The Boise State football team has had a trying first four weeks of the 2013 season—a 2-2 record was not what anyone in Bronco Nation had in mind for this squad. Although the Broncos may still be one of the better teams in the Mountain West Conference, the pressure has already begun to mount for the team that most people thought would be a near lock to play in the inaugural Mountain West Conference Championship Game.
However, despite the struggles that this team has already had to deal with so early in the season, there have been some bright spots that suggest the Broncos are capable of coming together and salvaging what has been, up to this point, a disappointing campaign.
Several players who were simply contributors in past years (or not on the team at all) have emerged as playmakers for the 2013 Boise State football squad. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of those players, highlighting five Broncos who have surprised us in 2013.
Although there may be arguments for players who have surprised the Boise State faithful in a negative way this season, we’re going to focus on the positive impact the following five players have had.
Let’s take a look at the Broncos who have pleasantly surprised us most in 2013.
Sports Illustrated did a nice story in its September 23rd issue about the important role of hybrid players in college football. Just four weeks into the 2013 season, Boise State can attest to this importance.
Kharyee Marshall, a 6’2”, 240-pound gifted athlete plays the STUD position for the Broncos, which is the fancy name Coach Petersen’s staff has designated for a player who can play both the defensive end and linebacker position depending on the situation and play call.
Marshall is a redshirt senior, so it may seem a bit odd that he has surprised fans with his play so far. But he has been plagued by injuries throughout his career in Boise and hasn’t had a chance to truly blossom into the type of player he is capable of being.
So far this season has been the chance he has been waiting for. Marshall leads the team in tackles for loss with seven and is a matchup problem for opposing teams when he lines up at defensive end due to his speed.
The senior has stepped up in the biggest games this season, and despite the Broncos losing both of those games, Marshall will continue to be an important piece if the Broncos want to end the regular season atop the Mountain Division.
If you predicted Dillon Lukehart would have had a hand in so many different areas of the Broncos game plan, raise your hand.
Now pat yourself on the back because few other people can say the same.
Lukehart, a redshirt sophomore, defines what it means to make the most of your chances. The Eagle, Idaho native has yet to break the starting lineup, according to Boise State’s most recent depth chart, but has been involved in a number of ways while making an appearance in just two of the first four games.
Listed as a safety, Lukehart has caught a pass on offense. But his most measurable impact has been on the defensive end, where he is fourth on the team with 17 total tackles. Eight of those tackles were in Boise State’s loss last Friday to Fresno State, suggesting that he is getting more comfortable on the field.
Although it might be hard for Lukehart to crack the starting lineup behind two-year starter Jeremy Ioane, he has established himself as someone willing to do whatever needed for the team. That attitude will go a long way in Chris Petersen’s system, especially considering the collective strength of the defensive secondary this season.
Anyone who paid attention to the Broncos’ 2013 spring practices isn’t all that surprised that Williams-Rhodes has become the most versatile player on Boise State’s roster. But if you’re a new follower of this team, you might be thinking “Shane Williams-Who?”
Williams-Rhodes, a true sophomore who was one of five true freshmen to play for the Broncos in 2012, according to ktvb.com, leads the team in all-purpose yards with 378 on the season. This is far less impressive when you consider that Williams-Rhodes has returned kickoffs, punts and is involved in both the rushing and passing game.
However, the way he has gone about doing all those things is what is most surprising.
His average yards per rush is 7.5 (albeit on four carries). His average yards per catch is 8.17, and he is third on the team in receptions with 18. Finally, he is a threat in the punt return game, racking up 71 yards on three attempts against Tennessee-Martin in Week 2.
Williams-Rhodes has become sort of an X-factor on offense thanks to his speed. It would not have been surprising if the sophomore was used as more of a gimmick for a second consecutive season because of his combination of speed and small stature, but instead he has elevated himself to “consistent playmaker” status.
Weaver, a redshirt freshman, has assumed a starting linebacker role in a move that is clearly a case of Coach Petersen looking for some productivity from the defense. The Broncos have been having trouble at nearly every position on defense, and that was very obvious last week against Fresno State.
Weaver can continue to be a nice surprise for the Boise State defense if he steps up as a young leader as the season progresses. He already leads the team in both solo and total tackles (23 solo, 30 total) and has seemingly been everywhere on the field.
The defense is young, and Weaver is a perfect example of what the Broncos could have for the future. Hopefully the linebacker can continue to lead by example and be a playmaker much earlier than most people had envisioned he would.
Like Ben Weaver, Aaron Baltazar represents what Boise State could be a couple of years down the road. But he’s doing things now, which is just fine by Bronco Nation.
Baltazar and Jay Ajayi have formed somewhat of a two-headed monster in the rushing game, with Ajayi being the thunder and Baltazar the lightning. Chris Petersen’s offense has always been predicated on the run first and foremost, and having two talented backs makes it all that much easier to stay true to that philosophy.
One of the biggest questions heading into the season had to do with how the Broncos were going to replace D.J. Harper. No one is wondering anymore.
There was a time when fans thought Baltazar would actually be redshirted this season. But the decision to make him a complement to Ajayi has clearly paid off. The true freshman is second on the team in rushing yards and has cemented himself as the second option in Boise State’s rushing attack.
Baltazar’s speed and athleticism are not what is surprising about him. What is surprising is that he is able to put those gifts on display during the 2013 season.