When Mario Yakoo speaks, people listen. The redshirt senior offensive lineman isn’t boisterous off the field, perhaps even a little quiet, but he still commands attention.
He fielded a wealth of questions from the media Monday, saying and laughing afterward, “That was a long one.” That’s not normal for a guy in his group.
On the field, Boise State teammates rally around Yakoo.
“It doesn’t hurt that he’s about 340 pounds,” offensive line coach/co-offensive coordinator Scott Huff said. “With his talent and his intelligence, it holds value whenever he says anything.”
Actually, he’s only 326 pounds (still the heaviest player on the roster) and stands at 6-foot-4. Big or not, this role was meant to be, thanks to a quartet of guys who preceded him and are in NFL camps.
“It kind of has come naturally because of the guys that mentored me before: Charles Leno, Matt Paradis, Rees Odhiambo, Marcus (Henry). They’re all guys that mentored me to try to get me into this position, like it was destined to happen,” Yakoo said.
During the summer, Yakoo organized Saturday hikes up Table Rock, getting offensive linemen and players from all over the roster to join him.
“It would be hard to say no to a guy like him,” redshirt freshman tackle John Molchon said.
A stalwart who has played in 39 of the past 40 games, making 26 starts the past two seasons, Yakoo has flexed impressive versatility. He started the first two games of 2015 at left guard, then switched not just sides of the formation, but to a different position, to right tackle.
Thus far in fall camp, he said he’s practiced 60-70 percent of the time at right tackle, the rest at right guard.
“It’s kind of a whole new ballgame out there at tackle. ... You’re on an island,” Yakoo said. “It was hard, because I hadn't played tackle at all. Even in camp I didn’t play tackle; I hadn’t played tackle since high school. It was a big change for me, but throughout the season, I was able to adjust, and felt like I finished strong at the position.”
After missing spring practices following shoulder surgery, Yakoo has been “getting the rust off” in fall camp. An honorable mention All-Mountain West selection last season, he said his primary goal is “to reach my potential as a college player.”
When asked if he’s almost there, he said: “Not at all, not even close. ... There’s a lot of work to do.”
Beyond an athleticism not common at his size, Yakoo’s mind helped him make the switch with his knowledge of the offense.
“He’s as smart of a guy as we’ve ever had here,” said Huff, a former Boise State center. “He sees the field and reads defenses so well, has great feel for the game. He’s a big old dude, and he can impose his will on guys sometimes. I want to see him do it all the time. I don’t ever want him to be complacent.”
Yakoo has proven to be the player who can roll with change, be it changing positions or a late change of life plans. He committed to UCLA in 2011, but fewer than two weeks before signing day in 2012, new Bruins coach Jim Mora said his scholarship wouldn’t be guaranteed.
“Everything happens for a reason. I’m blessed; I’m happy that I never actually went to UCLA,” Yakoo said. “I wouldn’t have met the people I met here, I wouldn’t have been able to come to a great city, wouldn’t have had to the opportunity to play with my brothers.
“How many games has UCLA lost? They’ve lost a lot more games than we have, and I’m the type of guy that likes to win.”
Dave Southorn: 377-6420