Sometimes if you hear a word enough times, if it was a motivational tactic that was there before you and will still be there after you’re gone, the meaning can be lost.
Though the Boise State football team insists the “blue collar” term used for years by the Broncos never was forgotten, this offseason can be considered a bit of a refresher course.
Every football team wants to be known that way, as the hardest working group in the country. It was successful for Boise State as the underdogs from a far-off place, unheralded, yet the sort that beats the sport’s richest teams.
However, going 5-5 in the Mountain Division over the last two years and facing the possibility of the first three-year stretch without a conference title in 20 years has forced a refocused energy on that “blue collar” attitude.
“It’s trying to get back to where we once were, winning the conference every year, being a contender for a New Year’s Six game,” junior quarterback Brett Rypien said. “‘Blue collar’ gets thrown around because even though we have a nice facility, we have new uniforms, it got built because of what those teams before us did.”
Throughout this spring and summer, when discussing the offseason, players have routinely mentioned “getting back to that blue collar mentality.” The phrase is even printed inside the Broncos’ new jerseys, literally.
“It applies to everything we do ... you have to do the work,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “That’s just who we are. There’s different ways of saying it, you try new things, then you go back to what works. What are we? This group in particular, these guys work.”
The prospect of adding a four-star recruit with Power Five offers is always enticing, but many of the highly-touted additions haven’t panned out in the last year and a half, from Dylan Sumner-Gardner to Kameron Miles to Drew Berger and Bubba Ogbebor.
Players say no particular moment prompted a refocus on the old phrase, but many have no problem with the team being a bit under the radar, as they once were coming out of high school.
“You never want to forget where we came from, we can’t get away from that,” said senior running back Ryan Wolpin, a former walk-on. “There were a lot of guys no one thought had a chance, and we all have to work that way.”
As challengers have increased in number and strength, the Broncos hope that it can bring out the best in themselves.
Take Wyoming, which beat Boise State for the first time last season and won the division. It has embraced its outlier location, its slowdown tempo, lack of uniform swag and need to find under-the-radar players.
Coach Craig Bohl told USA Today this summer, “the guy that’s running out there on the West Coast that’s a five-star guy that’s been shopping around and thinks it’s all warm and fuzzy ... We’re going to have our hand in the dirt and knock the (expletive) out of you.”
Air Force has its obvious recruiting challenges and quirks being a military academy. Yet, the Broncos have not beat them since 2013.
“We know our division is the strongest in the conference, we can’t fall asleep on anyone,” Rypien said. “... we never lost sight of what’s made us good, but when you lose close games, don’t win the Mountain West, lose to Air Force three straight times, you hear it more.”