Tom Nordquist is your typical family man with a wife and three kids, living his best life in the sunshine of Arizona.
On Saturday morning, he was helping a young daughter with her horse. When he goes to work, he’s a district manager who sells accordion fire doors.
That’s interesting because Nordquist used to work at Boise State.
He was Dirk Koetter’s running backs coach from 1998-2000, and one of his assigned recruiting territories was Southern California.
Nordquist remembers watching film of an undersized linebacker from Corona High School, about 30 minutes east of Disneyland.
He remembers going to a Corona football game in the fall of 1999.
He remembers visiting the linebacker and his family in the living room of their home.
The linebacker took his official visit to the Boise State campus, eventually signed with the Broncos and played through the 2004 season.
That undersized linebacker, discovered by Nordquist? Andy Avalos, who returned to his Boise State roots Saturday as the Broncos’ new head coach, following two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Oregon Ducks.
The Avalos Era started more than 20 years ago when Nordquist — a former Oregon State center who came to Boise after a coaching stint at UNLV — found a diamond in the rough, the next great addition to the Boise State football culture.
High school coach to Nordquist: “Look, I got a kid who is just a hell of a football player.’’
Nordquist: “You put him on film and he’s undersized, and then you go, ‘Oh my god, this guy can play ball.’’’
Then, as college recruiters do, Nordquist dug deep and got to know Avalos as a person. College recruiters talk to high school coaches. They talk to grandparents. Teachers. Lunch ladies. Janitors. Whatever it takes to learn about a potential five-year investment into your football program. Or more.
Nordquist sold Avalos to Koetter and defensive coordinator Brent Guy, though it wasn’t a tough sell. Eventually, all three coaches made a home visit.
For both parties, the choice was obvious. Avalos wanted to play for Boise State.
Boise State found an unproven college player — and, by all accounts, a rock-solid human being.
“Even then, it seemed like he had everything going for him as a player and as a person,’’ Nordquist said. “It starts with the way he carries himself, meaning he doesn’t shy away from who he is. Even if he’s a quote-unquote undersized linebacker, he’s not going to act like it. He’s going to walk with his chest up and his shoulders back in a proud way, not a boastful way. Smile on his face and always looks you right in the eye, a yes-sir, no-sir guy.
“So he was one of those kids who you fall in love with because of who he is. And, oh by the way, he can play football.’’
Koetter won 26 games and two conference championships in three seasons at Boise State then took his staff, including Nordquist, to Arizona State after the 2000 season. Dan Hawkins stayed behind and took over as head coach.
Avalos became one of the best linebackers in school history, flirted with the idea of a law enforcement career while doing a little coaching back at Corona, then joined Hawkins’ staff at Colorado in 2006.
A playing career was finished.
A coaching career was born.
Hawkins, now the head coach at UC Davis and a philosophical man never short on words, used a few of them to describe Avalos: Tough, intense, passionate for football, always pays attention, high football IQ, work ethic, confident, humble, smart, self-aware, problem-solver, loyal.
Hawkins’ first impression of Avalos after watching him on film 22 years ago: “Nobody disliked him at all, but he obviously wasn’t the biggest dude nor the fastest guy, but we just said this guy is a ball-playing Jessie.’’
Hawkins on Avalos’ campus visit to Boise: “When he came up, man, he would look into your soul. That kid, when he looked at you, he’d engage you. You could tell he was serious.’’
Hawkins on why Boise State recruited Avalos: “We just thought he was a Boise State-type guy and he was. ... He’s got the ‘It Factor.’’’
Nordquist — who used the same “It Factor’’ phrase — left coaching after the 2005 season at Arizona State. He appreciated chasing the Andy Avalos’ of the world, but sought more personal and family balance.
He still follows his friends in the coaching business, and many of the players he recruited.
He hooked up with Avalos, then the Broncos’ linebackers coach, before the 2014 Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Hanging out in a hotel hospitality room, they shared memories, traded stories, patted each other on the back.
Nordquist coached 12 seasons at UNLV, Boise State and Arizona State — and recruited hundreds of players, some into the NFL. But he’s never recruited a future head coach.
It’s a source of pride for him, he said.
Mostly because of Avalos’ character, and the way he turned into a blue-collar Bronco.
“Boise was a great fit for him,’’ Nordquist said.
Boise State leadership spoke loud and clear Saturday.
Andy Avalos and the Broncos are still a great fit.
Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. and Bronco Game Night after every Boise State football game on KTIK and KBOI 670 AM. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at email@example.com.