By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
LAS VEGAS — I met with Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the two-time Fiesta Bowl champion defensive coordinator at Boise State (2006-09), on Wednesday morning for a story that will appear tomorrow.
Here are some highlights from an interesting conversation:
On facing his friends: “I’ve done that before so it’s really not that big of a deal and at the end of the day it’s not about that, it’s about the University of Washington vs. Boise State. I’ll keep it like that. … It’s a little unique, but it happens in our profession. I can look past those things and prepare like I always do. … You have a lot of history with people and good friends. During the game, we’ll be going at it, but it’s really not that hard to separate — not as hard as people might think.”
On whether either side gets an advantage: “We used to scrimmage all the time and they’d score points on (the defense) all the time in scrimmages and in practice. It wasn’t an advantage then. How’s it an advantage now?”
Just a note: He usually goes fishing with Boise State defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski in the offseason. Last year, they went to Montana. He also might car pool with Boise State special teams coach Scott Huff to Arizona for Christmas after the game.
On trading ideas with Kwiatkowski: “Pete’s such a mellow guy, but he’s really smart, so I like to pick his brain. We share ideas or maybe something new that the offenses are doing these days. … We probably won’t talk a lot about football for the next nine months and then after that we’ll do it again.”
On Washington coach Steve Sarkisian: “The chance to come back to the West Coast and work for Coach Sark, who’s an unbelievable guy, was something I really wanted to do. … Working for him has been awesome. He’s very similar to Coach Petersen in a lot of ways. They’re both really smart, positive, high energy. … I see a lot of similarities just in our meetings and the atmosphere. Our players like being around.”
He said he had no regrets about leaving Boise State for Tennessee in 2010: “What I know now compared to what I knew then, it’s not even close. I still feel that way. I feel that way today compared to a year ago. I hope to continue to feel that way because then it means I’m learning. I think that’s the most important thing. And I know in our business it’s results-oriented — it’s winning and losing — but at the end of it if you know you’re doing things the right way and you’re trying to improve on what you’re doing, that’s all you can shoot for.”
He said he wouldn’t rule out coaching in the SEC again: “There’s great people down there. It’s different living in the South. You are who you are. I grew up in Junction City, Ore. That’s a long way from the South. I wouldn’t trade it for anything because I learned a lot and met some great people along the way and that’s what this whole thing is about. And in this day and age, you’re going to move in college football. For what Coach Petersen has been able to do there and even the people before him, Coach Hawk and Coach Koetter, it’s a really unique place. I always felt like we appreciated it. We talk about it all the time — (Bryan Harsin, Brent Pease, Sean Kugler), it’s really a special place and we were fortunate to be there. And we even knew that at the time. When you leave, you see it’s one of those outlier places where everything is done right. It’s pretty special.”
On why he left: “Just learning. And I learned there, but you prepare for the same offenses every year. You’re kind of into who you are. At some point, you start to flatten out in terms of your growth and that’s not a bad thing because you’re always looking to get better, but sometimes you have to say I’m going to go jump in the cold tub and go for it. And that’s what it was. There’s no doubt it forces you to learn different ways of doing things, not that you’re looking to change how you’re doing things, but you open yourself up to doing that. … I’ve still got a lot to learn. I always will. I’ll always feel that way. That’s kind of what the yearning was.”
On losing more the last three years: “If you let it eat at you over and over and over, it’s really emotionally exhausting. … You look in the mirror after some tough seasons and you’re like, ‘God, I look bad. This looks bad right now.’ Each week you just come back with the best you’ve got and that’s the only way to do it.”
On whether he has a goal to become a head coach: “I’ve never thought about it that way. I don’t know if I ever will. For me, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to coach at the places I’ve coached at and be with the people I’ve been with. It hasn’t all been easy. It’s continually trying to get better at what I’m doing. If that means at some point that comes up, great. … My goal is to be a better coach today than I was yesterday. If I do that, then I can sleep at night.”
On what he learned from Petersen: “He taught me a lot. He’s just got such a good way about him that he empowers people to do their job, and that’s probably the No. 1 thing. If you empower people to do their job and everything is important, self-starting, motivated people are going to do whatever they can to get it right. He creates that environment. So whether you’re on the custodial staff or the GA in charge of the copy machine or you’re the offensive or defensive coordinator, everybody is important and empowered to do their job and you know what the standard is and you want to do a good job, being a part of that. That’s very similar to how Coach Sark is. Not everybody is like that.”
Boise State held its first Las Vegas practice Wednesday outside Sam Boyd Stadium. It was bright and sunny — but also cold and windy.
Players say they’re starting to get that game-week feeling.
“Our coaches did a really good job of keeping us in that mindset,” sophomore nickel Corey Bell said. “We didn’t practice as often but when we were practicing it was good energy. There was music playing. They had some fun stuff, some competitions during practice. And then it comes down to the leadership on this team, the older guys telling us that we need to step it back up and get serious again, this is the last week of preparation we’ve got together.”
A few other quotes from players who spoke to the media Wednesday (more in tomorrow’s blog post):
Darian Thompson, freshman safety: “It’s been a little bit different having this big break. … Getting closer to it, you can feel the energy rising and everybody doing what they need to do to be there. … Playing another big school, a Pac-12 school, we don’t get a chance to do it very often. People always look down on us. We’re just going to go out there and play Bronco football.”
