As the Boise State sideline exploded in celebration after winning the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, players sprinted onto the football field or swarmed one another. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was redshirting that season and, in the midst of it all, found Ben Weaver.
Then a sophomore, Weaver started 11 games that season at linebacker, posting eight tackles and a sack in the bowl win over Arizona. Near midfield, he ripped off his helmet and let out a huge scream to the sky before finding someone, anyone to hug.
“His heart is incredible,” Vander Esch said. “When we won the Fiesta Bowl, he was out there almost in tears, and to see how much he cared for the game of football, how much it impacted him, it made me want to feel the exact same way.”
That passion is a main reason why Weaver was selected by his teammates to be one of four captains this season. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos saw the senior linebacker in the film room Monday night when almost everyone else had gone home.
“His switch is always on,” Avalos said.
Weaver will have some fans in the stands Saturday at Louisiana’s Cajun Field, about a four-hour drive from his hometown of Klein, Texas, just outside Houston. Some of those were the ones who created his competitive desire.
“I was the youngest of three, always trying to compete with my brother and my sister. That same mentality, that underdog type feel, it’s what we have at Boise State, so that kind of clicked in my life,” Weaver said.
A three-time academic All-Mountain West selection, teammate after teammate has praised Weaver for being an ideal example of a Boise State. Weaver’s 30 career starts are tied for the most among any player on the roster, and he’s racked up 219 tackles to go with three sacks, four tackles for loss and three interceptions (all in the final three regular season games last season).
“I’m around Ben a lot. He does everything right on and off the field,” said senior end Sam McCaskill, the other captain on defense. “That’s what you look for in a leader: someone who approaches everything, whether it’s a school assignment or a little speech in front of the team or practice, and prepares every way like you’re going to be judged on that completely.”
Coach Bryan Harsin was already aware of that desire for perfection, but gained a new appreciation for it just before fall camp started.
The staff brought in a military training team called “The Program,” which aimed to create leaders through difficult situations. Among them was a relay that involved seven players having to carry a log over their heads and walk perfectly straight, while two others carried 50-pound sandbags about 40 yards. Harsin said “it took three-and-a-half hours to get that right.”
“Every time we failed at something, we regrouped,” he said.
But Weaver took charge, starting with a 5 minute, 17 second goal, eventually whittling it down to 1:30. The group’s best time was 1:30.5.
“He’s not afraid to throw himself out there,” Harsin said. “Most people won’t do that. They won’t throw themselves out there. They won’t take failing and failing and failing until you succeed. Most will just quit, that’s the nature of a lot of people. Ben was put in that environment, and he kept attacking it and attacking it. What we were able to accomplish from where it started to where it ended was off the charts.”
A take-charge leader with the confidence and skills to back it up, Weaver is what the Broncos need this season. He said last year’s defense at times got too comfortable, assuming experience automatically translated into success. There were some who “prepare and train for the wrong reasons,” he said, but that has been rooted out.
To keep that from happening again, and to cut down on big plays, two of the biggest focuses on the defense have been leadership and communication, which Weaver brings in droves.
“If you know what’s going on, you’re more likely to communicate and take control out there on the field, and he does a great job with that. He’s a great example for those younger guys,” Avalos said.
Added Weaver: “It’s kind of on us to make sure we’re handling the things on and off the field, holding each other accountable.”
Leading a defense that will have four new starters on the line and likely at least two in the backfield, having a field general like Weaver is a great benefit.
“He’s someone you want to play with and you want to play for,” senior defensive tackle Elliot Hoyte said.
WOLPIN EARNS SCHOLARSHIP
Redshirt junior running back Ryan Wolpin earned the final open scholarship, Harsin announced via his Twitter account. Wolpin is the fifth walk-on to be put on scholarship this month. He redshirted at Northern Colorado in 2013 and sat out 2014 as a transfer. Last season, he rushed 25 times for 155 yards, including 14 carries for 87 yards in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Live online chat Thursday
Have questions, comments or concerns about the new Boise State football team? Idaho Statesman beat reporter Dave Southorn, in his 12th season covering the Broncos, will answer your questions at 2 p.m. Visit IdahoStatesman.com to take part in the chat.
Boise State at Louisiana
▪ When: 10 a.m. MT Saturday
▪ Where: Cajun Field (36,900, synthetic turf), Lafayette, La.
▪ Watch: ESPN3 (espn.com/watchespn; must have subscription with affiliated service provider).
▪ Radio: 670 AM/93.1 FM
▪ Vegas line: Boise State favored by 20 points