The Idaho Press is counting down the 25 biggest questions facing the Boise State football team during the 2021 season. Next up is No 17: What kind of impact will the eight ‘super seniors’ make?
The NCAA voted to give an extra year of eligibility to all fall- and winter student-athletes last year due to the seasons being shortened and altered due to the COVD-19 pandemic.
Seniors that chose to come back don’t count against the limit of 85 scholarships in football, but schools have to pay for the extra scholarships (valued at roughly $40,000 per student-athlete at Boise State) which limited how many could return.
Boise State has eight ‘super seniors’ back for the extra year in 2021. Here’s a look at the eight, in order of their importance to the team:
No. 1: LB Riley Whimpey: The team captain was adamant all last season that he’d be back if Boise State wanted him back. That part was a no brainer. The 6-foot-1, 236-pound Whimpey was a Second Team All-Mountain West selection in both 2019 and 2020 and has appeared in 42 games for the Broncos the past four seasons. He led the team with 61 tackles last season and had 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Having the middle linebacker back is huge for the defense.
No. 2: N Kekaula Kaniho: Another star defensive player and likely team captain that Boise State had little decision to make about offering the chance to come back. Kaniho has started at least five games in each of the past four seasons and has 34 career starts and 48 games played. He was a First Team All-Mountain West pick in 2019 and a Second Team All-Mountain West honoree in 2020. The 5-10, 186-pound nickelback will be a huge contributor on defense.
No. 3: WR CT Thomas: Boise State was looking at huge turnover at wide receiver before Thomas returned as the No. 2 option behind Khalil Shakir. While the Broncos are still searching for a solid and reliable No. 3 option, having a steady, productive veteran back in Thomas to pair with Shakir is big for the offense. Thomas had back to back 40-catch, 500-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 prior to the pandemic-shortened season and should put up even bigger numbers this fall.
No. 4: OL Jake Stetz: He has just 10 career starts, but that makes him the second-most experienced along Boise State’s offensive line behind left tackle John Ojukwu (24). Stetz, who is slated to start at left guard, came to Boise State as a regular student before landing a walk-on spot, a scholarship and eventually a starting spot last fall. Boise State returns four starters up front, but is hoping for improvements after finishing last in the Mountain West in rushing at just 107.14 yards per game.
No. 5: P Joel Velazquez: Consistency has been a problem for Velazquez at times, but having someone with the talent, experience and versatility of him back for another season is a win for the Broncos. He’s served as the punter the last two seasons and has at least 22 punts in three of the past four. He averaged 40.95 yards per punt last season and had four of at least 50 yards. He also serves as Boise State’s kickoff specialist and has attempted longer field goals in the past.
No. 6: LB Brock Miller: Expectations were high for Miller after he started 11 games for N.C. State in 2019 and then joined the Broncos as a graduate transfer. But the linebacker tore his plantar fascia in one of his feet early in the season and didn’t play much of the season. Given a chance at one more college season after a frustrating 2020, Miller gladly took advantage of it. His veteran presence will benefit the Broncos, and he should make an impact if he can stay healthy.
No. 7: OL Uzo Osuji: Another graduate transfer that had high hopes for playing time but struggled to see the field in 2020. After starting seven games at Rice, the 6-8, 315-pound Osuji elected to join the Broncos for his final college season last fall. But he lost out to Nick Crabtree for the starting spot at right tackle and made just one start in his absence. Crabtree is gone and he’s now battling Ben Dooley for the spot heading into 2021.
No. 8: WR Octavius Evans: Who knows what to expect from Evans at this point. He’s been Boise State’s ‘mystery man’ the past few seasons due to various injuries and leaving the team last year for ‘personal reasons.’ But he’s back for one more season with the Broncos and hoping to finish his career on a high note. He’s got 40 career catches for 407 yards and four touchdowns, but has yet to live up to lofty expectations following a strong debut as a true freshman in 2017.