The Boise State football team needs an infusion of offensive playmakers and nearly two defensive lines of replacements to contend for the Mountain West title in 2016.
Coaches loaded up on both Wednesday on National Signing Day while assembling a recruiting class that officially includes 28 players and actually will include at least a whopping 30 — 35 percent of the program’s total scholarship allotment.
It’s the class that coach Bryan Harsin hopes restores balance to a program that has lacked depth in key areas in recent years.
“I feel like this class really gets us a lot closer to where we want to be when it comes to numbers by position,” Harsin said.
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The imbalance cost the Broncos on offense last year. True sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols didn’t have much reliable help in the backfield, and only three wide receivers finished with more than 10 catches.
And it could cost the Broncos on defense this year. Eight scholarship defensive linemen are gone — seven seniors and NFL early entrant Kamalei Correa.
Defensive line coach Steve Caldwell landed seven replacements Wednesday and expects at least four of them to play immediately. One is a junior college transfer, but the rest will be true freshmen.
“Half these freshmen can play,” he said. “We might not be able to redshirt (the other) half of them. You talk about our first four ballgames you open up with (at Louisiana, vs. Washington State, at Oregon State, vs. BYU), you’ve gotta have some men in there to make it happen.”
The Broncos survived a wild, last-minute charge from USC to hold most of the defensive line class together. The Trojans snagged junior college lineman Josh Fatu — a guy Caldwell was expecting to contribute this year — but also pursued high school prospects Emmanuel Fesili, Curtis Weaver and Jabari Watson, Caldwell said.
He called USC assistant Tee Martin, the quarterback of the Tennessee national championship team on which Caldwell coached, to ask, “What in the world is going on?”
“We lost one out of four to them, so we feel really good about that,” Caldwell said.
It’s easy to see why the other three — all from Southern California — attracted USC’s attention. Fesili is 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, and played at high school power Long Beach Poly. Watson is 6-3, 255 with 25.5 sacks over the past two seasons — and defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said he received a video of Watson running on a high-speed treadmill. Weaver is 6-4, 280 and was named one of the top 10 defensive ends in California by Scout.com.
“I saw (Watson) in person and was like, ‘Holy cow,’ ” Caldwell said.
The Broncos also signed Kayode Rufai (6-4, 240), Chase Hatada (6-2, 255) and Derriyon Shaw (6-3, 230) from the high school ranks and junior college transfer Daniel Auelua (6-2, 290).
“I think we’ve got some special guys coming in,” Caldwell said.
The Broncos also could use some immediate impact on offense.
At wide receiver, coach Junior Adams wanted to add length. The Broncos played last season with one scholarship wide receiver who is taller than 6 foot (Austin Cottrell, who played sparingly). They added three of those guys in this class: junior college transfer Cedrick Wilson Jr. (6-3, 190), freshman Julian Carter (6-3, 190) and freshman Bubba Ogbebor (6-1, 190), who drew late interest from Oklahoma.
Of the three Broncos who caught more than 10 passes last season, one is gone (Shane Williams-Rhodes) and the other two are entering their senior seasons (Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson).
“Our need was to get some size, and I think we did that,” Adams said.
The need was similar at tailback, where McNichols (5-9, 205) was the workhorse last year. He’s the biggest back on the roster.
That will change quickly with the addition of freshmen Robert Mahone (5-11, 190 — but coaches say he’s over 200 pounds now) and Alexander Mattison (5-11, 200). Mattison is one of the most intriguing prospects in the class. The Broncos had two tailback commits but liked Mattison so much they might have taken him as a safety.
When Damarea Crockett decommitted to sign with Missouri, Mattison pounced on the open spot.
“Alexander was someone I wanted from day one,” said running backs coach Lee Marks, who worked two camps Mattison attended. “I could see how dynamic he is and how great a kid he is. It was easy to build that relationship. We kept that going through the whole time. He knew our situation.”
Said Harsin on the coaches’ thought process: “We’re making this work somehow.”
NOTES ON THE CLASS
▪ The Broncos signed 24 players Wednesday in addition to the four who joined the team in January. Linebacker Ali’i Niumatalolo, who is scheduled to go on a mission next year, and defensive back Kekoa Nawahine, who signed in 2014 and went on a mission, still are committed to the program but didn’t sign because the Broncos were close to their annual limit for signings. Nawahine tweeted that he’ll join the program this summer.
▪ The Broncos maintained a relationship with quarterback Jake Constantine in case early commit Micah Wilson didn’t sign. Wilson took a late offer from Missouri — a possibility the Broncos considered because his dad played there. Boise State gave Constantine his first scholarship offer. The issue for Constantine, Harsin said, is that he learned a new offensive system as a junior and didn’t shine until his senior year, after most schools have made their quarterback decisions. “His senior year, that’s when it starts to click,” Harsin said. Constantine helped his team to a 15-1 record and threw 51 touchdown passes.
▪ Harsin on tight end Nick Crabtree: “The guy is a vacuum cleaner when it comes to catching the football.”