Boise State Football

BSU freshmen finding a way to flourish

True freshman running back Alexander Mattison will make his debut Saturday at Louisiana in Boise State’s season opener. He had back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons his last two years of high school. “He’s a guy we plan on playing, a bigger guy that will be a physical, downhill type of runner, extremely intelligent and can figure out a lot of different things,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
True freshman running back Alexander Mattison will make his debut Saturday at Louisiana in Boise State’s season opener. He had back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons his last two years of high school. “He’s a guy we plan on playing, a bigger guy that will be a physical, downhill type of runner, extremely intelligent and can figure out a lot of different things,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Boise State’s newcomers quickly found their groove when coaches split the first three practices of fall camp between the veterans and youngsters.

It also helped to learn everyone’s name.

The Broncos have 39 true freshmen on the roster, including walk-ons. It’s a large group for coach Bryan Harsin, but not necessarily a bad thing.

“I don’t see it as a challenge, more as an opportunity,” Harsin said. “I love the rookie mentality, I absolutely do.”

That mentality is buoyed by players who show up on campus mature and ready to vie for playing time. Off-season conditioning at the high school level, 7-on-7 tournaments, team camps — it all plays a role in making true freshmen competitive right away.

“You’re seeing kids come in so well-prepared, by the time you’re done with camp, you don’t feel like most of them are freshmen,” Harsin said.

All of the Broncos’ incoming freshmen were on campus by early July. NCAA changes that went into effect two years ago allow coaches to hold film study sessions for two hours a week in the summer.

“It’s still pretty difficult to get younger guys ready to play ... but the new rules, it gives you a little more time,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.

For Boise State, most of the true freshmen who are likely to play this season are on defense. Harsin planned to travel at least six true freshmen to Louisiana with the hope of getting most onto the field.

“When we do that, if they play, they’re going to play and they’re going to play significantly,” Harsin said.

Here are eight true freshmen to watch this season:

ALEXANDER MATTISON, RB

Mattison is scheduled to play Saturday, Harsin said, as the team has a few packages designed for the 5-foot-11, 206-pound native of San Bernardino, Calif.

Mattison posted 2,000-yard seasons as a junior and senior in high school, plus earned the SoCal Prep Legends Boys Scholar-Athlete of the Year award this summer for his athletic and academic achievements.

“Alexander’s a special kid. Very, very talented. Obviously extremely smart,” running backs coach Lee Marks said. “You look at him, he looks like a senior. ... He’s just done a good job, taking the reps I’ve been able to get him.”

SONATANE LUI, NT

A true freshman of the most unusual sort, Lui came from nowhere to earn a spot on the depth chart, the only first-year freshman on it. Lui (6-1, 293) graduated from Alta (Utah) High in 2013 before taking a two-year church mission and joining the program as a walk-on in January.

Boise State went into spring practices with one scholarship nose tackle in sophomore David Moa, a bit undersized at 6-3, 271, and Lui provides a much-needed big body inside.

“He’s a tough guy to block,’’ Harsin said. “Sometimes at that position in the interior, you’re not out there just to penetrate and create a bunch of havoc. You’re there to hold your spot and he seems to do that.’’

CHASE HATADA, DT

The son of a former Boise State hurdler Ian Hatada comes from the same high school in Rocklin, Calif., as another strong interior lineman who made a quick impact at Boise State, Chase Baker. Hatada (6-3, 268) quickly turned heads in offseason workouts, and continued it into the fall. He’ll start out as a pass rusher.

“Chase Hatada’s a guy that we’ve all been very impressed with,” Harsin said.

DEANDRE PIERCE, DB

Coming in as a cornerback, the 5-11, 168-pound Pierce also played safety in fall camp. He is the son of former Pro Bowl linebacker Antonio Pierce. As a senior at California power Long Beach Poly, he had a pair of interceptions to go with 8.5 tackles for loss.

“DeAndre Pierce has done a great job, anticipating that guy getting a chance to get out there and play,” Harsin said.

REID HARRISON-DUCROS, CB

Harrison-Ducros (5-10, 170) was an under-the-radar prospect, but Harsin saw him up close at Boise State’s team camp last summer and was immediately impressed.

“He was here on a mission,” Harsin said.

He and Pierce immediately fought for time on the second-team defense at a spot where the Broncos need depth.

“They both remind me of myself,” senior cornerback Jonathan Moxey said. “I’m glad we’ve got those guys as part of our group.”

KEKOA NAWAHINE, S

A Rocky Mountain High grad, Nawahine has the size (6-2, 195) to be a solid safety, and he came in hoping to contribute. He returned this summer from a two-year church mission. In addition to defense, he could contribute on special teams immediately.

“He’s a really smart guy. ... He came in here with a chip on his shoulder and it’s paying off,” junior safety Cameron Hartsfield said. “He’s out there, communicating, he’s confident, he’s competing, doing a really good job for us.”

BUBBA OGBEBOR, WR

Though he is part of a deep group of experienced players seeking larger roles in the offense, the 6-foot, 187-pounder has earned his way into a possible spot in the rotation. Boise State fended off a late charge from Oklahoma before signing day to get the Dallas-area native who had 138 catches for 2,338 yards and 34 touchdowns his final two high school seasons.

He should earn more time as the season progresses.

“He’s a go-up-and-get-the-ball-in-the-air guy,” said tight ends coach Kent Riddle, who was the lead recruiter. “He’s a great-run-after-the-catch guy, too. So he has the ability make things happen once he has the ball in hands.”

EMMANUEL FESILI, NT

A high school teammate of Pierce, Fesili had eight tackles for loss as a senior. His size (6-2, 308) is tantalizing, and likely will be too much to keep him off the field at a position of need.

“He’s exactly what we need at nose,” defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “He’s got a lot to learn, but he is very athletic. He’s got fantastic feet for a 308-pound guy.”

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_BroncoBeat

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: KBOI (670 AM)/KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Chris Lewis
  • Last season’s records: Boise State was 9-4 overall; Louisiana was 4-8
  • Series: Boise State leads 1-0 (won 34-9 in 2014 in Boise)
  • Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (21-6, third year; 28-11, fourth year overall); Louisiana, Mark Hudspeth (40-24, sixth year; 106-45, 13th year overall)
  • Vegas line: Boise State by 20
  • Kickoff weather: Sunny with a high of 90 (70 percent humidity), light winds approximately 5 mph with a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms.

Into the fire

The number of true freshmen who have played at Boise State in each of the past 10 seasons:

  • 2015: Four
  • 2014: Two
  • 2013: Seven
  • 2012: Five
  • 2011: Five
  • 2010: None
  • 2009: Two
  • 2008: Six
  • 2007: Five
  • 2006: None
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