BOISE — For CT Thomas it starts in practice. And it starts with something he learned from Brett Rypien, the Mountain West’s all-time leading passer who is now in training camp with the Denver Broncos.

“He attacked practice like he would attack the games,” Thomas said. “That’s something I’m trying to do. That mentality right there, I try to put that in my game. ‘OK, it’s third down, let’s make this catch.’ There’s nobody in the stands but I treat it like everyone is watching.”

That mindset helped Thomas go from 15 catches as a freshman to 41 as a sophomore last season. He nearly tripled his production across the board, finishing with 535 receiving yards and three touchdowns as he went from an intriguing but undersized freshman to one of Boise State’s most reliable and steady options by the end of 2018.

The goal now is to take another big step forward as a junior.

“We want to see another big jump from him this year,” Boise State wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau said.

The Lancaster, Texas, native is the top returning receiver for the Broncos in terms of catches and yards, and his three touchdowns rank second to John Hightower’s six. With the Broncos having to replace their top two receivers, Sean Modster and A.J. Richardson, he has ascended into a leadership role with the group.

“Every receiver can make plays, so being a team leader is my main focus right now,” Thomas said. “Buying into the blue collar mentality and picking up where (Cedrick Wilson), Brett, A.J. left off. They had the mentality that it’s all of us or none of us, so being an older guy I have to pick up some slack and help the younger guys.”

Thomas has added 30 pounds to his 5-foot-8 frame from when he arrived on campus, going from 152 as a freshman to 182 at the start of fall camp. He proved last year that speed wasn’t his only attribute, as he became arguably Boise State’s most trustworthy option on key third and fourth down plays.

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Of the 41 catches that Thomas made last year, 20 of them came on third or fourth down. And all but one of those resulted in a first down.

“Every ball counts,” Thomas said. “I’ll always say that. Every ball counts. You can’t treat one ball different than the others. When the ball comes your way, you have to make a great catch on it.”

Wide receiver appears to be one of Boise State’s strongest positions this year. Thomas, Hightower, Khalil Shakir and Akilian Butler all return after contributing last year, and Octavius Evans has looked impressive during the first week of fall camp after battling injuries last year.

And that doesn’t even include a talented group of youngsters that could push their way into the mix.

“I feel like the receivers room is so packed and everybody can do everything,” Thomas said. “It’s a competition every day. We push each other every day to get better and make plays.”

That competition has pushed Thomas even as he becomes one of the veterans of the group. And that’s why his teammates and coaches can’t wait to see his game reach another level this fall.

“He’s a guy who is smaller in stature but really, really ultra-competitive and has a great mindset,” Kiesau said. “He believes he’s unstoppable. I love that about him. We can expand him and do a lot of things whether it’s running back, fly sweep, moving him inside, outside. You’ll see his role kind of expand even more. I’m really excited about him.”

B.J. Rains is the Boise State beat writer for the Idaho Press and a two-time winner of the NSMA Idaho Sports Writer of the Year Award. Follow him on Twitter @BJRains. 

B.J Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013. He is an Associated Press Top 25 men's basketball poll voter, and also contributes to KBOI-TV as a Boise State insider.

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