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BOISE — Gone are the dreadlocks that caused teammates to compare him to rapper T-Pain during his first practice at Boise State, and with a more streamlined look, Jerrell Gavins is all business.

The senior cornerback, who transferred from El Camino (Calif.) Junior College two years ago, has picked up some good experience, but his final season is one that presents a new, big challenge.

Gavins has worked as the first-team cornerback opposite Jamar Taylor since the spring, and has done little to relinquish that spot.  Additional snaps and responsibility mean a new mindset.

“I’ve been able to play quite a bit, but if I’m going to be a starter, I’ve got to be mentally strong,” Gavins said. “You might be tired or whatever, but someone’s pushing you, so you have to go out there killin’ receivers every play.”

At 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Gavins is two inches and 20 pounds smaller than Taylor, but has made an impact as the team’s third cornerback the last two seasons. He’s started three games, playing in 25, registering 61 tackles and seven pass breakups.

Despite his size, Gavins has a feisty demeanor that has served him well — and he’s trying to harness that into a more consistent player against the pass and as a tackler.

“With a guy that hasn’t necessarily started, he still needs to get better at a few things,” defensive backs coach Marcel Yates said. “He’s really getting there. He’s focused.

“He’s not very big, but he’s physical. He isn’t 6 feet tall, but he will come up and hit you. He doesn’t mind getting his hands on a receiver.”

Like an apprentice learning a craft from a master, Gavins has had the luxury of being able to see quite a bit of playing time, but also was in a position to watch Kyle Wilson and Brandyn Thompson, now taking on receivers in the NFC East with the New York Jets and Washington Redskins, respectively.

“I’ve had a good role the last two years, but it’s helped watching Kyle, Brandyn and Jamar,” Gavins said. “Now you have to do what made them good and avoid the mistakes they might have made.”

Gavins and Taylor got together often during the summer to improve their speed and agility. One of the exercises the seniors did was to run in sand volleyball courts to strengthen their ankles and improve cutting ability once they get on the turf. Taylor said it was a big help, and it was something Gavins brought from his days growing up running on Florida’s beaches.

Just as he learned from previous Bronco stars, Gavins has excelled at communicating with the likes of Taylor and safety George Iloka.

“He’s finally got his shot, and he’s working hard knowing that,” Taylor said. “He talks to me before almost every play, he isn’t afraid to ask for help.”

Happy to be on a team in the top 10 and getting his shot to start on it, Gavins is driven to do his best for the fellow Broncos helping him out and the coaching staff that has given him his big opportunity.

“I know you’ll sometimes give up a catch or something, but if I do, I always have that feeling like I let my teammates down,” Gavins said. “I hate that feeling, so I do whatever I can to not have it.”

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