Boise State Football: 15 Underclassmen with the Most to Gain at Training Camp
It was announced recently that Boise State football is about to break its season ticket sales record. This is good news for the Broncos and proves that the program is continuing to rise rather than decline.
However, some might be skeptical that the success Boise State has experienced on the field can continue to match the momentum the program is having off the field.
In 2012 when the Broncos take the field against Michigan State they could have as many as 16 new starters lining up to do battle. Last year's team was a senior-packed group full of talent and heart. But many of those same players are now in the NFL and can do nothing but cheer for their beloved Broncos.
Coach Chris Petersen and his staff certainly have their hands full in finding suitable replacements for all of those highly talented departed players. However, spring ball gave a good indication that the talent is there to do it. Now, as fall camp has started and position battles are heating up, those same very talented players will attempt to cement their own standing as players worthy to start.
Among the group of 25 seniors and 17 juniors on the 2012 Boise State roster is a group of very motivated, extremely talented and seemingly eager underclassmen ready to show their stuff. It could be the most talented group of underclassmen that the Broncos have ever fielded.
As fall camp continues, there are several players among the underclassmen list that have a legitimate shot at impressing coaches and earning serious playing time. Some of them even have the chance to prove they could be a starter.
Which underclassmen have a real chance at becoming a starter? Which underclassmen have the most to gain in 2012 for the Broncos? Let's take a look.
The most obvious battle that involves underclassmen is quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Grant Hedrick, redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and true freshman Nick Patti all have a legitimate chance at capturing the starting job.
Laughrea has been left out of many of the conversations so far, but his arm strength alone gives him a shot. He is a big, strong and athletic guy that can really hurl the ball.
Hedrick is no stranger to Bronco fans. His involvement in the offense last season, mostly in a Wildcat type of formation, gave BSU fans plenty to watch. He is fast, athletic and knows how to run the ball. You have to wonder if he doesn't win the QB job, if the coaches will utilize him in some creative ways.
Nick Patti is the true freshman that many fans have been excited about. However, he has a lot of ground to make up if he wants to lead BSU this season. Still, he looked great in the spring and had a good spring game. If he came to fall camp with a solid grasp on the offense, he might have a legitimate shot at being the starter.
Of course, all three of these underclassmen have to deal with Joe. Redshirt junior Joe Southwick appears to be the leader in the quarterback competition right now, but he will be pressed by three amazing underclassmen all camp long.
Any one of these three have a lot to gain, and you better believe they know it and so do the Bronco faithful.
Two in the Defensive Secondary
The starting defensive secondary will be a huge strength for the Broncos in 2012. With players like Jeremy Ioane and Lee Hightower at the safety positions and Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor at corners, opposing quarterbacks will have a very difficult time delivering the kind of performance they desire.
Beyond these four, however, the rotation goes a little thin. Last season there were injuries in the secondary which left the Broncos scrambling for coverage. This season, they could run into the same issue.
Enter a couple of underclassmen ready to shine. Redshirt freshmen Eric Agbaroji and junior college transfer and redshirt sophomore Deon'tae Florence will be doing all they can to prove they belong on the field.
Florence will be interesting to watch as the fall camp continues. How fast he grasps the Bronco's system and his decision making will move him up or down the list. He has the athletic ability and should be a contributor this season, but contributor can turn to starter at any moment in college football. He will need to be ready.
Agbaroji redshirted last season so he has been around the camp and he knows what to expect. He has good size at 6'1", 203 lbs. and has speed and agility to boot. If he continues to impress this fall look for him to back up Lee Hightower at safety.
A Couple of Kickers
Dan Goodale is back and newcomer Sean Wale is in camp. Goodale, a redshirt sophomore will be competing for the starting job kicking field goals once again for the Broncos. If you remember, and most BSU fans do, it was Goodale's kick that went very wide right against TCU last season.
To be fair, there were some problems with the hold for that disappointing kick last year, but nevertheless, people don't usually remember the holder. Instead, it was a very painful moment for Dan Goodale as a redshirt freshman, and one you have to believe he won't soon forget.
