One historic performance by a Boise State true freshman in the offensive backfield might be overshadowing another.
Running back George Holani has gained 200 yards from scrimmage in the first two games of the season, taking over as the featured back last week when starter Robert Mahone went out with a shoulder injury.
Holani will share the backfield with true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier again Saturday night against Portland State at Albertsons Stadium (8:15 p.m., ESPN2).
“He’s explosive,” senior offensive lineman John Molchon said of Holani. “... He’s a playmaker.”
Holani already ranks 11th in yards from scrimmage among Boise State true freshmen who have played since 2001. At his current pace, he’d crack the top three before the end of September.
The top three players all were part of the loaded 2007 recruiting class: wide receivers Titus Young (705 yards) and Austin Pettis (465) and running back D.J. Harper (389).
Holani has a team-high 36 carries for a team-high 173 yards and three catches for 27 yards. Coaches mentioned him throughout the summer as a player they expected to make a quick impact because of the way he prepared himself for college football.
“He came in physically ready to play,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “... The mental side of it, can you handle the new concepts, can you handle the speed of practice, can you handle the urgency that we want to go out there and practice with, and he’s done all that. He didn’t really bat an eye.”
Holani was a four-star recruit out of St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, California. He was ranked as high as the No. 19 running back in the 2019 class by 247Sports — creating a marquee pairing with Bachmeier, who was the No. 11 quarterback.
Holani contributed 1,410 yards from scrimmage and 25 touchdowns on just 149 touches (9.5 yards per touch) last season at St. John Bosco.
“They do a great job developing their players,” Harsin said. “Those guys work hard. It’s all business, no joking around. They’re very focused in a really positive way.”
Holani (5-foot-11, 192 pounds) joined the Broncos this summer and stepped into an immediate competition for playing time. He was in veteran practice the first day alongside Mahone, a junior, and sophomore Andrew Van Buren — an early indication of who would form the running back committee this season. Mahone won the starting job and has 186 yards from scrimmage in less than six quarters of action; Van Buren has 44 yards.
Running backs coach Lee Marks has emphasized the need for a strong bond in the position group as the Broncos try to replace the production of Alexander Mattison, who’s in the NFL now, and extend the school’s 10-year streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher.
That unity benefited Holani.
“(Mahone and Van Buren) didn’t shy away from trying to teach this guy how to go out there and play the position,” Harsin said.
And Holani didn’t balk at the challenge. The Broncos have had a string of running backs contribute as true freshmen, including the guys who produced the past four 1,000-yard seasons — Mattison and Jeremy McNichols.
But neither of those guys even had 100 total yards before October as true freshmen. Holani amassed 103 yards at Florida State (70 rushing) and 97 against Marshall (103 rushing).
The previous fastest true freshman running back to 200 yards was Aaron Baltazar, who had 207 yards through four games in 2013.
“A lot has to do with his mindset,” Marks said. “... Fearless, really. It doesn’t really matter the stage, he’s just going to go out there and be himself and that’s just to go hard. He’s extremely physical, gifted. He’s a little more put together and stronger than most freshmen that come in, which allows him to go out there and do some of the things he was able to do this past Friday.”
Here are the top true freshman performances by yards from scrimmage for Boise State since 2001:
*705: Titus Young, wide receiver, 2007
*465: Austin Pettis, wide receiver, 2007
389: D.J. Harper, running back, 2007
*382: Alexander Mattison, running back, 2016
*314: Jeremy McNichols, running back/wide receiver, 2014
*272: Derek Schouman, tight end, 2003
253: Aaron Baltazar, running back, 2013
242: Kirby Moore, wide receiver, 2009
^240: Khalil Shakir, wide receiver, 2018
239: Shane Williams-Rhodes, wide receiver, 2012
*indicates NFL Draft pick; ^indicates still on team
Source: Idaho Statesman research
PORTLAND STATE AT NO. 22 BOISE STATE
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN2 (Mike Couzens, Kirk Morrison)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: Boise State 2-0, Portland State 1-1
Series: Boise State leads 6-1 (last meeting: Boise State won 21-14 on Oct. 8, 2005)
Vegas line: Boise State by 31 1/2
Weather: 78 degrees and partly cloudy at kickoff