By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Boise State senior tailback D.J. Harper hopes to combine a personal milestone with some program history Saturday afternoon in Reno.
Harper needs 65 rushing yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark. It would be the fourth straight season that a Bronco accomplished that feat but a first for Harper.
“It’s kind of in the back of my mind,” Harper said. “I want to put the team first. … Hopefully we come out with the W, win the Mountain West and I can accomplish my own personal goal as well.”
Harper averages 5.0 yards per carry, slightly better than Doug Martin’s 4.9 last year as the featured back. He also has played every game after injuries cut into his last three seasons.
Harper has scored 15 touchdowns — 11 more than any other Bronco — and is tied for fourth on the team with 19 catches.
“My biggest thing was obviously playing a full season,” Harper said. “I haven’t been able to do that the past few years. I feel like personally I’ve played well, both in the run game as well as in pass protection. One of my goals was to increase my knowledge of the offense.”
Said running backs coach Keith Bhonapha: “D.J. has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s definitely run hard, he’s definitely made the plays we need him to make. I’m happy about his progress and what he’s been able to contribute this year.”
I have a story tomorrow on the contributions the Broncos have received from first-year college football players this season. One of the best has been redshirt freshman tailback Jay Ajayi, who has rushed for 490 yards and four TDs at a 7.1-yards-per-carry clip.
“The biggest thing that’s impressed me with Jay is him being able to come in there and be a smart guy in pass protection,” Bhonapha said. “That’s one of the hard things when you’re dealing with a young running back. Jay is really a smart guy and has figured it out. When you talk about him running the ball, being able to use his vision and be physical and make guys miss has been very impressive. The guy has a bright future ahead of him.”
Bhonapha has enjoyed seeing the success of former Boise State tailback Doug Martin, one of the most productive players in the NFL as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Martin has rushed for 1,050 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 332 yards (11.4 yards per catch) and one TD.
He has 1,382 yards from scrimmage, which trails only Adrian Peterson of the Vikings (1,421).
“Doug has not surprised me one bit,” Bhonapha said. “And I say that in a good way. We knew the potential that that guy had — the way he battled day after day, the way he would practice, the way he would play the game. Everybody, away from the football part of it, is so excited because of how good of a guy he is.”
Bhonapha checks Martin’s stats on the Internet every week when he isn’t able to watch the game and has spoken to Martin a handful of times.
“He’s having fun,” he said. “He’s getting everything that he’s worked for. A lot of people would look at his situation and say he’s lucky. That guy has worked for everything he’s got — and that’s good to see.”
Redshirt freshman safety Dillon Lukehart has picked up more snaps with the defense over the past month and has emerged as another solid player in the freshman class.
He has played extensively on special teams all year.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “It’s been an honor, growing up watching the Broncos and dreaming of playing on the blue turf.”
Lukehart plays the strong safety position, where Jeremy Ioane starts. Lukehart moved there late last year after starting his career as a linebacker.
“It’s a great position,” he said. “I love it. … I’m settling down. I feel a lot more comfortable the second half of the season than I did the first half. I feel like I’ve come a long way mentally.”