Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series previewing the 2019 Boise State football team by position. The previews will appear throughout August. Previously: Defensive line, running backs, tight ends, cornerbacks. Check out the position-by-position roster here.
The lion doesn’t always catch his prey, something the Boise State defensive line can relate to.
Boise State defensive tackle David Moa tweeted a video of a gazelle escaping a lion’s charge this summer, comparing it to trying to tackle sophomore wide receiver Khalil Shakir in practice.
“He’s kind of a silent assassin. He knows he’s talented, but he doesn’t talk about it,” Boise State receivers coach Eric Kiesau said of Shakir. “He wants to go out and do it, and that’s what I love about him. A lot of guys that are loud and boisterous and want to tell you usually aren’t as good as they say. But when you have a quiet one and he just goes out and does the work, he gains the respect of his teammates.”
The 6-foot, 186-pound Shakir played in 10 games last season before injuring a knee, and he is one of seven receivers back for the Broncos who played in at least one game in 2018. Shakir was arguably the most versatile player on the Broncos’ roster last season, lining up in the wildcat, throwing passes, and returning punts and kicks.
Even with their top two receivers from a year ago gone, Kiesau anticipates that the Broncos won’t have a dropoff in 2019 because the competition in practice continues to elevate the entire group.
“It’s all about production and what you do,” Kiesau said. “You can look good. You can run fast in a 40. You can be highly recruited. You can have all these offers and all these little stars by your name in Rivals. But all that doesn’t matter anymore.
“It’s how you play here. It’s how you perform here. So every day they’re competing, and that depth chart, so to speak, is really fluid ... You could be a (No. 1) one day and a (No. 3) the next.”
Redshirt senior Akilian Butler has played in more games than any other returning Boise State receiver, with 35 appearances and 32 career receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns, plus a rushing TD in 2015. While some of his younger teammates may get on the field ahead of him, Butler is the undisputed leader among the Broncos’ receivers.
“AK is just one of the most unselfish players I have ever been around,” Kiesau said. “He’s a guy that’s been here for five years. He’s seen all these young, really good, talented players come in, and he’s the first guy to help them, the first guy to tell them what to do. If they have a question, they all come to AK. He’s not a very vocal guy, but he’s definitely the leader of our group and they all look up to him.”
Senior John Hightower — in his second season with the Broncos after transferring from Hinds Community College in Mississippi — accounted for eight total touchdowns last season, including 31 receptions for 504 yards and six scores. But Hightower’s season was cut short by an ankle injury and he was academically ineligible for the bowl game.
“This year, the game will slow down for him a little bit,” Kiesau said. ”His knowledge of the offense and knowing what he’s doing and using his athletic ability will help him to execute plays and go make plays.”
At 5-8 and 182 pounds, CT Thomas is the smallest of the Broncos’ receivers. However, he has more career catches than any other returner, with 56 for 656 yards and three TDs.
“I feel like the receiver group is so packed, everybody can do everything,” Thomas said. “It’s just a competition every day, day in and day out, so we just push each other every day to get better.”
Said Kiesau: “I would never judge CT by his stature or what he looks like, because what’s inside of him — his heart and his mind — is bigger than most guys in college football, and I mean that. He’s the ultra competitor. He wants to be the best at everything he does, and that’s what makes him so good.”
Junior Octavius Evans was a popular breakout pick during fall camp last season after coach Bryan Harsin allowed him to wear jersey No. 1. Evans played in five games in 2018 and made just two catches for 12 yards as he struggled to fully recover from a high-ankle sprain he sustained in fall camp. Evans then missed spring ball with a broken foot.
“I learned I’m patient, and you’ve just got to move on,” Evans said. “You can’t go back in the past. You can’t do anything about the past. Nothing. I knew that, but actually going through it, I learned a lot more. The past is the past, and you’ve got to see what you can do now. You’ve got to move forward.”
Redshirt freshman Billy Bowens and sophomore Damon Cole are the only other returning receivers who played in a game last season. Bowens had three carries for 11 yards, while Cole played against UConn but did not record any stats. Three redshirt freshmen — Maclaine Griffin, Stefan Cobbs and Connor Riddle — hope to contend for playing time after a full year in the Broncos’ system.
Boise State also added true freshmen DK Blaylock, Khyheem Waleed, Shea Whiting and Trevor Cole to the roster this summer.
“Every day you want to go in with the mindset I’m the best receiver. All our receivers think that,” Thomas said. “But at the end of the day, we’re one team together. We’re all playing for each other.
“If (Octavius) makes a good catch, we are all going to celebrate him. If I go score, they are all celebrating me. So even though it’s competition, it’s always friendly competition. No one’s hating or throwing shade on anyone else. It’s always great, uplifting competition. Your teammates want to see you do good.”