Boise State linebacker coach Andy Avalos is in a unique position—his problem is not in finding talented guys to put on the field, but rather to get playing time for all the talented linebackers in the unit.
Juniors Ben Weaver (6-0, 228) and Tanner Vallejo (6-1, 230), at weak linebacker and middle linebacker, respectively, have done an amazing job for Boise State.
Vallejo studies hard, prepares, and then just goes out and hits. He has great instincts and ability to read a play, then he is relentless in his pursuit. A physical player, Vallejo leads by example.
Tanner enjoyed a banner season last year, ranking fifth in the Mountain West Conference in 16.5 tackles-for-loss and leading the Bronco defense with 100 tackles, 64 of them solo. The opportunistic Tanner scored on a 31-yard fumble return at Connecticut and a 63-yard interception return vs. Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship and also gathered in three fumble recoveries. For his efforts, Vallejo earned second-team All-Mountain West honors.
Like Vallejo, Weaver has the ability to bust blocks and run to the ball, and is also good in pass coverage. Weaver broke into the Boise State starting lineup as a freshman and started 11 games for the Fiesta Bowl champion Broncos last year. Ben was third on the team with 62 tackles, and also registered 3 tackles-for-loss and 2 sacks.
With Tyler Gray (6-4, 232, Sr.) and Joey Martarano (6-3, 228, So.) there is no falloff—both could start on many teams in the country and will certainly get plenty of playing time this fall as well. Gray started seven games in 2013 and even though he only started two games last season, was fourth on the team with 61 tackles. Gray is another playmaker on the Bronco defense, responsible for seven pass breakups, two sacks, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, and two interceptions, including a key pick six of 32 yards against Nevada.
Martarano earned Defensive Scout Player of the Year honors in his redshirt season, then played in all 14 games last season. Martarano made his first collegiate start against Nevada, and finished the season with 42 tackles.
(Photo by Shelby Ransom)
Darren Lee (6-1, 229, Jr.) has become a standout on special teams for Boise State(6-1, 229, Jr.). Blair Ewers (6-0, 215) joined the Broncos this past February as a member of the 2015 class. Redshirt freshman Joe Provenzano (5-11, 204) will also be vying to work himself into the rotation. Lee had 12 tackles, 11 of them solo, last year, and carried The Hammer onto the field before the regular season game with Fresno State.
Ewers registered 32 tackles with 5 tackles-for-loss and a sack his senior season at Valley Christian High School in San Jose.
Provenzano posted 240 tackles and forced eight fumbles over his three-year high school career at Damien High School in Glendora, California. Provenzano was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player in the 2014 California Classic All-Star Game.
The coaches say that Leighton Vander Esch (6-4, 234, Fr.) has tremendous upside. For now, he will hit the field on special teams and as a reserve linebacker, but they think they have found someone special in the product from Salmon River High School in Riggins, Idaho. Vander Esch was a three-sport athlete at Salmon River, helping his team win state championships in both football and basketball in his last two years. Vander Esch averaged 29.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game his senior year on the basketball team. He was named IdahoSports.com Student-Athlete of the Year in 2014 after posting 131 tackles (85 solo), five interceptions, five fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns. Vander Esch also played quarterback and completed 60.8% of his passes (121-199) for 2,155 yards and 28 touchdowns vs. one interceptions. Vander Esch also ran 157 times for 1,565 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Drew Berger (6-1, 220) was a member of the 2015 recruiting class from Coeur d’Alene High School in Idaho. Berger was selected to play in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl after his senior season that saw him make 93 tackles, nine of them for loss, three sacks and three interceptions.
The Broncos will keep the talent flowing in future years with new recruits Will Heffner and Marquis Hendrix. Heffner helped Bishop Kelly High School in Boise to consecutive 4A state championships as a wide receiver. In his senior year, Heffner had 41 catches for 728 yards.
Hendrix, from Trinity High School in Ocala, Florida, enjoyed a stellar high school career with 376 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Hendrix also blocked three punts as a senior and two in his junior season.
Avalos has four proven stoppers to call upon this season, and he also has the luxury of great depth behind those top four. The linebacking corps is one of Boise State's strongest positions this season, and the future looks bright as well.