By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Boise State senior defensive tackle Mike Atkinson has embraced his role as the leader of the defensive line — and it’s having a positive effect.
Atkinson (6-foot) has slimmed down to 315 pounds, he’s moving better than he ever has and he seems primed to have a big year as Chase Baker’s replacement.
“I’m the leader now,” Atkinson said. “I’ve got to take my job more seriously, hit the weights harder, do conditioning a lot harder. So it’s really helped actually. … I’ve been through a lot of adversity with my injuries and off-the-field issues, so I want to go out and give it everything I’ve got.”
The Broncos lost their top five defensive linemen, including at least three expected to get selected in the NFL Draft. Atkinson and junior tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe were key parts of the line rotation last year, but the team still needs to identify three or four ends and two more tackles to fill out this year’s rotation.
“It’s a little different environment,” Atkinson said. “We had some guys with charismatic character, but it’s fun out there being a role model for the younger guys coming up. I get to do a different job than I did last year. … I’m seeing improvement every day, especially with a couple of the young guys.”
Coach Chris Petersen has taken note of Atkinson’s play and his attitude this spring.
“We have a bunch of seniors,” Petersen said. “We do have a bunch of seniors in this class, and those guys all need to take that next step. If they do that, like we’re seeing Mike do, we’ll be OK.”
Sophomore Lee Hightower, who started the final four games of last season at cornerback, is playing all safety this spring. He’s the leading candidate to win the free safety job.
“I like safety a lot because I feel I have more control over the game," Hightower said.
Sophomore Dallas Burroughs has shown more polish this spring. If he develops into a well-rounded receiver, he should be more dangerous as a deep threat.
Last year, he made his two biggest plays in November — a 54-yard touchdown catch against TCU and a 41-yard catch against San Diego State.
“That was just me getting more comfortable with college football,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting more comfortable each and every day. I hope to see a lot more of those (deep balls) in the fall.”
Coach Chris Petersen says he thinks more about the short term when deciding which true freshmen to play.
"It's hard. You look at the guys that didn't redshirt ... and man, would we like to have those guys back," he said, referring to guys like Shea McClellin, George Iloka and Chase Baker. "But you've got to live in the here and now, with an eye for the future."
Boise State is turning the Spring Game on April 14 into a full day of events called BroncoFest 2012.
Here’s a rundown:
9:30 a.m.: Beat Coach Pete Scholarship Run/Walk (show your runner’s bib for a free ticket to the Spring Game)
9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.: Craft Show, Hall of Fame Plaza
10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Women’s tennis vs. Air Force, Appleton Tennis Complex (test your serve speed at the Big Serve Contest, $3 for three serves)
10:30 a.m.-2:15 p.m.: Car show, Caven-Williams Sports Complex
10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.: Gymnastics autograph session, Kinesiology Annex
1-3 p.m.: Softball vs. UNLV, Mountain Cove Softball Field (show your Beat Coach Pete T-shirt for free admission)
10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.: Open swim with Boise State swimming and diving team members as lifeguards ($5 donation)
1-5 p.m.: Optimist Youth Football sign-ups, Caven-Williams Sports Complex
1-3 p.m.: Soccer vs. NNU, Boas Soccer Center
5 p.m.: Spring Game, Bronco Stadium ($7 per ticket). The first 5,000 fans receive a 2011 football highlights DVD and the first 10,000 receive a 2012 football schedule card.
Throughout the day, fans are invited to participate in a photo scavenger hunt showing their participation. Visit the marketing table outside of the Allen Noble Hall of Fame to participate.
Boise State has added games with Utah State to the schedule in 2014 and 2015.Story here.
The games give Boise State a road opponent in the West, which is important with the transition to the Big East. Here is the full non-conference schedule:
at Michigan State (Friday, Aug. 31)
vs. Miami OH (Sept. 15)
vs. BYU (Sept. 22)
at Southern Miss (Oct. 6)
at Washington (Sept. 7)
vs. Tennessee Martin (Sept. 21)
vs. Southern Miss (Sept. 28)
at BYU (Oct. 26)
vs. Ole Miss in Atlanta (Thursday, Sept. 4)
at Utah State (Sept. 27)
vs. BYU (Oct. 25)
at BYU (Sept. 12)
vs. Washington (Sept. 19)
vs. Utah State (Sept. 26)
vs. Washington State (Sept. 10)
at Oregon State (Sept. 24)
vs. BYU (Oct. 15)
at Washington State (Sept. 9)
at BYU (Oct. 7)
vs. BYU (Oct. 20)
at BYU (Oct. 12)
vs. BYU (Oct. 17)
at BYU (Oct. 9)
vs. Michigan State (Sept. 17)
vs. BYU (Oct. 8)
at Michigan State (Sept. 16)
at BYU (Oct. 14)