Ah yes, Idaho — potatoes, mountains, streams and forests. Spend a Saturday watching Boise State play football and realize talented football players are one more natural resource of the Gem State.
Three of the No. 5 Broncos’ top five receivers are Idaho natives, along with three of the top six tacklers and at least two seniors likely to be picked in April’s NFL draft.
“I think one of the biggest things is we love being here, I love being in Idaho,” said linebacker Byron Hout, a graduate of Lake City High Coeur d’Alene. “We take a lot of pride representing this state. We might get overlooked and we realize that, we’re the ‘potato state’ but we also have some good football players.”
The Broncos’ depth chart for Saturday’s game at UNLV has eight starters listed that went to Idaho high schools. Idaho’s population ranks 39th, at a shade less than 1.6 million. The two states above Idaho in population are Nebraska and West Virginia.
Looking at the Cornhuskers and Mountaineers’ depth charts for this weekend, and they have eight starters between them from their home states.
“Recruiting gets a lot easier when you have a ton of players in your backyard,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “I think the kids here are well-coached. All the kids that grew up in this state get the importance of it and that helps us.”
As Boise State’s national profile increases, so does its recruiting base — Texas, for example, has 12 players on the Broncos’ roster, as opposed to four in 2008.
The Broncos, who had to use homegrown talent to build the program, have now reaped the rewards of those growing up during Boise State’s decade-long run of dominance.
“I’d say 100 percent of us from here grew up wanted to play for BSU,” said receiver Mitch Burroughs (Meridian), who is No. 2 in the NCAA in punt return average. “You want to play in front of friends and family. Also, guys from here get a bit overlooked, so having a chip on your shoulder makes you fit right in. This program has done well with guys from Idaho, Coach Pete understands that and he’s not the kind of guy to change what works.”
Petersen acknowledged that one thing he does differently than other programs is that he keeps his roster fairly small — around 107, as opposed to the 120s many BCS programs carry.
With that number, he is more selective on who is offered a chance to be a walk-on. Since Idaho has only three colleges that play football, good in-state players can join as walk-ons and work their way to scholarships.
“It’s been a huge part of this program,” Petersen said. “... I know when we have a kid walk-on, we’re very selective. We have to because of our numbers.”
Senior receiver Tyler Shoemaker is a former walk-on who leads the team with 499 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Sophomore center Matt Paradis, a Council High graduate, has started in place of senior Thomas Byrd, and linebacker J.C. Percy (Blackfoot) is sixth in tackles, has an interception, a forced fumble and a recovery.
“Just to be a part of this program in general is great, but part of the walk-on tradition is great, too,” said Shoemaker, a Mountain View High graduate.
Nate Potter (Timberline) and Shea McClellin (Marsing) are likely draft picks in April’s NFL draft — Potter on the offensive line and McClellin likely as an outside linebacker. The possibility to not only represent the Broncos, but the state of Idaho at the next level is a badge of honor for McClellin.
“Just playing here was dream, so anything beyond that is kind of crazy,” McClellin said. “I think for guys that get that chance, we can show there are good players here.”