As a kid growing up in Boise, Kenton Bartlett spent a lot of time on the Blue Turf at Albertsons Stadium. Playing Optimist Youth Football, games were often scheduled at the stadium.
“I was in awe back in the day, because I was a big Boise State fan,” Bartlett remembers. “I had season tickets back in the day. It was a really cool experience.”
The Portland State defensive lineman will make his return to The Blue this weekend when the Vikings come to town to take on the Broncos on Saturday night. The game is scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.
But Bartlett says FCS Portland State, out of the Big Sky Conference, isn’t just coming to No. 22 Boise State for the paycheck game. He said him and his teammates are focused on coming into town and pulling off the upset.
“Boise’s a really talented football team and we’re going to come prepared,” Bartlett said. “We’ve been practicing hard this week, our coaches are getting us prepared as much as they can. We’re expecting to win the game, honestly. I think we’re excited for the opportunity.”
The Centennial High graduate and former 5A Southern Idaho Conference defensive player of the year is in his senior season at Portland State, having been a starter since his sophomore year. But he says he really started feeling like his game was coming along beginning his junior season, when the Vikings brought in Payam Saadat as their new defensive coordinator.
Starting in all 11 games in 2018, he had 21 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss and was named a third team All-Big Sky Conference selection. Additionally, the Vikings improved from 0-11 the year before to 4-7.
“Our old system was set up for the linebackers to make more plays,” Bartlett said about his role in the defense. “But this new system we have revolves around the D-Line. That works very well for us.”
This season the Vikings are looking to make another step forward. They opened their season with a 20-13 loss to Arkansas. In that game, the Vikings had the ball with a minute left and the opportunity to drive for a tying score.
Their chance ended with an interception, but taking a team from the SEC to the wire sparked the Vikings all that much more, Bartlett said.
“We believe we should have beat Arkansas, but we had to move on from that,” he said. “We’ve played big teams before. We played Oregon in the past, we played BYU a couple years ago tough. We played big teams before and I feel like it’s time we beat one of these good teams, these big FBS teams.”
The Vikings followed that near upset with a dominating 70-7 win against NCAA Division II Simon Fraser. In that game, Bartlett led the Portland State defense with three sacks, as the Vikings finished with eight on the day.
The Clan finished the game with negative 65 yards rushing.
“I think our coaching staff had a good game plan during the week,” said Bartlett, who didn’t think he had ever had three sacks in a game. “It started off slow, but we picked up the pace in the third quarter. We just executed.”
Against Boise State, Bartlett knows he will be up against an experienced offensive line. Right tackle John Ojukwu was injured in the Broncos’ season opener against Florida State and did not play in Friday’s 14-7 win against Marshall, but Boise State has four other returning starters. Jake Stetz, who got his first career start Friday, played in all 13 games last season.
But the Vikings defensive line has experience, as well with Bartlett and junior Semise Kofe both anchoring the defensive tackle position as returning starters and junior Noah Yunker a returning starter at defensive end.
“They’re a good unit up front, but we have an experienced defensive line,” Bartlett said. “We’ve all played a lot of snaps and they’ve played a lot of snaps as well. We just got to be physical and beat them to the punch, honestly.”
Bartlett says he expects 50 friends and family coming to the game Saturday to support him. A number of them bought tickets in a group so they could sit together. He also gave his tickets for the game to friends who were driving to Utah.
The Boise native said it will be nice to have some Portland State support among what is supposed to be an Orange Out. But for Bartlett it will be nice to play in what he called “a historical field and one of the best stadiums in college football,” even if most of the crowd will be against him.
“I’m excited, I have a lot of friends and family showing up for the game,” he said. “It should be a cool experience coming back to The Blue. I haven’t played on The Blue since Optimist, so it will be a good experience, for sure.”