When Boise State’s returning football players met with coach Bryan Harsin at the end of the 2016 season, they were asked what needed to be improved.
“We all (wanted) to work on teamwork and brotherhood,” senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said. “... I think we definitely have a stronger team bond than last year.”
It’s often a cliche in every fall camp that a team is tighter — on the same list with “renewed chip on the shoulder” or “hardest workouts ever.”
But rarely has the Broncos’ unity been so raved about by players, or brought up so often unprompted.
“The camaraderie and the mentality of the defense is something that’s really special. I sit here and get the chills when I talk about it,” junior defensive end Durrant Miles said of his side of the ball.
On a team that is full of youth, one that could start as few as four seniors, cohesion needed to be established if the Broncos want to win the Mountain West for the first time since 2014.
“I think we put more of an emphasis on it this year,” junior quarterback Brett Rypien said.
In consecutive years, the Broncos had off-field incidents in which two teammates fought, resulting in injury — Jack Fields and Rick Smith two years ago and Dereck Boles and Chanceller James last year.
Have teammates disagreed? Sure. But when asked about what makes the 2017 team unique, coach Bryan Harsin mentioned the usual hard work and effort, but also a little more.
“They’re a lot of fun to be around. They’re good kids, and I think they just like being around each other, which you love to see as a coach,” Harsin said.
Fall camp brought the usual bonding experiences, but also included a team-building exercise in which the Broncos ran mock military infiltration exercises with the Idaho Army National Guard.
Rypien had his wide receivers join him at his parents’ home in Spokane for a summer get-together, went golfing with some of them and even went shooting for the first time with Riggins native Leighton Vander Esch.
Polynesian players (now a dozen strong) are like a small family, and the defensive backs have taken it on themselves to be leaders in creating last season’s most precious resource: turnovers.
“I feel like we’re jelling together, hanging out a lot more. I feel like we’re more connected than last year’s group,” sophomore cornerback Reid 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.”
It remains to be seen exactly how an unquantifiable aspect pays off when it comes to wins and losses. But it could make some of last season’s most frustrating games a little less so.
Some wins got too close for comfort after big fourth-quarter leads: Boise State led Colorado State 28-3, but won 28-23; it led Washington State 31-14, but won 31-28. Both times, the Broncos’ foe had the ball last.
In their loss to Wyoming, the Broncos yielded a safety with 1:25 to play in a 30-28 loss, and slow starts snowballed in losses to Baylor and Air Force.
A point of emphasis, then, has been making a bad play in practice a good one the next snap.
“I’ve definitely noticed it, rallying together when things aren’t going our way, having that camaraderie, having that confidence in each other that we can trust our training,” Rypien said.
Harsin said chemistry is something that can get you off to a positive start, but great teams must build on that as the season goes on. Some players have T-shirts sporting the term “Broncohood,” a term pretty self-explanatory.
“To me, teamwork is all about being intentional,” Harsin said. “You can talk about it all you want. You can say ‘this is what we need.’ ... I will say this about this team, they’ve actually done it. They’ve worked with each other, the relationship they have, the unity they have, it’s better.”
If trust in one another leads to less overthinking, more ability to get through tough times, it could result in another special season.
“I think this team shows a lot of signs that some of those great teams in the past had,” senior tight end Jake Roh said.
Added Wilson: “You’re more passionate for what you believe in, if you believe in the guy next to you. You’re going to work harder for him because you know he’s going to work hard for you.”