Bronco Beat

McNichols ready to expand his role beyond ‘Weapon’

Jeremy McNichols electrified as “The Weapon” last season.

He’ll try to thump as the tailback this season.

McNichols, who played a specialty role as a true freshman, is among four tailbacks with game experience competing for the starting job.

“I feel like I can do anything coaches want me to do,” he said Sunday in his first interview session as a Bronco.

McNichols was recruited as a running back by the Broncos. He previously committed to Utah as a wide receiver.

Boise State capitalized on his versatility after star wide receiver Matt Miller was injured. They inserted McNichols into the game plan as a tailback/wide receiver beginning with the early-October game at Nevada.

McNichols finished the season with 17 rushes for 159 yards and a touchdown (a 9.4-yard average) and 15 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown (a 10.3-yard average). He also led the team with 19 kickoff returns (20.7-yard average).

Before the Fiesta Bowl, coach Bryan Harsin called McNichols “the future of our backfield.”

He’ll have to earn that right in a competition with Stanford transfer Kelsey Young, senior Jack Fields, junior Devan Demas and redshirt freshman Cory Young.

“It’s there for anybody to take,” McNichols said. “I’m going to go to practice every day and work towards it, to be the guy.”

I’ll have more on McNichols and the running backs later this week. Here are some other highlights from his interview session:

– He said he’s focused completely on running back in camp.

– On the decision to pull his redshirt: “I was excited. I came here to play. ... The coaches just came up to me, ‘Do you want to play this weekend?’ I kind of didn’t believe them.”

– On playing on the scout team before that decision: “I just went all out so when my number was called I was ready.”

– Coaches gave him a limited “ready list” of plays rather than asking him to learn the playbook. “They said, ‘Remember these plays, and when we call them, go execute.’ ”

– On last year’s starter, Jay Ajayi, mentoring him: “It was helpful for me and gave me a ton of confidence.”

– On why he prefers running back to wide receiver: “They get the ball the most.”

– On adding 10 pounds to his frame (now 5-foot-9, 205 pounds): “I knew going into the offseason I had to put on some weight just so I could take the hits.”

– On missing spring ball after hernia surgery in February: “It was frustrating at first – I wanted to be out there – but it was good for me as well because I got to rest my body. I got to watch everybody, see how they play. And then I got to be in my playbook a lot more and just be ready for camp.”

– On the pace of play as a freshman: “It was moving so fast for me. It was like a million miles an hour. It was something I was trying to get to slow down, but it’s starting to slow down now.”

– On his first college play (a 13-yard reception): “It was huge. Getting a positive gain on my first touch in college just gave me a lot more confidence. Before that, I was kind of questioning myself, but that boosted it a lot.”

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Boise State running backs coach Lee Marks also spoke to the media Sunday. A few highlights:

– On choosing a starter: “ After the first game, I think we'll know. It will be good to see them all get an opportunity. When the real bullets are flying, that’s when we’re really going to see who that guy really is for us."

– On what he’s looking for: “We’re really just trying to see who’s going to be that tough guy who can be in there for every down. ... In our room, it’s just really all about toughness right now. ... Just kind of that old school, that Jim Brown, even that Jay Ajayi, just have that every down, going to get those tough yards, not going to go down on first contact and just break tackles and just kind of be hungry. Every inch counts to him.”

– On Kelsey Young: “There’s times where you definitely can see that experience for him where he makes a cut and you’re like, ‘Whew, that was a real cut.’ ... But with him it’s still learning the offense and getting comfortable with the offense and he’s done a good job so far. ... For (Stanford) he was more of a weapon, kind of like Jeremy was for us last year. Kelsey is going to have a chance to do everything.”

– On his first year as running backs coach at the school where he played the position: “I get chills because this is obviously a dream come true and I wouldn’t want to be any other place. I hope I’m at Boise State for 100 years.”