Fresh Troops All the Time

The old adage states that football games are won in the trenches.  This year, while opponents are bringing knives to the gun fight, The Bronco Defensive Line is bringing an atomic bomb.

In this preview, we'll take a good look at what keeps offensive coordinators tossing and turning in their beds at night and we'll catch up with former defensive tackle Joe Bozikovich in a humorous and often irreverent look at the current line, how they have performed in the past, what it will take for them to continue their success, as well as a myriad of other topics.

For the first time in recent memory, the Bronco D-Line returns the entire two-deep.  This is a unit that held opponents to just 120 rushing yards per game including holding powerhouse programs Oregon and TCU, their two highest-ranked opponents, to stingy production totals of 31 and 36 yards, respectively.  The line, for the most part, was highly effective in shutting down the run game against opponents with only a few exceptions.  The line struggled against future NFL first round draft pick, Ryan Matthews of Fresno State but then again, who didn't, as he racked up over 1,800 yards during his junior campaign.  Nevada 's triple threat package of Colin Kaepernick, Luke Lippincott, and Vai Taua, all of which would record 1,000 yard seasons, also proved difficult.  Delete those games and we see a unit that held opponents to a miserly 94 rushing yards per game.

Still helmed by newly-promoted Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, the line possesses unlimited potential as it is fortified by a stable of up and coming new blood.  This immense depth gives Kwiatkowski the ability to regularly rotate in fresh groups, custom tailored to match whatever the anticipated offensive look provides.  These different packages are central to the line's success and will prove to be devastating to opposing offenses as consistent pressure is meted out with punishing consequences and maximum disruption. 

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

The interior should be so completely owned by juniors Chase Baker (6-1, 300) and Billy Winn (6-4, 290) that they will need to set up an appointment with a title company to close on it.  Baker possesses incredible core strength and the ability to power through double teams and shut down running lanes.  He racked up 37 tackles last season in addition to four tackles for loss and two sacks.  Winn brings athleticism and speed rarely seen in defensive tackles.  His ability to penetrate and disrupt the backfield is evident by the 12 ½ tackles for loss and six sacks he delivered while adding 44 tackles and Second Team All WAC honors. 

Also competing for playing time will be juniors J.P. Nisby (6-1, 314) and Chuck Hayes (6-2, 292), sophomores Michael "Bacon" Atkinson (6-0, 335) and Greg Grimes (6-0, 273), along with redshirt freshman Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (6-3, 282).  Nisby has been a beast in the weight room, recording the team's top bench press (445 lbs.) and will have opportunity to prove that he can also dominate interior linemen.  He plays with a nasty streak and this could be a breakout year for him.  Hayes returns after a season-ending injury and will be eager to show he has fully recovered.  If he can stay healthy, Hayes will be a solid contributor to a rotating unit.  Atkinson has shown real promise but nagging injuries plagued him throughout the season and hindered him from showcasing his talents.  During the fall scrimmage he proved to be more than adept at executing effective bull rushes, often times against the double team to jam up the backfield.  In a continuing theme, Grimes missed the first half of the season and played in a limited capacity the last half of the season, seeing mostly mop-up duty.  This season should see him enhancing the line's ability to rotate in fresh madmen to terrorize offenses.  Tjong-A-Tjoe has also exhibited a lot of potential and impressed many with his good hand use, speed, and stamina.  Look for him to develop into a juggernaut within the next few seasons.

 

DEFENSIVE ENDS

When the defensive end depth chart was released, reefer-smoking hippies everywhere were heard to remark, "Whoa…deep…"  Highlighted by bookend players, senior Ryan Winterswyk (6-4, 267) and junior Shea McClellin (6-3, 258), the defensive ends should be locked in a tough but friendly competition seeing who can rack up the most sacks while causing maximum damage and mayhem in the process.  For the second year in a row, the indomitable Winterswyk earned First Team All-WAC honors from a campaign that included 41 tackles and team-high totals of 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks.  Winterswyk's base strength and quickness were evidenced as opponents failed miserably at containing him as he seemingly shed them without effort.  At the other end of the D-line, Shea McClellin quietly earned a starting spot in the early part of the season, compiling 36 tackles, six tackles for loss, and three sacks.  McClellin in many ways is a carbon copy of Winterswyk in both ability and execution.  Shea had an excellent fall scrimmage in which he recorded four sacks and was adept at closing down the outside run game.

