Boise State sophomore Ryan Wolpin has become a significant contributor on the Broncos’ special teams this season — the first returns on the gamble he made on himself.
Wolpin, a tailback, began college as a scholarship player at Northern Colorado in 2013. He gave up that opportunity after one redshirt season to pursue his dream to play at the Football Bowl Subdivision level (Northern Colorado is FCS).
He contacted Boise State — his preferred school — and was offered a chance to walk on.
“I thought (Northern Colorado) was the best place for me,” Wolpin said. “I wasn’t completely happy there and wanted to pursue my dream of playing at my dream program, which was here. ... My dad has always been a Boise State fan. Just watching games when I was growing up, I love everything they were about. I came to a few camps when I was younger. I just loved everything about it.”
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Wolpin is from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., but his dad, Steve, played at Idaho State in 1974-75.
Wolpin chose Northern Colorado out of high school because he wanted a scholarship. He decided later that he’d rather play at college football’s highest level even if that meant paying his own way.
That meant giving up his scholarship.
“It was pretty rough,” he said. “Luckily, I have amazing parents and an amazing family support system that wanted the best for me and wanted me to pursue my dream. ... As soon as I told them that’s what I wanted to do, they backed me 100 percent.”
Wolpin arrived at Boise State in January 2014 and has impressed ever since. He was the Scout Special Teams Player of the Year last year, which helped him land a starting spot on the kickoff team for the season opener this year. He moved into the lineup on the punt team when safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner was injured in late September.
“He just keeps showing up,” special teams coach Kent Riddle said. “Every time he gets an opportunity, he steps up and performs.”
Coaches recognized Wolpin’s effort by making him a single-game captain for the Oct. 24 contest against Wyoming.
“That was just a pretty cool deal,” Wolpin said. “It showed that the coaches see what I’m doing. (Special teams is) my one way onto the field, so I’m trying to make the most of it and do whatever I can to help the team.”
Wolpin (5-foot-8, 191 pounds) watched as senior safety Darian Thompson did the talking at the captains’ meeting at midfield.
“The only thing that stood out to me was everybody was pretty tall,” he said. “I was looking up to most of them. It was pretty cool being out there in front of everybody.”
Wolpin’s play on kickoff has grabbed opponents’ attention, too. He lines up next to Darren Lee, the Broncos’ special teams force. One recent opponent double-teamed Wolpin throughout the game and he still made an impact, Riddle said.
“(Lee) said something about it being like Thunder and Lightning,” Wolpin said. “He goes and blows up his guy and I come scraping off the edge. It’s pretty fun working with him. He gets me amped up.”
Wolpin has spent more time with the offense (rather than the scout offense) in practice recently, he said. He was a dynamic runner at Santa Margarita High, where he rushed for 1,368 yards as a senior and 1,629 yards as a junior.
His successor at Santa Margarita was transfer student Jeremy McNichols, who is now the Broncos’ starter. The two knew each other a little but were never on the team together.
To get on the field on offense more, Wolpin needs to do a better job in the pass game. He has eight carries for 57 yards in mop-up duty.
“Pass protection, picking up blitzes — that’s definitely something I need to work on,” he said.
The Broncos have a bye this week. They return to action Nov. 14 against New Mexico at Albertsons Stadium (8:15 p.m., ESPNU).