If the Boise State football team wants to correct its surprising lack of turnovers last season, the defensive backs know they will need to take a leap forward.
And if you ask those around the Broncos this fall camp, they have the personnel to do it, after the cornerbacks and safeties combined for six interceptions and no fumble recoveries in 2016.
“I’m excited, because I think we have some talent that’s young, but there’s a lot of playmakers,” cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose said. “... We’re going to continue talking about attacking the ball. We had a lot of opportunities, and we missed on them. I think what we have is guys now who aren’t afraid to go and make those plays.”
So, have the Broncos made it an emphasis to turn it around? Of course.
From extra drills in the spring, to a WWE-style championship belt for the turnover champion, there has been plenty of focus on getting the ball back. Ambrose said at least seven or eight interceptions were dropped, adding “We want to be consistently getting 30-plus turnovers a year. That’s what people have always done at this place. For us to go backward last year was something that really bothered me.”
There’s no need to remind the defensive backs about what happened — or didn’t.
“We know,” junior cornerback Tyler Horton said. “But last year is last year.”
The issue has been addressed, plenty. And now, the Broncos feel they are better equipped, personnel-wise, to get back to the turnover machine the defense has been in the past, which could make a major difference in lowering the amount of slim-margin games.
“I’ll say we’re younger, but we’re a lot more talented. We’re a lot faster and we’re a lot stronger,” sophomore safety DeAndre Pierce said.
Pierce, who played cornerback and nickel in addition to safety last season as a true freshman, is likely to start alongside fellow sophomore Kekoa Nawahine. Pierce is 5-foot-11, Nawahine is 6-2, and the duo combined for 40 tackles last season.
Both play well off one another. Pierce a solid tackler who Nawahine said he learns from, and Nawahine a rangy, physical safety who fits the prototype.
It is one of the deepest positions on the team, with senior Cam Hartsfield (No. 1 among returning tacklers with 65) a likely backup. In fall camp, sophomore Evan Tyler tore his ACL for a second straight year. He had started three games last season. Jordan Happle redshirted last season, but was on the travel squad if he needed to play in an emergency and along with true freshman Kekaula Kaniho should factor in the depth.
“I think we’re all on the same page, kids and coaches,” safeties coach Gabe Franklin said. “It’s fun to walk in that room where everybody’s like ‘let’s get better, let’s go.’ To have that depth, young guys who have played for us, it’s going to help us out this year.”
Added Boise State coach Bryan Harsin: “I like the back end. DeAndre Pierce has really stood out.”
In front of the safeties, the cornerbacks are led again by preseason All-Mountain West selection Horton, who started all 13 games last season and has been the belt holder multiple days in fall camp. Sophomore Reid Harrison-Ducros and junior Michael Young are competing to start opposite the veteran.
Horton said Harrison-Ducros is “going to do good things” after playing in 10 games last season. Young, a junior college transfer, played safety in junior college, and though Pierce joked is “a couple cheeseburgers” from playing linebacker is one of the team’s fastest defenders.
Also in the mix are redshirt freshmen Jalen Walker, who has played well this fall, and Robert Lewis, plus true freshmen Marques Evans and Jermani Brown could find their way onto the field.
Redshirt freshman Avery Williams could be an X-factor after an outstanding spring that has continued into fall camp, where he’s earned a scholarship. He’s had a nose for the ball and will see time as a cornerback, along with nickel and strongside linebacker. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said he has “one of the best attitudes in football that I’ve been around.”
The talent is plentiful, but the experience is not.
“We have Tyler, we have Reid, but everybody else, they didn’t play. That’s going to definitely be the challenge,” Ambrose said.
Despite the youth, the defensive backs have leaders like Horton and Hartsfield, along with a collective will to make sure last season’s lack of game-changing plays is an anomaly.
“I feel like we’re jelling together, hanging out a lot more, I feel like we’re more connected than last year’s group,” Harrison-Ducros said. “People are working hard, they’re watching film, they really care about it. I feel like it’s going to be a fun season.”
▪ This is the first in our look at Boise State’s position groups heading into the season. Next up: linebackers.
Another walk-on given scholarship after practice
Seeing a walk-on earn a scholarship never gets old, and Boise State understands that.
On Thursday, the school’s recruiting Twitter account posted a video of senior wide receiver Brock Barr be given a scholarship by coach Bryan Harsin following practice.
“It does pay to go out there and put in the time, and to show up every day. We have a lot of guys doing that,” Harsin said to the team. “One in particular that’s been doing for a while, this guy is going to do some special things for us. When you do the work, you get paid, and we’ve got something to pay him with, a scholarship — Brock Barr.”
Barr, helmet in hand, is seen calling his parents afterward. He is the fifth walk-on to be put on scholarship this year and the third in fall camp, joining linebacker/cornerback Avery Williams and defensive end Austin Silsby.
The 6-foot-3, 204-pound Barr played in 13 games last season, mainly on special teams, and was pressed into duty as a long snapper on punts Nov. 12 against Hawaii. He is competing with sophomore Nicholai Pitman to handle snapping duties this season. A Redding, Calif., native, Barr played in 2013 and 2014 at Shasta (Calif.) College before transferring to Boise State.
Single-game tickets on sale Friday
In case you had not heard, there is going to be a total solar eclipse Monday.
Coinciding with that, the Boise State athletic department announced Thursday a special deal for single-game football tickets, which go on sale at 9 a.m. Friday.
A limited number of tickets in select locations of the stadium will be $30 through Monday until midnight. The tickets will be available for all six home games and can be purchased at BroncoSports.com/tickets using the promo code ECLIPSE.
All regular single-game tickets also go on sale Friday morning. Adult tickets are $39 in the north end zone, $59 in the south end zone and curves and $79 in the main stadium. A discounted rate for juniors and seniors in the main stadium, the curves and the south end zone is available. Visit BroncoSports.com/tickets or call 208-426-4737.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
▪ 14 Tyler Horton, 5-11, 188, Jr.: Has started 15 games, had an INT for a touchdown last season; a respected leader
▪ 27 Reid Harrison-Ducros, 5-10, 180, So.: Led team in interceptions in the spring, has added 10 offseason pounds
▪ 10 Kekoa Nawahine, 6-2, 199, So.: Started bowl game, had 11 tackles in final two games, improved as year went on
▪ 4 DeAndre Pierce, 5-11, 174, So.: Played CB last year; smart, instinctive player whose skills make up for lack of ideal size
▪ 6 Michael Young, 6-0, 211, Jr.: Earned plenty of first-team snaps in the spring; played safety in JC, which offers intrigue
▪ 26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 194, RFr.: Also will play other spots, but has an eye for the ball, with speed to keep up with WRs
▪ 37 Cameron Hartsfield, 5-10, 197, Sr.: Is the team’s top returning tackler with 65, became starter after suspensions/injuries
▪ 32 Jordan Happle, 5-11, 198, RFr.: Nearly played last season as true freshman, was a standout athlete in high school in Portland