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Bottom line: I think new Boise State coach Leon Rice gets it

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant

KTVB.COM

Posted on March 29, 2010 at 7:32 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 29 at 10:51 AM

 

Monday, March 29, 2010.
 
The first thing Leon Rice will notice when he starts poring over Bronco game tape getting to know the program is: no students in the stands. It’s a 180-degree change from what Rice was accustomed to in “The Kennel” at Gonzaga. Not only do students show up in droves at the 6,000-seat McCarthey Center, they make noise—they do the Cameron Crazies jump-up-and-down thing. That type of scene is probably not possible at Boise State, considering the nature of the campus (hardly any students live there). But the Bronco student section was raucous 20 years ago, and it can be again. And Rice knows it. “We want the students to come to the game,” Rice emphasized in his press conference Friday. “We need student support.” That’s a pivotal ingredient in getting attendance up from the woeful 3,061 average of the season just ended.
 
One other thing that jumped out at me from Rice’s comments Friday was how he embraces Bronco football’s success as a blueprint for his program (not that Gonzaga isn’t a good one, too). The number one key in getting Boise State basketball where he wants it to be, he said, is recruiting. But Rice stressed that recruiting goes hand-in-hand with “player development.“ It sounded like a page right out of Coach Pete’s book. “If you recruit kids that basketball means a lot to, and they love the game of basketball, and they’re willing to work on it, then they’re going to get better,” said Rice. “And that’s the kind of kids we’re looking for.” Easy to say, but Rice certainly backed it up at Gonzaga.
 
We saw last Wednesday at Boise State’s first spring scrimmage one possible reason that Pete Kwiatkowski hung onto his defensive line coaching duties when he was promoted to defensive coordinator. You just can’t take the teacher out of Kwiatkowski. Developing talent can be energizing, and man does Kwiatkowski have some pupils. No bigger, literally speaking, than Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, the 6-3, 282-pound redshirt freshman defensive tackle from Amsterdam. Tjong-A-Tjoe was active from the get-go Wednesday—you can see that he is a project with as big an upside as can be imagined. 
 
And the dynamic Dutchman has company. Justin Jungblutt, Matt Paradis and Kharyee Marshall have already received rave reviews from coaches. What was striking at the scrimmage was the view of Tjong-A-Tjoe and Marshall standing next to each other on the right side of the D-line. Marshall is listed at 6-1, 207. That ain’t defensive line size, of course. But Marshall had the look of a situational speed rusher the Broncos can use to change things up. And hey, they like changing things up.
 
Grades at the NFL Combine and Pro Day are one thing—how they translate to on-field performance is another. After Kyle Wilson’s dominant performance in the Senior Bowl practice sessions, all he needed at Boise State’s Pro Day Friday was to not crash and burn. As it was, Wilson provided plenty of supporting evidence to what scouts saw in Mobile, AL, in January. The number everyone will check out is his 40-yard dash time, and the former Bronco star ran it in 4.42 seconds. He’s run faster, but that time didn’t scare away anybody among the throng that represented almost every NFL team. Richie Brockel, meanwhile, performed well in all drills except the 40, where he ran a 4.91 as he still gets his football legs back after his foot injury last November.
 
The Idaho Steelheads put the proverbial cherry on top of the 2009-10 home schedule Saturday night with a rollicking 5-1 win over Victoria. The Steelheads had actually already clinched the Brabham Cup as the top ECHL team during the regular season and were awarded the trophy in a pregame ceremony. The game itself had little doses of everything the Steelheads have thrived on. Richard Bachman, the ECHL leader in goals-against average, allowed just one tally. Mark Derlago, a season-long stalwart for the Steelies, notched an assist to become the team’s ECHL era single-season scoring leader. But Idaho also got a goal from a guy who had been with the team just eight days, as rookie Kael Mouillierat executed a magnificent wraparound in the second period. The Steelheads now go to the still-Frozen North, playing at Alaska tomorrow.
 
The Idaho Stampede’s season will end this Saturday. The Stampede had a chance to take control of their postseason fate going into their three-game series at Utah last week. But they exit the trip out of control, having been swept in Orem by the Flash. Seven losses in the last nine games may be wearing on the Stampede, as their turnover totals went from a manageable 14 and 16 last Wednesday and Friday to a staggering 26 on Saturday. The Stamps have only three games left, starting with Wednesday night’s matchup in Qwest Arena against Rio Grande Valley. And even a trio of victories wouldn’t get them in the D-League Playoffs.
 
Boise State won its own Springhill Suites Spring Break Classic yesterday, downing Idaho in the championship match, 4-0. The final score is a little deceiving—Division I tennis matches are typically called when one team clinches the victory, and Idaho was leading in a couple singles duals that didn’t finish. But the quick ending is just what the General ordered after the Broncos’ loss to Fresno State at the Blue-Gray Classic. “The story of this season is that we need more energy and vim and vigor at the start of our matches, especially our doubles matches,” said coach Greg Patton at the time.  “I need to light a fire under our team's behinds to get them out of the blocks fast.”
 
This Day In Sports…March 29, 1994:
 
In a separation that he and Dallas owner Jerry Jones call a “mutual agreement”, Jimmy Johnson leaves the Cowboys as head coach. As Jones’ only coach since acquiring the team five years before, Johnson had taken a young squad that was 1-15 in his first year to two-time defending Super Bowl champions. Over the years, the friendship between the two had soured, and Jones would hire Barry Switzer as his new coach. Johnson—after a hiatus—would become head coach at Miami after the retirement of Don Shula.
 
(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 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He’s also handled color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football the last five seasons.)

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