Tailback U

The Broncos have had a strong stable of running backs in their storied history. Join me as we dive into the past to explore some of this history. We begin with the birth of the modern day football program in 1968.

Halfback Larry Smith and 220-pound fullback Abe Brown were a dynamic duo in '68 and ‘69 for Boise State. Smith rushed for 1,199 yards (5.1 per carry) and 10 touchdowns, while Brown added 1,189 and 19 TD's. The backfield pair helped Coach Tony Knap's team to a 17-3 record those two years, and the powerful BJC offense hit the 40-point mark 10 times during that span.

Cary Hoshaw carried the bulk of the rushing load the next two seasons, gaining 877 yards rushing with 7 TD's and proving to be a capable receiver coming out of the backfield as well.

These three paved the way for the first standout running back at Boise State, John Smith. While Smith starred at running back, the Broncos were 29-7-1, including a 53-10 pounding of South Dakota State in the Division II playoffs. Boise State bowed out the following week to none other than Louisiana Tech in the first great game of that rivalry, as the Bulldogs' future NFL receiver Roger Carr slipped free for a short touchdown with seconds remaining. John gained 1,623 yards in his Boise State career, good for 10th place all-time, and 18 touchdowns (9th).

That doesn't tell Smith's story, however. His explosive running complemented the high-octane passing of Jim McMillan, and John owns 5 of the top 15 yards per carry performances in BSU history. Smith's 1623 yards gained were on just 260 carries; his 6.2 career average per carry may never be touched. Not only that, but Smith's receiving ability and speed enabled him to also score 24 touchdowns catching the football! That's another running back record that will be difficult to break, and puts Smith 4th all-time in scoring with 252 points. John scored on no less than 4 passes of 80 yards or more! Smith's high game was a 177-yard effort against Nevada in 1975, the year he was selected to the Kodak All-America team as well as the All-Big Sky squad. Smith was drafted in the 3rd round by the Dallas Cowboys.

The Broncos incredible transition from junior college to ranking as one of the top 15 I-A teams in the country was just beginning, and perhaps Cedric Minter could see that happening. The Borah High star decided to stay in Boise and play for the Broncos. And Bronco fans couldn't have been happier. Despite sharing playing time with Terry Zahner and playing in the best backfield in Boise State history (QB Joe Aliotti, Minter, Zahner and FB David Hughes were known as Boise State's "Four Horsemen"), Minter owns most of the rushing records in the books.

Minter's totals are astounding—4,475 yards rushing (1,978 achieved, appropriately enough in 1978 alone), including a 5.95 per carry average, best single game performance (261 against Northern Michigan in 1978), rushing attempts in a game (38) and season (258), an amazing 20 career 100-yard games and 4 200-yard games. Minter is the only Boise State running back to have 3 1,000 yard seasons. His 37 career rushing touchdowns were tops until broken by Brock Forsey this past season. Minter owns 5 of the top 15 rushing performances in Boise State history, which speaks volumes. With his breakaway speed, Minter was also a top-notch receiver and forever a threat to score on a screen pass (2 of the longest-ever runs from scrimmage were by Cedric, a 77-yard gallop against Northern Michigan in 1978 and a 69-yard burst against Idaho State in 1979. The versatile Minter became a great blocker while at Boise State—his flattening of a would-be sacker in the national championship game was one of its highlights. He earned 3rd team AP All-America in 1978, Honorable Mention in '78 and 2nd team in ‘80 and All-Big Sky from 1978-80. Cedric was all class with an honorable attitude—he once said, "The thing I've always wanted for my parents is for them to never read anything about me that wasn't positive."

Minter was drafted by the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in the first round, where he starred, leading the Argonauts to the Grey Cup championship, scoring the winning touchdowns in both the semi-final game and the Grey Cup itself (with 27 seconds remaining to seal the victory!). Minter's success in the CFL led to a stint with the New York Jets, where he started as running back and was a top kickoff returner. Today, the great Boise State Hall of Famer teaches at Borah, his former high school.

