In 2004, the Boise State Broncos put together the first perfect regular season in program history with a very young team.
A team that was pegged as inexperienced by most around the nation.
Now, that team is an experienced squad and should field nearly the same team this season, as well as in 2006.
It all started with the recruiting class of 2002.
"We knew when we came in we had a really good class. The coaches were really excited about it," junior quarterback Jared Zabransky said. Zabransky was one of two quarterbacks in that recruiting class. The other was Legedu Naanee, who is now a receiver for the Broncos.
There are 13 players from that class that are listed at the top of the preseason depth chart for the Broncos this season—including two that were walk-ons.
Senior Alex Guerrero is the lone senior from that recruiting class that came in straight from high school. He was the only true freshman to play for Boise State in 2002. He played in all 13 games that season. Senior wide receiver Jason Murray was also part of that class, but he was a transfer from Sacramento State.
But it's the rest of that class that really set the Broncos up for feasible success for the next three seasons.
Of the 22 positions on both sides of the ball, there are only five seniors listed as starters going into the first game versus Georgia on Sept. 3. There are 11 juniors, five sophomores and one freshman listed as starters.
That recruiting class in 2002 is coming into the 2005 season with some serious playing time. Eight from that class were starters for the Broncos last season—four of them earned All-WAC honors last season.
All the experience added up. There is not only great depth at most positions with the same personnel for more than just one season, there is also a feeling of understanding and confidence in each other.
"There was never a game last year where it was tight and we thought we were going to lose," Zabransky said.
The entire defensive line is filled with players from the 2002 class. Junior college transfer Dennis Ellis will fight hard for the starting position at left end, but for now Mike Dominquez is listed as the starter. Along with Dominguez on the line are Guerrero, Andrew Browning (one of the two walk-ons in 2002) and Mike G. Williams. Dominguez is the only one who did not start in 2004 for Boise State.
"Browning on the d-line is as good as anyone in the country," sophomore defensive tackle Ian Smart said.
Three other starters on defense come from the impressive class. Two were starters last season.
Defensive captain Korey Hall and cornerback Gerald Alexander were both starters in 2004. Opposite Alexander at corner is Quinton Jones, who converted from running back in the off-season, and advanced to the starting position after spring practice.
There is no questioning the maturation of Jared Zabransky. The story has been seen all over the nation what he did in his sophomore season as the starting quarterback. That playing experience is one of the leading factors of how dominating that recruiting class has become for Boise State.
Also returning as a starter on offense from that class is fullback Brad Lau. Also listed as the starter at fullback with Lau is Jon Helmandollar. Playing as a freshman last season, Helmandollar scored 14 rushing touchdowns as he took over as the feature goal line back. Both backs were in the 2002 recruiting class.
Drisan James broke out last season at wide receiver. Second on the team with 568 receiving yards, he should be the go-to receiver this season.
Another receiver from the class is former backup quarterback Legedu Naanee. Once recruited by almost every west coast team as a high school senior to play safety, LA, as he is known, came to Boise State because of the option to stay as a quarterback. Midway through last season, he made the transformation to receiver, and now is listed along with two other players as the starter opposite James.
In all, of the 59 players listed on the depth chart, 17 are from that recruiting class.
Despite the dominance of one recruiting class, there is much more to the depth and youth of the Broncos this season. Other than All-American candidate senior tackle Daryn Colledge at left tackle on the offensive line, there is no one past a sophomore on the line. Three sophomores and a freshman are slated as starters.
Both safeties for the Broncos are sophomores. Austin Smith was a part-time starter for the Broncos last season after Chris Carr was injured. Marty Tadman was just one of two true freshman to play last season. He dropped his red shirt status due to a depleted secondary and finished with 14 tackles and one interception in seven games.
"With what we did last year, and bringing back all of that, we can do even more this year. Even at Georgia, I think we can beat them," junior punter and special teams captain Kyle Stringer said. Stringer played as a true freshman in 2003, after walking on prior to the season.
The experience the young Broncos received last season is an added benefit for the program, and some are willing to say that the future looks even brighter for this young, yet experienced team.
"We always have the feeling that next year is going to be better than this year, but we're looking at it as this game, followed by the next. It's one game at a time," Smart said. "We have the senior leadership that we need, but we have the youth to go out there to play with anybody, and it's positive to know that in the next three years, we could fight for the national championship. You just never know."