By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Boise State junior defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe doesn’t say much.
And he plays a position that is predominantly grunt work.
Throw in the fact that he hadn’t been made available to the media all year and his 2012 season was the epitome of quiet.
It was also successful.
Tjong-A-Tjoe received an honorable mention on the All-Mountain West team this month. He’s ninth on the team with 35 tackles and tied for sixth with 3.5 tackles for loss going into the Dec. 22 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas against Washington. He also has two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
“He’s been in the program long enough and he knows how to play the position, so every year he’s gotten better,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “This year is no different. He’s just playing with a lot of confidence. He’s a big, strong, physical guy. When he’s on his A-game, he’s pretty good.”
This has been a breakout season for Tjong-A-Tjoe, one of the Dutch players who attended high school in Boise. The Boise High grad contributed on the No. 2 defensive line in 2010, making 24 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. His 2011 campaign was decimated by a six-game NCAA suspension for benefits he received from his host family. He made 15 tackles and three TFLs in seven games.
“I’m excited to play after sitting out most of the season last year,” he said. “It was fun — a good year. It was actually fun to start and have a lot of playing time.”
He credits his teammates for helping him get through the NCAA issue last year.
“It was hard,” he said, “but my teammates loved me up and let me know they were there for me. They tried to keep my mind off it.”
A full season — he missed one game for a team-rules violation — in the starting lineup has allowed Tjong-A-Tjoe (6-foot-3, 296 pounds) to develop his game. His power always has been an asset, but now he has a better idea how to use it.
“I understand the game a little better,” he said. “I see things better. I’ve still got a lot to work on.”
Junior left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said Tjong-A-Tjoe’s power sets him apart.
“When he strikes, he’s explosive,” Leno said. “Going against him in practice is hard. I see him in games and he gives those guys even worse problems.”
Tjong-A-Tjoe changed roles last month. He moved from tackle to nose guard after senior Mike Atkinson was injured.
The nose lines up over the ball and gets double-teamed more often.
“The coach says it’s not a big difference, but I feel like it was a pretty big difference,” Tjong-A-Tjoe said. “… At nose, I have to be right on top of the ball, which makes me react a little quicker than I want to.”
His role will change again next month, when he and backup end Kharyee Marshall will be the only senior linemen on the team.
That puts the quiet Tjong-A-Tjoe in a leadership position.
“It’s weird,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m ready for it, but I’ll try. … We’ve got a lot of young guys to keep in check.”
Said Kwiatkowski: “Now that is probably a bigger challenge for him than any because he’s not the most vocal guy in that meeting room. We’re going to work on that.”
A few other quotes from the players who spoke to the media Wednesday:
CB Jamar Taylor — “We always talk about being the best but if we don’t go play our game in this bowl game and we play a horrible game then all the talk about how good our defense was will be down the drain.”
OT Charles Leno Jr. — “That’s probably the difference between (Washington) and every team we’ve played — the speed of their defense.”
RB D.J. Harper on the season — “It just shows the toughness that we’ve had. We’ve persevered through a lot of things. We didn’t have the same firepower that we were used to putting up but we were able to get the win a number of different ways. … Just to be able to come out (and win) in a variety of ways shows our team’s toughness.”
Conference USA officials will work the MAACO Bowl. Here is a complete list of bowl officiating assignments.
Forgot to post this the other day: Boise State’s Bob Gregory was named the Linebackers Coach of the Year by footballscoop.com.