BOISE - Growing up in Reno, Blake Whitlock always dreamed of playing for his beloved hometown Wolfpack. But Nevada never came calling due to his lack of size, so Whitlock spent the last two years starting at linebacker at Saddleback Community College.

His small size label stuck with him last spring, nearly forcing him to quit the game he’s played his whole life.

“I was actually pretty close to hanging them up," Whitlock said. "I was going to go to school, I was kind of ready to just give up the dream a little bit.”

That is, until late in his second semester when he received a phone call from Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos.

“Coach Avalos gave me a phone call and they had a position for me to walk on,” said Whitlock.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“It was over after that," said Whitlock. "I was ready to come to Boise State.”

Whitlock walked on initially.

“I just kind of showed up really," he said. "No one knew who I was, I was a walk-on, and that's kind of a role I've really embraced.”

His status as a walk-on proved to be short lived. Noting his effort and character, Coach Bryan Harsin put Whitlock on scholarship in August.

“He can play, he can run, he can do all of that, but the team really likes him and that's a big part of why we rewarded him with a scholarship and why we want him on this team,” said Harsin.

The Boise State football program prides itself on a "next man in" mentality, and the Broncos' latest example was Saturday night when the undersized and previously overlooked Whitlock made his first career start, filling in for an injured Tanner Vallejo as the Broncos beat Utah State 21-10.

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“I had my family in the crowd, it was a great experience," Whitlock said. "Going through the smoke, running out of the tunnel, I closed my eyes running through it. It's almost like waking up from a dream, you're like running into a dream really.”

Whitlock thrived in his first start, finishing with four tackles and one tackle-for-loss.

“Tanner is a lion and you have to go out there and fill his role, and I thought he did a pretty good job with that,” said Harsin.

His teammates were also excited to see him shine.

“Blake Whitlock, who stepped out there and played and made big plays, I mean it's awesome," said senior defensive end Sam McCaskill. "Welcome to your shot, this is awesome.”

It looks like he’s already taking the opportunity and running with it. The Wolfpack’s loss is indeed the Broncos' gain.

“I'm thankful that Boise gave me the opportunity and I'm going to make the most of it here,” said Whitlock.