Behind Winterswyk and McClellin is a trio of equally nasty ends who will be frothing to get in the rotation.  Junior Jarrell Root (6-3, 259), freshman Kharyee Marshall (6-1, 212), and JC transfer junior Tyrone Crawford (6-4, 275) will all be vying for playing time.  Root exhibited raw talent that should greatly be refined this year.  Not cutting his ‘fro last season paid dividends for the team and it remains this season to further the good mojo and attract the ladies.  His mix of good instincts and aggressive play ensure that whenever he's on the field, he'll be a contributor.  Marshall stunned everyone last spring when he recorded the fifth-fastest 40 time on the team at 4.42, being bested only by two defensive backs and two wide receivers.  Opponents will be unused to closing speed like his but he'll need to add additional bulk to truly become an elite end.  He may be a suitable candidate for the nickel position once Winston Venable graduates.  Crawford transferred from Bakersfield College where he earned JUCO All-American honors.  Originally, Crawford was set to redshirt for this season to give him time to learn the system but an injury to Darren Koontz necessitated instating him for this season.  Crawford was impressive in the fall scrimmage and played with explosiveness.  Having an end with speed that is the size of a tackle should be enough to cause unwanted bowel movements in all but the most hearty of quarterbacks.  

A man who is all too familiar with causing unwanted bowel movements is Joe Bozikovich (2004-2008).  Despite a season-ending injury in 2005 that tore his MCL, PCL , and meniscus and broke the top of his tibia, Joe returned from rehab with a vengeance and earned the reputation of a hard-nosed behemoth that played with a mean streak.

 

John: Joe, since graduating from Boise State , you have returned to your native Oregon .  What have you been up to? 

Joe:  I'm just living the dream! Working as an admissions advisor for an online university and spending time with my family.  Fishing, camping you know, the usual stuff.

John: You were part of a defensive line that had a rotating group of starters in various year groups who saw different levels of production.   Your sophomore year saw a unit that allowed an astonishing 83 yards per game in rushing.  The effectiveness slipped the next year to 131 yards per game but improved by your senior year to 118.  What made the difference between 2007 and 2008?

Joe: In ‘07 we had great players like Nick Schlekeway and Ian Smart but we battled injuries throughout that season.   Anytime you're dealing with all these different types of players with different skill sets, it's a serious balancing act to get the right combination put together and sometimes due to injuries you might not have that right combination in place.  By ‘08, as a unit we were getting bigger and faster and more athletic and since then we've been picking up amazing recruits. There's no way we could have landed a player like Billy Winn my freshman year, but now we're getting more national recognition and with that comes bigger, faster, and stronger guys.

John: With a rotating roster on the front four, was there ever a challenge with gelling as a unit?

 Joe: We came together fairly well.  You know we'd all been through the same stuff - summer practices and fall camp, etc.  The further you get into the season, you get the communication down and eventually, as a group, you could tell where the play was going to go.  We ended up working well.

John: Shifting gears, what was your analysis of last year's D-line?  Were there any players that stood out in your mind?  

Joe: The D-Line played awesome. "Swyk" was a real leader and it was great to see him step into that role.  Baker and Winn really brought their "A" game.  These guys have improved year by year and for them to step up and play that role is huge.  They improved tremendously and every one of them brings something to the table that is unique.  The two deep was definitely two deep.  Coach Wilcox and Coach Kwiatkowski have the ability to put the right people in on the right play depending on down and distance.

John: Has there ever been a Bronco team that has had bigger expectations placed on them?

Joe: At this point every season is the biggest season they've ever had. You've got games that all mean so much like Nevada in 2006 or the Fiesta Bowl and that comes as you get that national respect.  Back in the Jr. College days they had high pressure and expectations.

John: How do the players handle those expectations and that pressure?  They're dealing with a friggin' SI Cover for crying out loud!

Joe: Pete keeps us focused, he definitely does not want us creating locker room material and the guys on this team are humble. They live for that battle, they look forward to it and for those days they are playing.

John: When you played, did you pay attention to the hype?  Read SI, watch Sports Center , visit discussion boards, etc.?

Joe: You always check ESPN but I try to steer clear of everything else.  I would do my own research of other teams but I never worried about what the media had to say.  I wanted to know how they were blocking and I could figure that out myself.

John: What's your take on guys like Mark Mays and Craig James – you never hear any credit given to the team for anything they do and they're the first to bag on anything Boise State related? 

Joe: As far as I'm concerned, let them hate us.  I don't care. 

John: How is the start of this season different from 2005 and facing Georgia ?

Joe: Now we're more groomed toward the national stage, then we were not and Georgia was completely ready for us. Additionally, the caliber of athlete we have is far more superior. The game plan never changes as far as preparation goes - you're always going to prepare for a game the same way.  This time we're ready.

John: What are the strong points of this year's D-Line?

Joe: Depth. There is tremendous depth and each one of those guys brings something different to the table.  You've got a guy like Bacon who's 4'11 but weighs over 300 pounds.  How do you block that?  You've got a defensive end like Swyk who's tearing it up and started off as a safety.  Baker is like a Mack truck with legs and Winn is so athletic - we haven't seen athleticism like him ever.  You've got Hout, if he plays any defensive end; he's got huge energy and does not stop.  JP Nisby has been doing yoga and I hear he can now touch his toes - when he got here he couldn't touch his shins.

