The countdown gets serious now

Tuesday, July 22, 2014.

It's football season. Mountain West Media Days begin this morning in Las Vegas. First thing out will be the media and coaches' preseason polls. The general conjecture has the predictions putting Boise State just ahead of Utah State for the Mountain Division title. The Broncos have enough coming back despite the loss of Chris Petersen to get consideration over USU, where the return of quarterback Chuckie Keeton will present opponents with a formidable challenge. Also unveiled will be preseason Player of the Year and All-Mountain West projections. Ajayi has a shot at Offensive Player of the Year accolades, but Keeton seems too easy a choice. Fresno State cornerback Derron Smith and Utah State linebacker Zach Vigil are among the defensive favorites.

Two of the most cerebral Boise State seniors, safety Corey Bell and wide receiver Matt Miller, will join coach Bryan Harsin in representing the Broncos in Vegas. Bell is an articulate spokesman for the program, as he knows it as well as anybody after growing up in Boise and starring at Capital High. Miller is as humble as any Bronco there's ever been. His answers for out-of-town media may not be overly long, but they'll be sincere.

What a way for Boise State to start the sessions. The Broncos revealed yesterday that senior running back Derrick Thomas is no longer on the roster. No details are yet available on his departure. Thomas gained only 95 yards on 32 carries last year and was twice suspended for one game, but he made a positive impression in spring football after adding 17 pounds during winter conditioning. "What he's done in the weight room, in the classroom, everything," said coach Bryan Harsin last spring in describing Thomas' progress. "He's on the right path, doing good things, and he's excited about it." Something obviously has changed. Thomas showed flashes only once last season, when he picked up 48 yards on six carries in the win over Nevada.

So the race for Boise State's No. 2 running back spot behind Jay Ajayi is wide open again. The Broncos didn't have one last year after true freshman Aaron Baltazar's season was ended by a knee injury—and Baltazar is now a Washington State Cougar. Jack Fields, who played out of the gate as a true freshman in 2012, has not gotten over the hump yet. Devan Demas came on late last season and had the strongest Blue & Orange Game of any of the backup hopefuls, scoring on an 82-yard catch-and-run pass from Ryan Finley. And I remain a fan of sophomore walk-on Charles Bertoli. Don't forget the incoming freshmen, either. If Jeremy McNichols or Cory Young show that they're ready in fall camp next month, one or the other will play.

DeMarcus Lawrence officially reports for his first NFL training camp tomorrow with the Dallas Cowboys. There's one trait that the Cowboys are banking on from the second round draft pick out of Boise State. "He's really tough," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said in a feature on Lawrence in the Dallas Morning News. Marinelli should know—he's an ex-Marine with Vietnam combat service on his resume. The story details Lawrence's tough upbringing in rural South Carolina and his maturation as a football player at Boise State. "DeMarcus was not the biggest, but he was the toughest," said Andy Avalos, who coached the defensive line in Lawrence's two seasons in Boise. "On game day, when you go into an alley, you want him in your corner. He can be a big Teddy Bear, but when it's time to roll, he'll roll over you."

The piece by Barry Horn also says the Cowboys are expecting Lawrence to play right away at defensive right end and morph into their lead pass rusher now that DeMarcus Ware is off in Denver. "I think we got the right one," Marinelli said, noting Lawrence's tenacity. "If he gets beat, he just comes back harder the next time." Dallas sees Lawrence's 20½ tackles for loss and 10½ sacks last year as a byproduct of his true value.

Say one thing for the Boise Hawks: they don't roll over. The Hawks were trailing Salem-Keizer 5-1 in the bottom of the sixth last night at Memorial Stadium when they first nicked the Volcanoes for a couple manufactured runs. Then Boise loaded the bases, and Danny Canela cleared them with a double into the right-centerfield gap to give the Hawks a 6-5 lead. Salem-Keizer tied it in the top of the seventh, but a Justin Marra home run in the bottom of the eighth put the Hawks over the top for a 7-6 victory. Boise ends the first half of the season with a 22-16 record and hits the road for a five-game series at Everett beginning tonight.

Time for a look at an under-the-radar former Boise Hawk. We're talking Marwin Gonzalez, the Houston shortstop whose role on the Astros squad was in question at the beginning of the season. But he's become a regular performer now for the team with one of the more deceiving records in baseball. Gonzalez has hit .326 during July as Houston has climbed out of last place in the American League West past the rival Texas Rangers. Many like the way the Astros are building their club and think they'll be a force within a couple years. Their mini-surge has coincided with that of Gonzalez, who batted .279 with 43 RBI in 65 games for the Hawks in 2008.

Anthony Tolliver, who played for the Idaho Stampede five seasons ago, has agreed to a two-year contract with the Phoenix Suns worth $6 million (although only $400,000 is guaranteed in the second season). The Suns want him for his three-point shooting prowess. Tolliver connected on a career-high 41 percent from beyond the arc last season for Charlotte. This will be Tolliver's seventh NBA team—his first was the Golden State Warriors, who called him up midway through his season with the Stampede.

This Day In Sports… July 22, 2006:

In an emotional ceremony at Memorial Stadium, the Boise Hawks retire long-time manager Tom Kotchman's no. 11. Kotchman paid tribute to Boise as his "second home" and listed some of the favorite players he helped develop—Troy Percival, Garret Anderson, Scot Shields and John Lackey were all among the former Hawks who won World Series rings with the Angels in 2002. As skipper of the Hawks from 1990-2000, Kotchman won four Northwest League championships and seven division titles, becoming the winningest manager (by far) in NWL history with 501 victories.

(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.)


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