Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin paused during team meetings this summer to make a request of the linebackers.
“Tell everyone how Joey’s doing in baseball,” Harsin would say.
“Someone would say, ‘He’s balling,’ ” junior Tanner Vallejo said.
Joey is sophomore linebacker Joe Martarano, the former Fruitland High multi-sport star who has spent the past two summers playing pro baseball in the Chicago Cubs’ organization.
Martarano left the Broncos for two months this year, from mid-May to mid-July.
“I enjoy both, and I just think it’s a good opportunity to kind of keep both dreams alive,” Martarano said. “The coaches understand that and they’re real supportive.”
Martarano tested that support when he called to tell Harsin he was being promoted to the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League, but would need to extend his stay a few days to capitalize on the opportunity.
Harsin didn’t blink.
“You need to do that,” Harsin told him.
Martarano began the summer at extended spring training in Arizona to knock off the rust. He doesn’t break out his baseball equipment until spring.
Martarano hit .315 for the Cubs’ Arizona League team with 12 RBIs in 14 games. He was 2-for-15 in four games with Eugene, playing his last game July 17.
He was 2-for-13 for the Arizona League team last year, so he showed improvement in 2015.
“It was good to have more success,” he said.
Martarano performed his football workouts while he was away — after baseball during extended spring and then before his baseball games once the season started. On his second day back in Boise, he ran 16 bleacher decks with his teammates.
“I thought they were going to make him run less, but he ran 16 decks and seemed to do pretty good,” Vallejo said.
Martarano finished eighth on the team with 42 tackles last season. He shared time at middle linebacker with Blake Renaud (39 tackles) and took on an increasingly larger role late in the season.
But Vallejo’s move back to middle linebacker from nickel means Martarano likely will be a backup this year. Renaud was a senior last year.
“You can’t get frustrated,” Martarano said. “You’ve just got to worry about yourself and keep getting better.”
Eugene will be in town to play the Boise Hawks for three games beginning Sunday and three more games beginning Aug. 17. Martarano said he wasn’t tempted to try to play.
“The season is close,” he said. “We’ve got a good opponent with (Washington), so I’m trying to stay focused on that.”
Linebackers coach Andy Avalos appreciates the way Martarano is able to handle both sports simultaneously. They communicated this summer and Martarano watched video online.
“Joe did the extra things he needed to do,” Avalos said. “We talked to him about those things — you’re not trying to be great at one thing right now, you’re trying to be great at two things.”
NEWS AND NOTES
• Defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said Friday that senior Tyler Horn and junior Sam McCaskill will begin at end this season but play some tackle. Both were recruited to Boise State as ends. Horn was a starting tackle going into last season but redshirted after he was injured in the opener. McCaskill replaced him and started the rest of the season.
Redshirt freshmen Jabril Frazier and Kaleb Hill have shown promise at stud end, Caldwell said. The two youngsters are playing behind Kamalei Correa and Gabe Perez.
Caldwell, on his 20-man defensive line: “I don’t think I can name them all.”
• Walk-on tight end Jake Knight is ineligible this season under NCAA transfer rules. He was on the track team at Auburn last school year. The former Rocky Mountain High star originally signed to play football at Oregon State.
The world of college football recruiting has become so saturated with Internet information that hardly any player remains a secret anymore.
Avalos said the Broncos found one last year when they invited linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to walk on out of Salmon River High in Riggins.
Vander Esch helped Salmon River win back-to-back state championships in football and boys basketball in 1A Division II from 2012 to 2014. He was the Idaho Statesman’s Player of the Year in his classification in both sports as a senior, playing quarterback on the gridiron.
Avalos recruited Vander Esch as part of Chris Petersen’s staff, and the Broncos remained committed to him after Harsin arrived.
“There aren’t too many diamonds in the rough anymore,” Avalos said. “But we found one there. And we think, he’s got obviously a lot of work to do, but it’s hard to find those guys with that length, that size, that move the way he does and have some instinct and knowledge of the game.”
Avalos dubbed Vander Esch the “baby giraffe” in the spring. The redshirt freshman has since added bulk, entering fall camp at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds.
Coaches gave Vander Esch a scholarship after spring ball — a rarity for a walk-on who hasn’t played.
The Broncos have five veteran players for two linebacker spots, so Vander Esch’s first role with the team likely will be as a special-teamer. His body type is particularly useful there.
“He had a great, great summer,” Avalos said. “He put on 15 pounds and moves better than he did in the springtime. So we’re excited about him to see him get on the field and have a huge role on special teams and find his place on defense.”
BRONCOS IN THE NFL: CHARLES LENO JR.
When the former BSU offensive tackle slipped to the seventh round of the NFL Draft last year, his pro future seemed uncertain.
A year later, Leno looks like a fixture.
He is the leading candidate to become the No. 3 tackle for the Chicago Bears this season, which means he would play if the starting right or left tackle gets injured. Leno started one game last year.
“I look at it like I have to be the starter,” Leno told the Chicago Tribune. “I play like I am a starter because you don’t know what could happen. Like right now, I got thrown in there because Bush couldn’t go. I am ready to go. I have to be ready at all times. I don’t care if I am the swing guy, seventh guy, whatever it is.”
Leno has been studying under veteran left tackle Jermon Bushrod since he arrived in Chicago.
“I’m into progress, not perfection,” Leno told the Tribune. “The same thing happens every day. Right when I am done I come off the field and talk to Bush, ‘What did you see on this one?’ I am always in his ear. Always asking him questions.”