John: What will it take for them to be successful?

Joe: They've got to keep it coming every play. And with that two deep, they'll be able to do it.  Every play is a chess match as you battle the other team.

John: You started in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl as a sophomore.  What was your mentality and mindset going into the game and what was going through your mind when you first lined up against that huge Oklahoma O-line?

Joe: That was one of the most unique experiences I've ever had in my life.  I didn't find out I was going to start until 11:00 pm , the night before. Coach K came around at bed check and I was joking around with him and saying "how many reps am I going to get tomorrow?" He then said, "You're starting."  My eyes got real big.  When we finally lined up on the field, it was the coolest feeling.  I was scared stiff but after that first pop, it all goes away.  My energy level was super high and I was so anxious to see how it was all going to go down.

John: Did you blow chunks?

Joe: Completely.

John: What attracted you to Boise State and what was your recruiting process?

Joe: BSU for me, came around pretty early, and was there but then fell off of my radar.  I ended up making a visit and Browning was my host.  I saw the type of guys they had out there and they were really cool with each other and tight.  I was really attracted to the outdoors scene.  Coach Hawk really came up big and gave me a chance.

John: What games stand out for you as the most memorable or fun?

Joe: Most memorable for me would have to be Oregon my senior year at Autzen.  On the first play, their O-Line came up and laughed at Sean Bingham and me.  We exchanged a few choice words.  It was a great feeling of satisfaction shutting them up. Nevada my senior year stands out with the triple overtime. And then Idaho at Moscow , my senior year.  We were so hyped up for that game and we had a real decent team that year.  You know everyone takes that game seriously, there's anticipation from the beginning of the season.  I mean it's the Vandals.  The night before that game, Bingham had night terrors that 3 players from Idaho were piling on him - and then he woke up and said "Let's do it!"  Anytime you play Idaho , it's on.  I don't like their fans and I don't like everything they stand for up there.

John: Is there a game that you consider your personal best?

Joe: I'd say ISU against Mitch Rudder and then New Mexico my senior year because I'd just come off of a shoulder injury.

John: Any tales of tomfoolery or shenanigans you would care to share?

Joe: In 2007, we were headed to Hawaii for our bowl game and Fresno was going to the Humanitarian Bowl to play Georgia Tech.  We had a Christmas tree that had been in the locker room for a white elephant Christmas party and so we decided to decorate it with jock straps and Boise State playing cards for them.  I never did hear how well that went over with the Bulldogs but it was fine with me because I did not care for those guys at all.  It was probably because of their center, the guy would call me Joe-Joe and it would really piss me off.   For one game, he'd really done his homework and researched my whole family.  He'd ask how they were doing by name.  That guy really got into my head.  So I'd cheap shot him and he'd say "Now come on now, Joe-Joe."  Once the game was nearing the end and we were mopping the floor with him, it was a little more fun.  Any other stories I could tell would not be suitable for a family publication.

John:  Standard answers aside, was it ever difficult to get up for a game against a team that you knew you were going to shut out?  Was there ever a tendency to look past them?

Joe: No!  Definitely, no.  Half the fun was playing in games against teams you would blow out.  You'd start off real intense but then once the game was in hand, you'd start doing stupid stuff like line stunts.  Against ISU it was so much fun.  Bingham was using dummy calls and having so much fun and then by the end of the 3rd quarter, you're done.  As a young player, you chomp at the bit for games like that because you're going to get some playing time and showcase what you can do. 

John: What was your specialty against O-linemen – rip, swim, spin, bull rush?  Are most of today's linemen pretty versatile or do they tend to excel at one or two techniques?

Joe: I usually employed the bull rush or a quick move to the inside as my first move. Everyone has their go-to first move that they like to use - it's their bread and butter.  You might use a bull rush into a rip or a bull rush into a club. Every play is like a chess match: how his set is, what type of punch he has, if you can get your timing off and work the gap, etc.

John: Against TCU in the last Fiesta Bowl it seems like Wilcox and Kwiatkowski threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Horned Frogs, especially where the ends were concerned.  It seems that you were hard pressed to find a play when a DE wasn't dropping back into coverage or lining up as a linebacker, only to drop down onto the line right before the snap.  Do you remember glimpses of this prior to that game?

Joe: I guess we saw a bit of it.  I'm watching the game and I'm only one year removed from playing in the program at that point.  After the first quarter, I had no clue what was going on and this was a system that I felt I knew pretty well.  I saw Chase Baker screaming out to the flats for a play, I think I did that like one time in my entire playing career. Wilcox and Kwiatkowski are the greatest football minds I've been around. Ever.  When you have players with all those great abilities and each one bringing a little something different to the table you're able to scheme and execute like that.

