Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin didn’t try to fight the inevitable at his National Signing Day press conference.
He enters 2019 with four young, scholarship quarterbacks — an enviable crop of talented players who will refine each other over the next six-plus months as each tries to prove he’s the next face of the Broncos program.
One will emerge.
The others? You can bet at least one, if not all three, will be playing elsewhere before their careers are done.
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That’s just the reality of college football today — and, as much as Harsin doesn’t like the transfer trend, he knows he can’t stop it.
“If I told you they would all stay, you’d call me a liar, right? And I know that,” Harsin said Wednesday. “I’m not going to say that.”
The Broncos begin spring ball next month with four healthy scholarship quarterbacks: senior Jaylon Henderson, a junior college transfer who provided a safety net last year; redshirt freshman Riley Smith, who was a late addition to the 2018 recruiting class; true freshman Hank Bachmeier, a four-star prospect who drew SEC interest; and true freshman Kaiden Bennett, whose eye-popping stats and desire to come to Boise State despite the crowded field create an intriguing profile.
Sometime in the summer, they’ll add redshirt sophomore Chase Cord — last year’s backup until a torn anterior cruciate ligament in an October practice ended his season. Cord is expected to regain a year of eligibility because of a new NCAA rule that benefits players who used a redshirt their first year and then lost most of a season to injury (Cord played four games last year, the maximum allowed). That would make Cord a freshman, too.
Cord’s injury opened the door for Bennett. The Broncos had planned to take only one quarterback in the 2019 class before that, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Zak Hill said. The coaches spoke to Bachmeier before making an offer to Bennett and he understood the need, Hill said.
“(Cord) tearing his ACL put us in a different mindset,” Hill said in a December interview, “making sure we had enough guys in spring ball and moving forward to be competitive in that room and, ultimately, find the starter.”
Hill will try to figure out what he has with each of his quarterbacks while pitting them against the toughest test any of them have faced: the Broncos’ first-team defense. A veteran offensive line will help, but new faces at the other skill positions won’t. The Broncos lost their top rusher and top two receivers from 2018.
“We have to be mindful of our install and how much we’re putting on (the quarterbacks),” Hill said, “... but we also want to challenge them.”
The competition will drag into late August, with Harsin saying he expects to name a starter — or perhaps two who will rotate — about 10 days before the Aug. 31 opener against Florida State in Jacksonville, Florida.
That’s a long wait for football fans — but an absolute grind for an aspiring quarterback. Harsin remembers his first spring with Brett Rypien, who just left after three and a half years as a starter and with a Mountain West record for career passing yards. Rypien arrived in January 2015 as an early enrollee, like Bachmeier and Bennett this year.
“I know Brett’s first year, when he came in early, about practice 13, he was like, ‘I just want this over,’ ” Harsin said. “But what did he do? He learned along the way.”
Rypien’s career overlapped with one of the most tumultuous stretches in the quarterback room in Boise State’s FBS history. Starter Ryan Finley broke his right ankle during the 2015 season and Rypien replaced him. Rypien looked like the starter the following spring, so Finley transferred to North Carolina State, where he had an excellent career and developed into a highly regarded NFL Draft prospect.
Of the first six high school quarterbacks the Broncos signed this decade, only Rypien completed his eligibility at Boise State. Jimmy Laughrea (2011), Nick Patti (2012), Finley (2013), Alex Ogle (2014) and Jake Constantine (2016) all left — and only Finley was even in the program long enough to contend for a starting job.
Now, just as Rypien leaves, the Broncos finally have restocked at quarterback.
But for how long?
“You try to find players that are committed to the program and committed to sticking it out and understand there’s going to be a process to it,” Hill said. “It’s not going to be given to them. You’ve got to earn everything. It’s like going back to being an eighth-grader and you’re stepping into high school — it’s really hard to be the starter on the varsity team. ... They’ve got to be patient in the process. But at that position, when only one is playing, it can be tough because they want the now and they want to find a spot that they’re going to be the guy.”
Even the elite prospects at the highest-profile schools are transferring, with quarterbacks moving from Georgia to Ohio State, Alabama to Oklahoma, Ohio State to Miami and Clemson to Missouri in the past few months. The past two Heisman Trophy winners — Oklahoma quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (Texas Tech) and Kyler Murray (Texas A&M) — were transfers.
“What’s happening now, it’s like a fad,” Harsin said. “Pick up and go. I don’t care where you go ... you’re going to have to compete.
“... Sometimes you leave too soon and you miss that opportunity where you were at and where you wanted to be.”