Bell: “It’s fun the stuff we do as a group. This year, we’re going to get to see Blue Man Group and get to do stuff at the Fremont Street Experience.”
Bell on motivation: “It just comes down to what our program stands for and what Coach Pete has put in us from day one, to finish everything and everything matters. When you have the attitude that everything matters, you’re not going to go into a game thinking anything less — especially it’s another opportunity to go out there and try to prove ourselves against a different conference again.”
Matt Miller, sophomore wide receiver: “After having so much time off, we’re kind of ready to play again. Practices are really competitive. You want to get that game situation. I think everyone is pretty eager to get playing Saturday. … It’s a big game for our university, playing against a quality team like Washington, a good, quality conference like the Pac-12. It’s another game where we go out there with a chip on our shoulder and want to prove to the country we’re a pretty decent team.”
Kirby Moore, junior wide receiver: He broke a thumb against Wyoming and was unable to block in the final four games of the regular season. His cast is off for the bowl. “It was kind of difficult to do a lot of things,” he said. “I still can’t open a jar.”
The most decorated group on the Boise State football team this season was the offensive line, which received All-Mountain West honors for three players.
It was rare acclaim for a line that got off to a rough start but finished the season playing at a high level.
“I’m really proud of those guys,” quarterback Joe Southwick said. “We gave up under double-digit sacks — that was our goal. That’s just a testament to them setting a good pocket. It all starts with them and they definitely don’t get the credit they deserve.”
Junior center Matt Paradis made the All-Mountain West first team in his first season as a starter, junior left tackle Charles Leno Jr. made the second team in his second season as a starter and senior right tackle Brenel Myers made the second team in his first full season as a starter.
They led a group that has allowed nine sacks with a new starting quarterback and produced 4.7 yards per carry. By comparison, the Broncos allowed eight sacks and rushed for 4.5 yards per carry in 2011.
“I feel like the last month we played was the best for the offensive line and offense,” Leno said. “… We got things going.”
The linemen said they also were proud to help senior tailback D.J. Harper rush for 1,065 yards — his first 1,000-yard season.
“We started out really shaky,” Harper said. “Throughout this whole entire season, the run game has definitely improved. … I’m really impressed with those guys.”
Offensive line coach Chris Strausser, who is a tough grader of his group, called the line play this season “decent” but said he won’t truly evaluate them until the season ends.
“I’ve been really pleased with the effort the entire season,” he said. “… They’ve done a nice job just not flinching regardless of what the situation is.”
Paradis has been the top player in the group since fall camp. His consistency, smarts and humility endeared him to coaches and teammates.
“He’s an extremely hard worker,” Strausser said. “He’s one of those guys who takes care of business in everything he does, whether it’s in the classroom or the community or football. … His focus all year long has been tremendous.”
Myers was a pleasant surprise. He was considered a future star after his successful spot start in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl against TCU, but injuries derailed him the past two seasons. He underwent hip surgery in the offseason.
“(Injuries) are what have held him back,” coach Chris Petersen said. “It’s been one thing after another. We didn’t really know how that (hip) was going to turn out with him.”
Myers said he was told the surgery’s success was a “tossup.” He worked back into the competition for a starting job late in fall camp and has started all but the season opener.
On top of the injuries, he has been haunted by those high expectations throughout his career.
“As you know, the past two years haven’t been that great for me — especially last year,” he said. “Just being (All-MW) second team means a lot to me.”
A couple more quotes from the linemen:
Paradis on his play this year: “As compared to last year, playing more in control. When I was a little bit younger, I would try to make blocks just flying around. Now I play a little more in control and it works better.”
Paradis on how the O-line improved: “In the same way that the offense got better. The more time we had together, the better we worked as a unit.”
Myers on the Fiesta Bowl: “Because of that game, everybody expected so much from me. I was still learning. I was just a redshirt freshman at the time. I just happened to play really well that game. The following year, I hurt my ankle. My junior year, another injury. Everybody was expecting a lot from that one game.”
The line will be tested in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Saturday. The Washington Huskies have 25 sacks and have allowed a total of 242 rushing yards in the past three games.
There hasn’t been a breakout season from Boise State’s inexperienced, athletic bunch of receivers this season. Sophomore Matt Miller, a returning starter, leads the team with 60 catches. Junior Kirby Moore, a longtime contributor, is second with 36. And senior Chris Potter has contributed more this year, with 25.
But junior Aaron Burks (16 catches), junior Geraldo Boldewijn (13) and sophomore Dallas Burroughs (four) have not been able to find a consistent niche in the offense.
Those also are the guys who are most likely to produce explosive plays. The Broncos’ yards per catch are down this season to 11.0. That number was 14.2 in 2010, when Titus Young and Austin Pettis headlined the receiver crew.
Petersen said he isn’t sure the ball is being thrown to the young receivers enough to judge their production.
“I know Aaron’s made some really explosive, big plays that have been key for us,” he said. “Geraldo, you’d like to see the ball go his way a little more. Same with Dallas Burroughs. They’d probably say, ‘Hey, throw the ball our way a little more.’ … They’ll take another step here shortly (in spring ball).”