Cedric's running mate was the quick yet powerful Terry Zahner, recruited the same year. Zahner started his freshman year, and gained 205 in a great game against Northern Arizona. Zahner racked 2,052 rushing yards in his brilliant career, ranking him 6th in Boise State history, his 21 touchdowns places him 5th, and he also accounted for 2,903 yards in total offense (7th all-time). His ability earned him Honorable Mention AP All-America and All-Big Sky as a freshman in 1977 and 2nd Team All-Big Sky in 1980 despite being a backup. Terry was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.

With two backs as great as Minter and Zahner, how does a fullback also recruited the same year rush for 1,826 yards in his career? David Hughes was simply the best FB to ever play the position at Boise State. Hughes defined what being a Bronco was all about. He accepted his role with glee, and took great pride in blocking for the two super tailbacks. Hughes was one of the best blocking backs at any level, punishing defenders in his backfield, and a great receiver out of the backfield. When he was called upon to carry the pigskin, he did it with straight-ahead reckless abandon, as evidenced by the 5.2 career yards per carry average. His crunch and run technique was famous. Hughes earned AP Honorable Mention and All-Big Sky honors in 1978 and 2nd team All-Big Sky in 1979 and 1980. The Hawaiian holds the record of being the highest drafted Bronco, going to the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the 1981 NFL draft. Hughes was a star for the Seahawks from 1981-85, leading them to within one game of the Super Bowl in 1983. He was one of the top ten receivers in the AFC midway through the 1981 season, and finished with 1,118 yards rushing, 106 catches for 856 yards, and 7 touchdowns. After hanging up his cleats in Seattle, Hughes stayed in the area, owning a successful landscaping business.

By the way, Minter, Zahner and Hughes rang up a 36-10 record in their four-year careers. Let's see any current or future Broncos match that! This year's seniors, by the way, would have to go 13-1 to top it.

With the graduation of these three superstars (Shouldn't Zahner be in the Bronco Hall of Fame?), most teams would be scrambling for a running back. Not so—enter Rodney "The Rocket" Webster. All Webster did was squirt through the line for 3,034 yards, 4th on the all-time list. It's evident that the Broncos had an incredible line during this stretch and hopefully we can give them their just due in lineman polls later. While Coach Jim Criner had plenty of options prior to 1981, Webster was the workhorse while at Boise State—he carried the ball 30 or more times 3 separate games in his career, and rushed for 100 yards 12 times. His 3,665 all-purpose yards are good for 5th in BSU history. Rodney's 12 rushing touchdowns stands in 1981 stands 4th all-time; he totaled 20 for his career. Webster's top rushing performance netted 178 against Weber State in 1981, but his most important was going 25 for 156 against Jackson State to earn Boise State a berth in the I-AA semi-finals. The Rocket was selected to the AP All-America 2nd team in 1981 and All-Big Sky in '81 and ‘83.

No matter how Boise State teams have done, the Broncos have always been able to run the ball, and the fine tradition kept on trucking with Jon Francis, BSU's tailback in 1984 and 1985. Francis carried on, busting through opponents for 2,172 career yards, 6th despite only playing for two years. Francis scored 18 touchdowns during that two-year span, and had an amazing 12 100-yard games. Another year at his pace would have ranked him 4th in both rushing yards and touchdowns. Jon was honored All-Big Sky in 1984 and was drafted by the New York Giants.

Chris Jackson followed, gaining 1,273 yards in 1987, including 179 against Delaware State that year. He held the all-time Bronco record for touchdowns in a season with 16 until Forsey completely shattered it in 2002. Jackson was selected to the All-America 2nd team by The Sports Network and Honorable Mention by the AP.

Another Bronco great at tailback took over for Jackson, the incredible Chris Thomas. While never cracking the 1,000 yard barrier, Thomas was Mr. Consistency, enjoying four nearly identical seasons. He finished with 3,437 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns, behind only Minter and Forsey, and 8th in the history of the Big Sky Conference. The dependable Thomas was the go-to guy in the Bronco offense—he still holds the all-time rushing attempts record with 810. Thomas went over the century mark 13 times in his career, and cracked the 200-yard mark against Weber State in 1988. His efforts earned him three consecutive All-Big Sky honors from 1989-91.

Also playing during this time was fullback Bart Hull, the son of hockey great Bobby Hull. Hull played for the Broncos from 1988-90 and was drafted in the 1st round by the British Columbia Lions of the CFL.

