High School Football

Treasure Valley high school football home to bumper crop of linemen

Columbia lineman Brandon Kipper, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound senior, owns scholarship offers from seven Division I programs, including Hawaii, UTEP and Army.
Columbia lineman Brandon Kipper, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound senior, owns scholarship offers from seven Division I programs, including Hawaii, UTEP and Army. mlycklama@idahostatesman.com

With its geographic isolation and small population, Division I college football coaches don’t spend a lot of resources recruiting Idaho.

But when they do trek into the Gem State, they come looking for one position in particular — offensive linemen.

Since 2007, 75 Idaho high school players have signed FBS or FCS scholarships, according to Scout.com databases. Sixteen were offensive linemen, more than any position.

Expect more of the same this year as six offensive linemen from the 5A Southern Idaho Conference alone hold Division I scholarships entering the weekend. Six from the entire Treasure Valley signed FBS or FCS scholarships in the past three years combined.

Meet the six headlining this year’s crop, and don’t be surprised to see a few more by signing day in February.

JOHN OJUKWU, BOISE

Height, weight: 6-6, 290

FBS offers: Boise State

FCS offers: Portland State

When college coaches visited Boise in the offseason, Braves coach Bob Clark would introduce Ojukwu as a left tackle who weighed 200 pounds at the end of last season. Inevitably, they’d roll their eyes — until Ojukwu walked into the room.

“I wouldn’t say anything to some of the schools,” Clark said, “and then all of a sudden he’d walk in the door and he’d just take up the entire doorway. And their eyes would go, ‘Holy crap.’”

A growth spurt left Ojukwu a gangly 6-6, and he cut weight to wrestle at 195 pounds as a junior. But he spent the offseason on a 7,000-calorie-a-day diet and in the weight room, buffing up to 290 pounds.

A summer on the camp circuit grabbed colleges’ attention. He traveled to Eugene, Ore., with former Brave Valentino Daltoso, who is a walk-on at Oregon, then caught a bus by himself to work out for Oregon State and Portland State.

“He’s kind of made it for himself by just showing up,” Clark said.

BRANDON KIPPER, COLUMBIA

Height, weight: 6-6, 260

FBS offers: Army, Hawaii, UTEP

FCS offers: Portland State, Montana State, Montana, Weber State

Entering his fourth year as a starter, the left tackle/defensive end is the unquestioned vocal and emotional leader of the Wildcats.

His size, quick feet and fluid hips made him the 5A heavyweight state champion wrestler — beating Ojukwu in the finals — and have drawn seven Division I scholarship offers. But he also brings intellect to the position, carrying a 3.5 GPA and serving as the school’s student body president.

Columbia coach Rich Davis said Kipper is one of the hardest workers in his program.

“He’s just an all-around good kid and happens to have the size and strength and speed to match,” Davis said. “He’s one of those rare kids that has what you hope everybody has — the right heart in the right body type of kid.”

ALEC KUZMACK, EAGLE

Height, weight: 6-5, 295

Commit: Washington State

With his decision in July, the Mustangs’ right tackle became the first Treasure Valley player in the class of 2017 to verbally commit, choosing Washington State over Boise State and Colorado State.

Kuzmack earned honorable mention 5A SIC all-conference honors last year. But Eagle coach Paul Peterson said he remade himself in the weight room to get on the radar of Division I programs.

“Alec has made the transition to understanding that he’s been given a gift,” Peterson said. “He plans on maximizing this gift through his work ethic.”

While he possesses size and strength, his most potent skill may come in his ability to control it. Eagle can task him with reaching the second level of blockers and even put him in space on screens and know he’ll settle in and pick off any quick defenders in the way.

MAXIM MOORE, EAGLE

Height, weight: 6-3, 300

FBS offers: Army, Idaho

FCS offers: Montana State, Weber State

Moore moved to Eagle last season from Southern California and after a year in the program, Peterson said he’s starting to show his relaxed and fun side.

That personality off the field belies his mentality on the field as the Mustangs moved him from left tackle to right guard, pairing him with Kuzmack on the right side. While Kuzmack excels in space, Moore dominates down in the trenches.

He even plays nose guard on occasion, drawing college interest at that position, too.

“His ability to control the line of scrimmage, whether it’s offense or defense, he can definitely be a road grader and move objects in front of him,” Peterson said. “No doubt.”

ZACH REDD ROCKY MOUNTAIN

Height, weight: 6-1, 285

FBS offers: Army, Idaho

FCS offers: Montana State, Portland State, Eastern Washington

One late fall day four years ago, Rocky Mountain coach Scott Criner finished locking up the school and was heading home when he heard a blocking sled popping on the far field.

He walked out to investigate, expecting to find a senior putting in extra work. Instead, he found Redd, then a freshman, in a T-shirt and shorts slamming into a single-dummy sled and working on his footwork with cones he brought from home.

Since then, Redd has forced Criner to leave a single sled out all winter, allowing the Grizzlies’ returning first-team All-Idaho center to work throughout the wintry offseason. Criner called Redd a gym rat, taking every moment he can to watch film, work on his craft or hit the sled.

“You try to tell him to, ‘Hey, take a break.’ He’s not going to do that,” Criner said. “He’s locked in. This is a dream of his, and he’s going to work to achieve it. Everything he does is toward that goal.”

CONNOR WOOD ROCKY MOUNTAIN

Height, weight: 6-4, 320

FCS offers: Weber State, Montana State, Idaho State

The left tackle only has Big Sky offers, but don’t be surprised to find FBS schools burning up the phone line soon.

Wood transferred to Rocky Mountain from Centennial as a sophomore, forcing him to spend all season on JV. The Grizzlies planned to start the former soccer goalkeeper at right tackle last year, but he broke his ankle at team camp.

He returned for the final four games of Rocky Mountain’s state title run, and Criner said he has grown exponentially each week this fall. But he still only has seven varsity games under his belt, not leaving much film for colleges to scout.

“I think he’s a kid that is going to garner more attention as the process goes, just because everybody knows he didn’t play last year,” Criner said. “I’m hearing from Utah, BYU and other schools that are starting to take notice.”

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

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