Boise State linebacker Riley Whimpey grew up in Utah as a BYU fan and his father is an alum, but the family’s allegiances changed when his older brothers enrolled at Utah State.
“We became Aggie fans and never went back,” Whimpey said this week. “Ever since my brothers went to Utah State, we don’t like BYU.”
Whimpey’s twin brothers, Kevin and Kyle, were offensive linemen at Utah State. Kevin (6-5, 295) was a three-year starter and a first-team All-Mountain West Conference pick in 2014. Kyle (6-6, 310) started all 13 of the Aggies’ games in 2012 and the first five in 2013 before suffering a season-ending injury.
Whimpey (6-1, 233) wasn’t blessed with his brothers’ size, and it wasn’t until his senior year that he started hearing from college recruiters. He spent the first three years of his high school career at Lone Peak High in Utah but transferred to San Clemente High in California for his final year and posted a school-record 172 tackles in 14 games.
“He’s a hard-nosed, old-school football player, and he only knows one speed and that’s 100 miles per hour,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said.
Ortiz had strong leaders on both sides of the ball that year. Current New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was under center, and Ortiz called Whimpey the quarterback of the defense. He saw what a tackling machine Whimpey could be during the Tritons’ first summer 7-on-7 session. The team went 12-2 that season and won its sectional championship.
“Don’t let his last name fool you. He’s anything but wimpy,” Ortiz said. “He let his presence on the field dictate a lot of what happened that year.”
Boise State was the first school to show interest in Whimpey and the Broncos’ former defensive coordinator, Andy Avalos, spent many an afternoon at San Clemente.
“The coaches were great, and they were open and honest with me,” Whimpey said. “I liked their vision for the program and what the school had to offer.”
Whimpey backtracked his comment on not liking BYU because he has friends on the roster, such as offensive lineman James Empey, but he knows how big any game against the Cougars is.
This Saturday’s matchup will carry additional meaning as Boise State continues its march toward a possible New Year’s Six bowl game, and Whimpey is expecting to have upwards of 50 family members in the stands. That doesn’t mean he isn’t doing his best to treat this week as business as usual, though.
“Our mentality is that it’s the next game, and so that’s the most important one right now,” Whimpey said. “All around, they have athletes all over the field, and we’ve just got to be able to execute our responsibilities.”
Last season’s game against BYU especially stands out in Whimpey’s mind because it’s when his sophomore season ended. Heading into the 21-16 win over BYU, he was Boise State’s leading tackler, but late in the game, he was lost to a torn ACL. He still sports a brace on his right knee and even went as far on Tuesday as to joke “it’s part of me now.”
Whimpey again leads the Broncos with 33 tackles. On Tuesday, he said he’s as close to 100 percent as he’s been in a long time, and he’s soaking in every moment on the field and looking forward to Saturday’s visit to Provo, Utah.
“You go out on the field and although it may be tough, you just remember the time when you were injured and out and wanted to be back on the field,” he said.
The fair catch shuffle
Athletes in general are perfectionists and creatures of habit. Boise State’s Avery Williams is immune to neither.
Williams has the speed to be a dangerous punt returner, but it’s his footwork after a fair catch that has Broncos fans intrigued. Upon making the catch, he’ll often take a couple of shuffle steps to his left or right, almost as if he’s dancing to the music in his head.
“That’s my mojo,” Williams said.
It’s something he started doing this offseason. Williams said he does it when he doesn’t catch the ball perfectly. If he should have taken a step back or to the side with the ball in the air, he does so with it in his arms.
“If I don’t catch it perfect, I’ve got to correct it right there,” Williams said. “You know, it’s just being more of a mechanic, I guess, and working on my technique. I’m just making sure everything’s perfect.”
Snacks for sacks
Miami started the trend with its turnover chain and now every year college teams are finding new props to celebrate momentum-swinging plays. Some don WWE-style championship belts, others flowing robes usually worn during a boxer’s walk to the ring.
Last season, Boise State had a throne on the sideline to celebrate turnovers. On Saturday, the Broncos awarded getting after Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald with snacks.
After STUD Curtis Weaver got to McDonald and forced a fumble in the second quarter, redshirt sophomore cornerback Marques Evans was waiting on the sideline with a bag full of Skittles.
“Marques usually has a snack every game, and he said ‘if you get a sack, you get a snack,’ ” said Weaver, who was less than impressed with the freshness of the candy. “They were pretty hard. I feel like they were old.”
Weaver wasn’t actually credited with a sack on the play, but if he gets one on Saturday at BYU, you can bet he’ll be heading to the sideline in search of another sugar rush.
Ron Counts is in his first season as the Idaho Statesman’s Boise State football reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @Ron_BroncoBeat on Twitter.
BOISE STATE AT BYU
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470, grass), Provo, Utah
TV: ESPN2 (Clay Matvick, Ryan Leaf, Taylor McGregor)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: Boise State is 6-0 overall, 3-0 Mountain West; BYU is 2-4
Series: Boise State leads 7-2 (last meeting: Boise State won 21-16 in 2018 in Boise)
Vegas line: Boise State by 6 1/2
Weather: 61 degrees, mostly cloudy