Boise State true freshman George Holani’s three rushing touchdowns last week had senior defensive tackle David Moa pitching a nickname for the budding star: “Baby Saquon” Holani.
That’s Saquon, as in Barkley, the New York Giants star running back and former first-round draft pick known for his powerful lower body.
Holani is 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds — 41 pounds lighter than Barkley.
“We just see his motor, him driving his legs,” Moa said, adding that he thinks some of the team’s defenders don’t want to collide with Holani in practice. “The crazy thing about him, he’s so humble. Right after a touchdown he’s coming off to the sideline giving his love to the offensive linemen, the quarterback. His character as a true freshman is just amazing.”
Holani has rushed for 366 yards, second on the team, at 5.6 yards per carry. He also has nine catches for 76 yards, including two receptions that he turned into touchdowns last week against Hawaii.
That gives Holani 442 yards from scrimmage going into Saturday’s game at BYU. In the FBS era (since 1996), the school record for yards from scrimmage by a true freshman is 705 by wide receiver Titus Young in 2007.
Since 2001, only Young and wide receiver Austin Pettis (465 yards in 2007) have had more yards from scrimmage as a true freshman than Holani — and he could play as many as eight more games.
“He’s a beast,” said sophomore wide receiver Khalil Shakir, who played as a true freshman last year. “I mean, look at the dude, he’s a beast. ... He prepares well. He knows what he’s doing, and when he goes out there and just does his thing, it’s like, wow — you just see him diving for the front pylon and stuff like that. It always gets us hyped for now and for the future.”
The Broncos began the season with a three-man rotation at running back, with junior Robert Mahone in the lead role and Holani and sophomore Andrew Van Buren in supporting roles.
So far, it’s looked more like a two-man job with Mahone getting 75 carries and Holani 65. And it’s Holani who has the highest average yards per carry (5.6), longest run (46 yards) and most catches (nine). Mahone leads in rushing by 9 yards.
In fact, senior wide receiver John Hightower (511) is the only Bronco with more yards from scrimmage than Holani this season. Mahone has 437 and Shakir has 428.
Mahone and Holani are expected to continue sharing the workload moving forward, and coaches say Van Buren could become a more significant factor, too.
“George is one of those guys that has the ability to make any check-down (throw) or whatever run turn into a big play,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “... It’s not one of those years where we’re like, ‘Hey, here’s going to be our 30-carry guy.’ We’re OK mixing guys in and feeling out who’s kind of seeing it and who’s got the feel for that game.”
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
^442: George Holani, running back, 2019
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
*indicates NFL Draft pick; ^indicates still on team
Source: Idaho Statesman research