John: Virginia Tech returns a stacked and loaded offense with seven starters included RB Ryan Williams (1,655 yards, 21 TD's) and three returning linemen.  They bring a balanced attack with an experienced receiving corps as well as Tyrod Taylor who has the ability to rush.  What would your strategy against the Hokies be?

Joe: The biggest key is to stop the run and to put the helmet on the QB and rattle him.  We've got to bring the noise and drop the hammer.  When you can bring that pressure, it'll force the offense to put it in the air and our secondary will more than take care of business.

John: How much time did you spend in the weight room?  It seems that most linemen shed 40-50 pounds after they leave the game, how hard is it to maintain that type of bulk and weight?

Joe: Too much.  Probably eight plus hours a week during the summer.   You'd be doing two hours a day on top of condition and the rest of the year, you're at it four days a week.  But that's where games are won. With the way we lift and train, and with the nutritional plans we had, it was not too difficult to keep the weight on. By your senior year, you'd been living like that for 5-7 years depending if you started in on a program in high school or not.  I usually played at 280 lbs but at the Fiesta Bowl I was at 303. Now the weight is gone and my knees are good.

John: What opponents did you really respect?

Joe: I respected them all. Ultimately they were guys just like us; they had to suffer through two-a-days, through summer workouts. They did it all. I gave respect to every single person I lined up against. It's such a tough lifestyle, few make it out alive.

John: Were there any opponents that you felt that didn't respect the team or maybe underestimated you guys?

Joe: I don't know if anyone really underestimated us but as far as not having respect: Oregon for my senior year.  Fresno in 2007 at Fresno - Pat Hill had all of these commercials about how they were going to black out their stadium and black us out. It goes without saying that the DAV's have zero respect for us.

John: What stadiums stand out to you as hostile or more difficult to play in?

Joe:  Fresno was a tough crowd, literally.  In 2007 we were playing down there.  It was half-time and we were walking up their ramp to get to the locker rooms.  There was this one dude in the stands that would not shut up.  He's yelling and screaming and swearing at us a ton.  I look up at him and say, "Hey, thanks for paying $50 to come and watch us kick your ____."  The dude then throws a AA battery at me and hits me in the temple!

John: What did you do then?

Joe:  You mean after I got up off the ground?  I grabbed the battery and moved out.  I still have it to this day!

John: So did he use Duracell or Energizer?

Joe:  Neither, man.  It was one of those Costco brands like Kirkland .

John: I tell you, that's just adding insult to injury.  If you're going to bean some guy with a battery, you at least owe him the respect of hitting him with a name brand battery.  I guess it makes better financial sense, if you're doing it often, to go with a Costco brand, though.

John: How much of your success on the field can you attribute to the lunatics and idiots in the South End Zone?

Joe: Ah, the South End Zone Idiots.  The lunatics provided some of the highlights of my career.  From your guys' face paint and when I made a request for Ultimate Warrior face paint, you guys actually did it! But the Boz T-shirts you guys made were definitely the coolest things ever.  I've got one framed.   My brother-in-law says in the picture I look like Rocky after Ivan Drago beat him up!

John: Besides VaTech, who will give Boise State the most trouble this year?

Joe: Oregon State will definitely be tough. Wyoming is always a tough game. Really, every game has the potential to bring a loss because you're always getting the best shot by each team. For a lot of them, it's their biggest game of the year.  There's never a sure game.

John: Recently, there's been a little brouhaha over some comments that President Kustra made about the Vandals.  Weigh in on playing Idaho in the future.

Joe: Hey, mad respect to Bob on that one. I like where his head is on that one.  We've got one more win to erase their streak but I would like to see us keep playing them. They've got to get tired of losing sometime, huh?  It's the Vandals.  That's a big game and I'd like to see it continue.  You really get up for that game.

John: How about the MWC move?

Joe: Any opportunity to get better competition is welcomed. Membership in the PAC 12 would have been nice, but you know we didn't get from the bottom to the top overnight. With better competition the program will continue to improve.  There's nothing saying that we couldn't join the PAC at some later date.

John: So, what does the future hold for you and is there football in that future in some shape or form?  Maybe some coaching?

Joe:  The future is a mystery for me right now. I'm just trying to take it one day at a time.  As for football, I could see myself getting into coaching down the road but for now I'm just happy sitting back and getting a chance to see it from the other side of the spectrum.

John: Finally, probably the most important question to discuss – Lady GaGa.  Hot chick or really just Marilyn Manson in drag performing pop music?

Joe: Marilyn Manson.  Dude, she creeps me out.

AND SO IT BEGINS

Upon witnessing the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer – the scientific director of the Manhattan Project – quoted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, "I am become death, destroyer of worlds."

He might as well have been witnessing the emergence of the Bronco Defensive Line from the tunnel at Fed-Ex Field.


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