BOISE — With a knee that was not yet 100 percent and admittedly about 10 pounds overweight, Boise State running back Jay Ajayi somehow still rushed for 548 yards on 82 carries last season as the backup.
His second career carry went for 71 yards and his 6.68 yards-per-carry average for the season was the best single-season mark in school history for running backs with at least 75 attempts.
Not bad for a freshman backup still recovering from injury.
“That’s the crazy thing about it,” Ajayi said. “From a statistical standpoint, I was able to do those things being heavy and being in a knee brace, so I’m just excited for what this season holds, kind of being cut loose a little. It’s kind of like the reins have been taken off.”
D.J. Harper has moved on to the San Francisco 49ers after rushing for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as a senior. And while Ajayi has yet to officially be named the starter, he’ll undoubtedly get a much heavier workload this fall.
Despite the instant and somewhat surprising success, Ajayi is a candidate for a breakout season this fall as a sophomore. The knee brace is gone, the ACL tear from 2011 is completely healed and Ajayi has lost between five and 10 pounds of extra weight that he accumulated last season.
“I wasn’t 100 percent at all,” Ajayi said of last season. “I’m just now getting to 100 percent. I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling fast. Last year my knee was still hurt. I still felt pain. It wasn’t as strong, but now it’s starting to get there.
“I was in a knee brace. I felt heavy. I felt held back by my weight and the knee brace, so now they’ve allowed me to get out of the knee brace and I’m at a weight that I can play at that’s not as stressful on my knee. So I just feel like I can do a lot more this year.”
Boise State coach Chris Petersen has already heard the outside hype and expectations surrounding Ajayi, saying at the Mountain West media days in Las Vegas that, “everybody wants to anoint him as the next Walter Payton already and he’s had a few carries.”
But he continued his praise of his running back by saying, “I’m excited. Jay has a lot of potential.”
Ajayi headlines a running back group that features junior college transfer Derrick Thomas — a 6-foot, 208-pounder who earned praise from coaches the first two days of fall camp — and returning sophomore Jack Fields.
From Ian Johnson to Jeremy Avery to Doug Martin and Harper, the Broncos have had plenty of recent success churning out quality running backs year after year. If Ajayi can build off what he did as a freshman, he could be the next name added to that list.
“We’ll see with Jay,” offensive coordinator Robert Prince said. “He did have a really good freshman year, but we want to see him grow and see how he does in his second year. He definitely has to be the leader of that group and we’re counting on him.
“We’re expecting big things out of Jay.”
It appears he’s expecting big things out of himself, as well.
Mataele out with academic issue: Defensive tackle Tutulupeatau “Deuce” Mataele has yet to practice and Petersen said he’s being held out due to an academic issue.
“Deuce has an academic issue he’s working through and I don’t know a time table on him,” Petersen said. “As soon we know anything, we’ll let everyone know.
“We’ll see what happens. … We’ve got great coaches and we have some good talent there. No matter how this thing turns out, we’ll have some guys ready to go.”
Mataele transferred to Boise State from Mt. San Antonio College last winter and Petersen noted during the spring that the defensive tackle had made an impact. He was listed as a starter at defensive tackle in the depth chart provided by Boise State in the Mountain West media guide.
Bronco bits: Construction has begun on the new HD scoreboard inside Bronco Stadium. As of Tuesday afternoon about nine steel beams serving as the early parts of the frame had been placed in position atop the new Bleymaier Football Complex. The scoreboard is expected to be completed no later than the third home game this fall. … Boise State’s game at Utah State on Oct. 12 will kick off at 6 p.m. It was originally scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. kick. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.