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Bhonapha’s little roving band of running backs

Bhonapha’s little roving band of running backs

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on April 11, 2012 at 7:28 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 5 at 4:43 PM

Wednesday, April 11, 2012.

Surveying the blue turf during Boise State spring football, you see a deep group of wide receivers over here, a massive bunch of offensive linemen over there, a big contingent of defensive linemen across the way.  There are even four quarterbacks.  Then, if you look really carefully, you find running backs coach Keith Bhonapha and his students.  It’s very odd to see Bhonapha out there with as few as three running backs at a time.  Those guys get beaucoup reps.  It’s especially valuable for Drew Wright, the former Vallivue Falcon who is drawing a line in the sand for the No. 2 spot when redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi returns from rehabbing his knee injury.  Take away Wright’s infamous fumble against TCU and think about what he was doing to the Horned Frogs defense right before that fourth quarter moment last November.  The guy can play.

The player who’s loving his reps in the running backs group this spring is D.J. Harper.  Boise State is in the unique position this year of having a feature back departing—and a feature back back.  And Harper, the one that’s back, is making the most of his first spring football session in three years, even if the coaching staff professes to be pacing him after knee injuries sidelined him in back-to-back springs.  With that said, don’t be surprised if Harper gets just a handful of courtesy carries in Saturday evening’s Blue & Orange Game.

Even in the final week of spring ball, the pace of practice is frenetic.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a player taking a play off.  And so it goes with Boise State’s four quarterbacks.  They have to compete on every snap.  Joe Southwick, Grant Hedrick, Jimmy Laughrea and Nick Patti have been equally good—or, occasionally, not.  Let’s just say all four would probably like mulligans on yesterday’s “throw-the-ball-into-the-net-in-the-end-zone-from-35-yards-out” drill.

The Big East may be a step up for Boise State, but it will be many, many steps away from home.  One of the Broncos’ mates in the “western” division of the conference next year might be Temple, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.  The Owls would join BSU and four other Big East newcomers, San Diego State, SMU, Houston, and Memphis.  When Navy joins the Big East in 2015, the Midshipmen would probably be in the eastern division, and maybe Air Force could balance things on the western front?  Maybe?

Former Boise State and Colorado coach Dan Hawkins was on Idaho SportsTalk yesterday, and his most interesting revelation (more like a reaffirmation) was that he still wants to get back into coaching.  It’s been almost a year and a half since he was let go at CU, but he’d rather be on the field than in the broadcast booth.  “I miss the competitive cauldron—I miss scheming it up and getting out there on Saturdays,” said Hawkins.  So where would he like to go?  “It’s not so much the level, it’s the place, the people that you’re with, the mission,” he said.  “I’m just waiting for the right door to open.”  Hawkins wouldn’t mind that door being at Montana, a super-strong FCS program looking for stability after the sudden firing of coach Robin Pflugrad.  Said Hawkins, “If they have some interest, I would certainly have some interest in that place.”

Idaho is already past the halfway point of spring football but still has only one scrimmage under its belt.  Vandal coach Robb Akey opted to use last Saturday’s allotted scrimmage time for a conventional practice, feeling his team would get more mileage out of it.  The race between juniors Taylor Davis and Dominique Blackman for the starting quarterback job is far from over, Akey said.  “They’re gaining ground,” the sixth-year coach said. “They’re both understanding about what we can get done with the offense, how they can take some freedom with the offense.  They’re both grasping more.  We’re gaining ground there.”

Hey, as exhausting as the Idaho Steelheads playoff series against Ontario was, why wouldn’t the Steelheads want to see the best-of-seven series versus Las Vegas go the distance?  The Steelies and Wranglers start the ECHL Western Conference semifinals Monday night with this nugget at the forefront.  Since joining the ECHL nine years ago, Idaho has faced four "deciding" games in a playoff series, a finale where one team advances and the other team is eliminated.  With the dominating 5-0 win at Ontario Monday night, the Steelheads improved to 3-1 in those deciders—and all three victories were on the road.  Two of them were in Vegas.

The most impressive performance by a former Boise Hawk over the first week of the season in the majors belongs to Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija.  The former Notre Dame star wide receiver, who has always insisted he wants to be in the starting rotation, made his point last Sunday in leading the Cubs to their first victory of the season.  Samardzija went 8 2/3 innings and allowed one earned run and four hits in a 4-3 win over the Nationals.  He threw first-pitch strikes to all but five batters.  We’ll see if Samardzija has cemented a spot as a starter in the eyes of manager Dale Sveum—and player personnel mastermind Theo Epstein.  It’s been over five years now since Samardzija forsook what looked like a lucrative NFL career and signed a five-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs.  He had made his pro debut in the summer of 2006 with the Hawks.

Tonight’s the night for former BYU coach LaVell Edwards and his wife, Patti.  They’ll be honored with the 9th Annual Nell and John Wooden Coaching Achievement Award from the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.  The ceremony will be held in the Jordan Ballroom at Boise State.  Scheduled to appear are former BYU quarterback Gifford Nielsen, ESPN analyst and former Cougar great Trevor Matich, former BYU assistant and Idaho State and Oregon State head coach Dave Kragthorpe. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, and Boise State coach Chris Petersen.

This Day In Sports…April 11, 2001:

The division champion Idaho Steelheads open the WCHL Taylor Cup Playoffs innocently enough against last-place Anchorage but find themselves in an epic battle with the Aces.  Trailing 3-1 with just over a minute left, the Steelheads got two goals in 23 seconds from Cal Ingraham to send the game into sudden death overtime.  The Steelies won, 4-3, changing the opening tone of the playoffs entirely.  They would sweep Anchorage and Colorado before falling to San Diego in the Taylor Cup Finals.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket.  He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)