In his first interview since fall camp commenced, coach Chris Petersen made a surprising admission. In an article written by Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman, Petersen is quoted as saying, "I haven't figured kickers out."
Which is a telling statement from the coach who is probably one kick away from playing for the BCS championship and one more kick away from another BCS bowl the season before that.
The other underclassman, redshirt freshman Jake Van Ginkel, isn't in camp. However, he will join the team once classes start. No word yet as to why this has happened.
True freshman Sean Wale is another underclassman kicker looking to win a starting spot. However, he is probably just competing for the starting punting job this year. But if he looks good kicking field goals in practice, you never know. So to say he has a lot to gain in fall camp is quite an understatement.
Overall, the kicking game really has no excuse to be a weakness for Boise State. There is plenty of talent and both of these underclassmen will be looking to outplay each other and senior Michael Frisina.
A Pair of Nickels
Corey Bell played in eight games for the Broncos last season, and this year he is penciled in to be the backup to redshirt senior Dextrell Simmons. He will certainly be a contributor all season long, but he has the talent to win the starting job.
Look for Bell to go all out this fall trying to prove he is the guy. It will be a fierce competition for a position that has become crucial for the Broncos' success on defense.
Also, look for redshirt freshman and once professional baseball player Hilton Richardson to compete for playing time. He is an intriguing guy because he is new to football and quite a project for BSU coaches. However, with his athleticism, size and speed, if it begins to click for this guy watch out.
If Richardson can prove he is learning the system and the game itself, he may get some playing time. Fall camp will be a crucial time for him to prove that he can contribute.
Redshirt senior Tommy Smith is currently penciled in as the starter at one of the linebacker spots on the Bronco defense. However, sophomore Blake Renaud is going to do all he can to change that.
Renaud certainly did what he had to do in the spring to impress coaches, players and fans. In the spring game he had a great interception and some solid tackles and hits.
Look for him to continue his hard work and hustle as the fall rolls on. Tommy Smith may be a senior, but Chris Petersen will start whoever proves they are the guy for the job. Blake Renaud and Tommy Smith are quality players, but in the end the starting job will go to the man who wants it most.
A Trio of Running Backs
With the starting running back, D.J. Harper, and his projected backup, Drew Wright, both being seniors this season, underclassmen will have to step up.
Jay Ajayi, Jack Fields and Devan Demas will be battling it out for time on the field.
Ajayi is a redshirt freshman, but he is coming off a devastating knee injury last year. He appears to be healthy and ready to go, and if he stays healthy he may even compete for the backup spot behind Harper.
Jack Fields is a very impressive true freshman who may become a featured back for the Broncos in the near future. However, this season he will be competing for any kind of playing time. He has the talent, but it will matter how well and how soon he grasps the offense. If he has a good fall he will probably skip a redshirt and become a contributor in 2012.
True freshman Devan Demas is a quick, shifty, fast and agile runner. He may be a good return guy someday as well as a running back. He may also be utilized like Jeremy Avery was or even in an expanded role. A candidate for a redshirt for sure, fall camp will be very important for this young man.
An interesting note about Demas is that he is out of the same high school in Texas that D.J. Harper is from, Cypress Creek High School in Houston.
A Wide Receiver Duo
With Geraldo Boldewijn out for the first four games, the door is open for some young guys to step up. The wide receiver corps is full of talent, but if this pair make some noise in camp you know coach Petersen will give them their opportunity.
Redshirt freshman Troy Ware is a very special receiver who is poised to have a breakout year. Look for him to continue the momentum he built up in the spring right through fall camp. He is fast, runs decent patterns and catches anything near him. He will get some playing time, but fall camp may dictate how much.
Shane Williams-Rhodes is a true freshman out of Klein Collins High School in Spring, Texas. He is very fast and an outstanding playmaker. In his senior year of high school, according to Broncosports.com, Williams-Rhodes was named first-team all-district at wide receiver and as a kick return guy. Which is where he might contribute this year.
If he has a stellar camp and displays the kind of versatility he is known for, he may very well find some time on the field. With the large number of players ahead of him, however, he will have to do some special things as camp continues to be considered.