Boise State Football

He came to Boise State as a student. Now he’s playing on the Broncos’ offensive line.

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin on OL Jake Stetz: ‘There’s never a bad day’

Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin describes how walk-on offensive lineman Jake Stetz joined the Broncos program
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Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin describes how walk-on offensive lineman Jake Stetz joined the Broncos program

Most “walk-ons” in college football these days are just recruits without a scholarship.

Not Jake Stetz.

The Boise State offensive lineman came to Boise from California as a student. After a semester on campus spent gaining weight and getting stronger, he convinced the Broncos to give him a shot during winter conditioning for the spring semester of 2017.

And last week, he started the home opener at left guard.

“It’s pretty special what he’s done in a short amount of time,” said Thomas Altieri, who was Stetz’s high school position coach. “He was looking for just a chance.”

Stetz was pressed into emergency duty in the season opener at Florida State when right tackle John Ojukwu was injured. Offensive line coach Brad Bedell had told Stetz that if anyone but the center got injured, he likely would play.

Stetz kept that spot against Marshall, helping the Broncos to a 2-0 start.

When he entered the Florida State game, the Broncos trailed 31-26 late in the third quarter. Stetz’s first career drive with the starters culminated in the go-ahead touchdown.

“Definitely mega memories out of that,” Stetz said. “It was a lot of fun. I’m just glad I could do well enough to help our team come back and win.”

That someone like Stetz, whose only recruiting interest out of Mission Hills High (San Marcos, California) came from non-NCAA schools, could be playing significant minutes with the game on the line probably was less likely than the Broncos overcoming an 18-point deficit to upset the Seminoles.

He was an effective, versatile high school lineman who could play guard, tackle and center, Altieri said. But he weighed 245 pounds.

“He was an itty-bitty,” Altieri said.

Stetz enrolled at Boise State — the football program, climate and outdoorsy setting were draws — with hopes that he might be able to join the Broncos. But he hadn’t even spoken to the coaching staff before he was a student, he said.

“I came here to be a student,” he said. “I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst.”

He did more than hope, though. He dedicated himself to transforming his body during the spring of his senior year of high school and that first semester on campus. By the time he met the coaches, he wanted to look like a college offensive lineman.

“He had a goal in mind,” Altieri said, “and every day he was working toward it.”

Altieri worked on it, too. His brothers Mike and Tony played at Boise State. Mike, in fact, was teammates with former Boise State quarterback Taylor Tharp, who is the director of program development.

Thomas Altieri asked Tharp to meet Stetz face to face and take a look at his high school video. A couple weeks into the spring semester in 2017, Stetz was invited to join the team.

“He put on almost 50-60 pounds,” Altieri said, “and really, really made a strong impression. It resonated to them that he means business when he showed up and looked totally different than he did on the film.”

Coach Bryan Harsin had about a 15-second conversation with Stetz before he joined the team.

“He looked like an O-lineman — big ol’ curly hair, thick neck, big body,” Harsin said. “... He’s one of those guys that took an opportunity, worked his tail off, and he’s a tough kid. ... There’s never a bad day at a practice as far as his effort goes.”

Stetz (now 6-foot-2, 294 pounds) quickly impressed with that work ethic, and he benefited from daily encounters with defensive players like Leighton Vander Esch, David Moa, Jabril Frazier and Curtis Weaver as a member of the offensive scout team. He made his college debut in 2018, primarily as part of the field-goal team, and was placed on scholarship this summer.

“He’s an awesome guy,” senior captain and offensive lineman John Molchon said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with him. He’s a hard worker. ... He’s just for the team.”

Stetz, a redshirt junior, will have a shorter career than most. That first semester counted against his eligibility even though he wasn’t playing football because he was a full-time college student. He expects to graduate with a business degree next spring.

“It’s been a long path,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’ve been working hard, and hard work doesn’t go unnoticed around here. I’m glad for this team, this culture — everybody who has helped me out along the way. I’m really thankful for everybody around me in my life.”

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