And He Smiled: Jared Zabransky Goes to Georgia
In describing both the offensive versatility and unpredictability of Boise State University Quarterback Jared Zabransky, senior teammate Daryn Colledge has aptly said "Where is Zabransky going?"
Very good question indeed. Just where is "Z" going as he enters his third year with the Broncos and arguably the toughest schedule and biggest tests of his team's relatively short D-1A experience? But in order to understand the future of this second year starter, now widely acknowledged as one of the most talented signal callers in college football, we have to take a good look at the past and where he's been, the man himself and a tenacity that keeps Jared going.
It all began early on, perhaps as early as high school and maybe even before, but definitely during his freshman year as a backup to BSU star Ryan Dinwiddie. For anyone spending much time with Z, they soon notice he had this characteristic, quiet half-smile, half-smirk, most usually seen when things aren't going as planned...when there is the inevitable "bump in the road." An interception, a busted play, a missed assignment, a turnover, even a loss can be the trigger. His hair style may have changed with the seasons (from shorter brown curly, to long curly, to "yellow" short, back to shorter brownish and wavy), but the smile is always there….It's predictable and depending on the situation, pervasive. Inerasable, seemingly out of place, a bellwether to an intangible something stamped on his mind that beckoned to greatness.
Z is that rare combination of a great athlete and a quick and resourceful learner. And when he flashes that smile/smirk it translates into something that opponents, teammates, fans, and the media are slowing beginning to realize: Without saying a word he skywrites for the world to see "Thanks for the learning opportunity. You won't fool me on that one again. I know what I can do and what I can eventually be. You may have won this one, but in the end I will beat you. I will win. You will lose."
After triple sport stardom (baseball, basketball, and football) with his high school Hermiston, Oregon Bulldogs (no, not a misprint…they are also the "Bulldogs"), Zabransky reportedly made a verbal commitment to the University of Idaho to play football as a Vandal. But it was not to be. After being contacted by Boise State after a Bronco Football Camp, I can imagine him giving that determinedly shy smile... and leaving thoughts of Moscow, Idaho behind as he signed his Letter of Intent with Boise.
In understanding Z it's important to pay attention to little things. He doesn't make loud verbal statements…boasts are not part of his repertoire. But let no one question that he is a leader, a true field general, as good as the very best. When asked about leadership, he early on said, "I'm not an in-your-face guy. I try to lead by example. I feel that I'm putting all I can into a game or practice, that my teammates will respect me enough to give me the same effort."
After a freshman year of beginning to learn a very complicated offensive playbook…and watching the ascendancy of Dinwiddie almost exclusively from the sidelines…Z was ready to make a move. Going into the 2004 season BSU had only three starters returning to a two time WAC Championship team the number of questions fortunately only equaled by the volume of talent. In '03 he had rushed for 78 yards, passed for 180 more, with one TD. The race for QB came down to photo-finish between senior Mike Sanford and sophomore Zabransky, with no one on the coaching staff giving any indication of even who might be the favorite. And although looked at favorably by fans and journalists alike, many questioned if he had the experience and maturity necessary to lead the Broncos to another conference dominating and Top 20 season.
During the Spring Game of 2004, Sanford completed 9 of 12 passes for 156 yards and a TD. And while having absolutely no animosity toward his friend and senior, and somewhat struggling earlier in spring ball, Z said little…and just smiled…while completing 9 of 11 passes for 135 yards, a TD with 15 rushing yards and another score.
Fittingly, Z was the starter for the opening day blow-out against none other than his one time possible football home University of Idaho, which saw him not only pass and run almost at will, but also catch a forward pass in a crowd of Vandals!
Jared Zabransky was most assuredly here to stay.
The year moved on "brick-by-brick" to an 11-0 finish which saw him complete 192 of 298 passes for 2,728 yards and 16 touchdowns, with a 150.55 efficiency rating to lead the Western Athletic Conference. He amassed an amazing 3, 253 total yards with another 13 touchdowns on the ground, including a team record 85 yards from scrimmage TD run vs. Hawaii. Opposing players and coaches were quickly getting an unexpected and unwelcome special education by way of Z's arm and feet.
Make no mistake about it, many a time in 2004 saw Z with his smile. And although there were some nail-bitters as the season wore on to go with the blow-outs of a second in the nation Offense, he has unashamedly said, "There was never a game last year where it was tight and we were going to lose." Even in the loss to Louisville at the Liberty Bowl, he fought for a win until the very last seconds, passing into the end zone for his only interception of the game…and yes you guessed it, he walked off the field …and smiled.
Fast forward to the current preparations for the 2005 season. With limited exposure during the first scrimmage on Sunday, August 14 (he went 5 for 5 passing), it was indicative of the Zabransky mindset going into September and the showdown with the Bulldogs to spot him along the west sideline with Offensive Coordinator, QB Coach, and mentor Chris Peterson, practicing 3 and 7 step drops …again and again…for ½ hour.
To all who watch there has been a new zip on his passes this summer…No more wobbly "floaters" that sometimes plagued his efforts in '04. There is a fire in his eye and a determination in his step. He knows he is the leader looked to…and he knows what the stakes are and what is necessary to keep Boise a winner climbing ever higher onto the national stage.
"He had a great year last year," said Head Coach Dan Hawkins. "He's good and he's going to get a lot better. Coach Peterson has done an awesome job with him." Hawkins readily acknowledges that Z has grown in the position and will continue to do so. And when pressed to be more specific, he informs that this year will see Z checking off at the line as necessary and calling some of his own plays.
Asked how the Broncos look less than a month away from opening day in Athens, Jared understates and says, "I'm pleased with the way everybody's looking right now…and I feel good too…. Execution-wise I think we are a lot further ahead than we were last year…."
He is on the threshold of a year where he has already been named to the 2005 Maxwell Award Watch List, the Pre-Season WAC Offensive Player of the Year by the Sporting News, a Pre-Season Honorable Mention All-America and first-team All-WAC by Street & Smith's, First Team All-WAC by Athlon Sports, a "Player to Watch" by the prestigious Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio, ranked 30th in the Top 100 Football Players of 2005 by ESPN.com… And who knows what still awaits as far as honors and awards?
But where is Z's mind right now? What is he thinking? Which leads to the most obvious question of all: How does he feel about the match-up with Georgia on September 3?
"It's the biggest game in Boise State's existence. For us it's starting the season, at Georgia, two teams in the top 20." Z continues, "It'll kind of set the tone for the way our season's going to go."
Zabransky knows he and his teammates have to execute as never before. He knows that the UGA guys are big, fast, well coached, and also wanting to prove their worth. He acknowledges that David Shockley is a QB much like himself. And he understands few, if any, experts are picking the Broncos to win, while many are dismissing them as "WAC-only winners" who should be blown away by these SEC Bulldogs. But he's heard "impossible," "can't be done," and "don't waste your time trying" before.
And he's tired of "potato" jokes and interviews…. And questions about a small, suspect Defense…And inferences that Boise State can't compete with the "big boys."
And Jared Zabransky doesn't say much, but slowly looks up…and just quietly smiles with renewed determination…and walks away to practice.