Willie Bowens handled the rushing duties in 1993—his highlight was a 211-yard game against Northeastern.

We sometimes need to remind ourselves that the number one priority in college is academic performance, and it tragically cut short the career of one of Boise State's top running backs, the elusive K.C. Adams. The JC transfer ran for 1,275 yards in 1994 (including 7 100-yard games!), the 3rd best single season performance, and Adams' potential seemed limitless, including perhaps an NFL career. However, he did not get the grades necessary to continue his senior year. K.C. averaged 5.35 yards per carry—his combination of speed and incredible moves was a joy to watch. His total of 1,981 yards all-purpose offense is the all-time record for a single season. He had 4 games over 200 +, as many as Minter had his entire career. His 14 combined touchdowns ranks Adams 6th. K.C. had 2 games of 172 yards his one year for the Broncos, one against Northern Arizona that was helped by a 80-yard touchdown run, the longest ever at Boise State. He is probably best known for his unbelievable punt return against Cal State Northridge, when he danced around and broke through every defender at least once for an all-time highlight touchdown of 79 yards. Adams (#13) said no way to #13 by Idaho—he was largely responsible for ending that statistical anomaly, and was selected to the AP All-America 2nd team for All-Purpose Back and All-Big Sky unit in 1994.

The I-AA days were great, but there were even better things ahead. Eron Hurley led the Bronco transition into the Big West Conference and Division I-A football for the first time, gaining 1,142 yards rushing in 1998, his senior year. The signature performance that year was an incredible 254-yard game against Idaho, the 2nd best single game performance ever. Hurley totaled 1697 to rank 9th on the Boise State list.

It had been 19 years since a local product had starred at running back for Boise State and Brock Forsey felt that had been long enough. The walk-on from the Centennial High School Patriots got his big opportunity in the 1999 Humanitarian Bowl against Louisville, when Coach Kirk Koetter inserted the eager Forsey into the lineup. Brock rewarded the coach, the team and the city of Boise with one of the most outstanding single-game performances in Boise State history. Forsey ran through the line, around the end, caught passes and returned kickoffs to the tune of 269 yards against the stunned Cardinals to help Boise State win its first-ever I-A bowl game. Everyone who saw that game knew Forsey was going to be something special. Sacrificing his body on nearly every run, Forsey nonetheless never missed a game in his career. When Brock's incredible four-year career ended in 2002, he became only the second Boise State running back to top 4,000 for his career (4,046). He challenged and in some cases beat some of Minter's marks that had stood since 1980. The tough, dependable Forsey, one of the best ever at reading his blocks, crossed the goal line a staggering 56 times on the ground (68 total) in his brilliant career, beating Minter's records of 37 and 43 as if were easy. It almost was, thanks to the incredible Bronco offensive line. Forsey's 32 touchdowns in 2002 ranks 3rd in the history of college football.

If you look up the phrase, "all-purpose offense", Brock Forsey has to be found in the definition and a picture of the likeable local star is there as well. His multiple abilities shine the brightest in this category—Brock has 7 of the top 15 performances in the 35-year history of the modern Boise State records, and 3 of the top 4 seasons. In all, Forsey amassed 6,670 yards of all-purpose offense, including 2,127 in 2002, two more records he holds over Minter. He gained over 200 yards 7 times, twice as many games as any other Bronco. His 192 points in 2002 shattered the existing season record just as Forsey shattered opponents' hopes of tackling him. Forsey also scored 18 100-yard rushing games, and 2 200-yard games. Brock was selected to the All-WAC team in both 2001 and 2002; the latter year he was also honored as Offensive MVP. Whichever NFL team is intelligent enough to draft Forsey will be extremely lucky—it is difficult to not see him as a legitimate NFL star.

David Mikell is poised for a banner year in 2003, as the talented Mikell combines speed with the ability to break tackles. All Mikell did was rush for 606 yards and 8 touchdowns while sharing time with Forsey in 2002.

USC for years was known for providing great runners. With a long history of outstanding running backs itself (Smith, Minter, Zahner, Francis, Webster, Thomas, Forsey), Boise State (with 4 NFL draftees and counting) is quietly building their own reputation as "Tailback U".

Special thanks to Mr. Tom Scott for providing statistics.
Photos courtesy of The Idaho Statesman

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