Before the 2014 football season began for Boise State, who knew that someone not named Matt Miller would lead the team in receiving, and that with Miller suffering a career-ending injury in the third game of the season, that the Broncos would go on to win their third Fiesta Bowl in nine seasons?
“Stepping up for a teammate” is an oft-used cliché in sports, but it undeniably explains what the Boise State receivers did last year in place of Miller. Seeing their playing time increased substantially, Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson, both recruited as defensive backs before switching to the offensive side of the ball, made the most of it. Sperbeck had 45 catches for 798 yards and three touchdowns, including 12 receptions for 199 yards in the Fiesta Bowl, while Anderson had 16 catches for 394 yards and two TD’s, including three grabs for 80 yards in the Fiesta Bowl.
Sperbeck was the man called upon to replace Miller when he went down in late September. He possesses great hands and athletic ability, and can be counted upon to move the chains.
Anderson was the deep threat in the Bronco attack last fall. Six catches accounted for 65 percent of Anderson’s receiving yards last year, and Chaz is working on becoming a complete package for the Broncos, utilizing his speed to create separation on his routes.
Shane Williams-Rhodes is one of the most talented players on the Bronco roster, and ever since he arrived in Boise, coaches have featured SWR in a variety of ways. Williams-Rhodes gained 179 yards on 15 rushing attempts on the flanker reverse last year.
Williams-Rhodes, who weighed in at 156 pounds for the Fiesta Bowl, set a goal of playing at 170, and he’s up to 168. It will give the diminutive Williams-Rhodes the ability to break tackles and reportedly, he hasn’t lost any speed with the change.
Other than the three returning starters, however, the only wideout with a catch last year was Troy Ware (12 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown). But Ware was injured in the spring and will miss his senior season, opting instead to get himself ready for the National Football League Draft.
However, receivers coach Junior Adams believes he has a deep unit, with several players ready to contribute. A.J. Richardson, a physical receiver at 6-0, 205, was one of the stars of the spring. Richardson was a Semper Fidelis All-American at Narbonne High School in Lomita, California. A.J. helped the Gauchos win back-to-back CIF Los Angeles City Division I Championships in 2011 and 2012. In his senior year, he caught 60 passes for 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed 22 times for 121 yards and four touchdowns. In 2011, Richardson caught 63 passes for 947 yards and nine touchdowns, and rushed 21 times for 355 yards and a score. The consistent Richardson caught 60 passes for 700 yards and 7 scores as a sophomore.
(Video by Shelby Ransom)
Sperbeck talked about the next wave of Bronco wide receivers.
D.J. Dean tore his ACL in 2013, and played in four games on special teams last season. He went through limited duty in the spring, but reportedly has bounced back and did well in player-run practices in the summer. Dean, a 6-1, 197-pound sophomore, was the 5A Southern Idaho Conference Player of the Year at Eagle High School. Dean earned All-State honors at defensive back, and caught 56 passes for 801 yards and 5 touchdowns as a receiver. Dean also played quarterback at Eagle before Tanner Mangum (now with BYU) transferred over.
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Austin Cottrell and Junior Taylor Pope (6-0, 183) are others who have impressed and are ready to make a move for more playing time. Cottrell, a 6-2, 206-pound sophomore who transferred from Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, signed with the Broncos last May. A graduate of Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Cottrell had 12 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown last season for Scottsdale and fills a need for a big-bodied receiver with the loss of Ware. Cottrell, who went to the same high school as Bronco safety Brandon Brown (Sandra Day O’Connor in Phoenix), makes excellent cuts and has good hands.
Pope, a converted quarterback from La Quinta High School in California, caught one pass as a freshman before suffering a season-ending injury against Wyoming, and played mostly on special teams last season. With four catches for 33 yards in the fall scrimmage, Pope is ready to go.
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Rick Smith, a 5-9, 178-pound junior transfer from Arizona State, earned Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year honors while redshirting last season for Boise State. Smith started nine games for the Sun Devils in 2013, with 32 receptions for 276 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and had seven carries for 78 yards. Smith is a big-time receiver with the ability to cut on a dime and gets outstanding yards after the catch.
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Sean Modster (4 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown in the spring game) and Terrell Johnson (3 catches for 16 yards and a touchdown) both have had good fall camps, as evidenced by their performances in the scrimmage. Modster is a promising 5-11, 187-pound prospect from Mission Viejo High School in California. In his last two seasons at Mission Viejo, Modster had 82 receptions for 1,718 yards and 25 touchdowns. Johnson, a 5-9, 173-pound junior college transfer from Saddleback JC in Arizona, appeared in three games last year but did not record a catch.
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Brock Barr (6-3, 202), a junior college transfer from Shasta College in California, earned honorable mention all-league honors after grabbing 42 passes for 780 yards and six touchdowns. David McKenzie (6-0, 173, So.), from Princeton High School in Frisco, Texas, hauled in 100 passes his last two seasons for 1,700 yards and 16 scores.
Incoming freshmen Akilian Butler (5-10, 175) and Bryan Jefferson (5-11, 188) were recruited to add more speed to the position. Butler scored touchdowns on 12 of his 48 catches as a senior at West Mesquite High School in Dallas, while Jefferson averaged nearly 20 yards a catch at Leesburg High School in Florida.
Although many casual fans and people outside the program are only aware of the top three Bronco receievers, Boise State coaches and players to a man say that there is great depth and that the position will be fine. Players that have been largely in the background to this point will make their presence known soon enough.
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