. Again learning from his predecessors, with the Boise State offense still using concepts born 20 years ago with Dirk Koetter’s team, his knowledge of the offense goes beyond what is in today’s playbook.
“He’ll come in my office and be like, ‘Hey Tharpy, I just saw your throw on a flood in 2007 against Wyoming,’ ” said Taylor Tharp, the starter in 2007 who now is the team’s director of operations and external relations. “To me, that’s cool. He has a real grasp of what the position means here.”
Said Bart Hendricks, who started games from 1997 through 2000: “It’s a proud group, it can go unspoken, but I know everyone appreciates the lineage, that (Rypien) clearly does, too.”
Soon, whoever the new starting quarterback will be is going to look back on Rypien’s tape. Surely, there will be some from this season, perhaps his best from a statistical perspective, with career highs in yards (3,705), touchdowns (30), completion percentage (67.3) and passes per interception (63.9).
But his struggles in losses to San Diego State and Fresno State at home, going 36-of-72 for 295 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in those games, won’t be forgotten by his critics, and even himself. As Rypien went, usually the Broncos went, so some have seen him incapable of winning “big” games. When Boise State has lost, he often didn’t have one of his better games.
In March, during spring practices, Rypien was asked about how he was mentally readying for his final season, where his place would be among Boise State’s best, and he said, “I think about it all the time,” adding that he wanted to play in a New Year’s Six game. That didn’t happen during his career, though the Broncos won a pair of Mountain Division titles.
“I’ll look back and think about how close we were,” Rypien said. “Definitely had some opportunities, but it’s tough in today’s college football, especially in this conference. I think I’ve won big games, I’ve lost big games. I think there have been some where I didn’t have my best game, but we won. I’ve played well and we lost. I never played that great against BYU, but we went 3-0 against them.”
In the First Responder Bowl, Rypien wraps up his career and aims at being the first Boise State quarterback drafted in the NFL’s seven-round era, which began in 1994. It’s a career that will surely give fans plenty of fodder for years to come — where he ranks among the best, and if the expectations were met or were perhaps too high to begin with.
One thing for certain, for a player who understands legacy and what it means to be a quarterback at Boise State, his coach knows exactly how Rypien will be remembered in the Broncos’ facility.
“He knows how to handle expectations that no one else before him had,” Harsin said. “... He’s going to be the standard for us going forward in how you prepare, how you handle the ups and downs.”
BRONCO GREATS WEIGH IN
Brett Rypien said he stays in touch with most of the Broncos’ starting quarterbacks over the last 20 years as a bit of a support group. So, we asked them: What do you think Rypien’s legacy will be?
Kellen Moore: “He’s a winner and he’s tough. He won a lot of games, accomplished some great things, showed some extreme toughness through some challenging situations. He had a back-and-forth dynamic last season with (Montell Cozart), took some big hits in big games, but battled through adversity, responded from losses. He’s as tough as they come.”
Bart Hendricks: “He’s got the knowledge, he’s got the arm. It’s tough because he’s playing in an era where Boise State is on the map, it’s got a weight to it. He’s been involved in a Mountain West that’s very competitive. Kellen had some of the best defenses Boise State has ever had, but played some lesser competition. Brett had unbelievable numbers, and that’s a good thing, it’s just a different era and I hope people can realize what he has done against competition that’s much better.”
Ryan Dinwiddie: “I think it’s resilience. He came in as a true freshman and had success. I think he’s pushed through those high expectations. Still found ways to be productive, matured throughout his four years.”
Taylor Tharp: “In my mind, he’ll be one of the best, his picture is going to be up in our building for a long time. If not for Kellen, he’d maybe be the best. His numbers are no joke, he started four years. I dearly hope he goes out with a win. I’ve seen how tough the criticism is when he loses. He continued to mature, and guys in the future are going to learn from that.”
Grant Hedrick: “I think he’ll be remembered as one of the best to ever play there. Kellen will always hold that title, and rightly so, but I think Brett is right up there. He’s personified a Boise State quarterback in every characteristic you can imagine. There’s a list of traits in the QB room, being accountable, being tough, working hard, all those things, and he has every single one of them. Once he’s gone and the years go by, people are going to continue to appreciate him more.”
BRETT RYPIEN’S CAREER NUMBERS
Record as a starter: 37-12
Completions/attempts: 1,036-for-1,618 (64 percent)
Efficiency rating: 149.31
300-yard passing games: 21
Mountain West career records: Passing yards, 300-yard passing games, completions. He’s second in QB wins and pass attempts and tied for second in TDs.
Boise State career records: He’s first in 300-yard passing games. He’s second to Kellen Moore in passing yards, attempts, completions, touchdowns and interception ratio. And he’s fifth in efficiency rating, behind Moore, Ryan Dinwiddie, Grant Hedrick and Jim McMillan.