Family ties and video games: Boise State finds unique ways to finish signing class

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Like any good football team on the field, a coaching staff also has to be able to adjust to negative swings off it.

That’s what happened in December during Las Vegas Bowl practices when quarterback Zach Wilson decommitted from Boise State after six months. The Broncos did not sign a passer during December’s early recruiting period, made to wait for the cherry on top of the sundae.

The Broncos sure hope the wait has a sweet reward, as they signed Bartram Trail High (Jacksonville, Fla.) quarterback Riley Smith and two other high school recruits to the 2018 class Wednesday.

“It was a good thing in the long run ... it worked out for us,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “Loved that we signed Riley Smith. He’s a guy we wouldn’t have known about if we weren’t in the situation we were in. The fit, for him coming into this program, is phenomenal.”

[Join Dave Southorn, Rachel Roberts and Chadd Cripe for a Facebook Live discussion of Boise State football and basketball at noon Thursday at Facebook.com/IdahoStatesman]

A 6-foot-5, 215-pounder, Smith wanted to be patient in his recruiting, as Boise State was forced to be. He split duties in high school with Auburn signee Joey Gatewood, a situation that suppressed his national profile but also caught coaches’ eyes.

“Most guys in his situation are going to transfer and go somewhere else. ... I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you do what everyone else does?’ ” coach Bryan Harsin said, noting that Smith wanted to play with the guys he grew up with. “The type of guy he is, to be able to do that and know his best days are ahead of him, that was an awesome opportunity for us.”

Now, Florida is hardly in Boise State’s recruiting footprint. The Broncos have pulled a few from the Sunshine State in recent years, but it certainly is not a big area of focus. So, how did he get on the radar? In a way, his dad helped.

Hill said once the December period was over, coaches looked for the top uncommitted quarterbacks and studied whether their style of play fit at Boise State. He was impressed with Smith’s size and athleticism, and after initial contact a little more than a month ago, Smith mentioned that his father attended Borah High.

“That connection made it a whole lot easier to get in and build that relationship,” Hill said.

The recruitment of all three of Wednesday’s signees were whirlwind, including Smith, who was offered Jan. 4, visited Boise two weeks later and committed Jan. 25.

That was an eternity compared to the timeline for Roswell (Ga.) High tight end Tyneil Hopper, who earned offers from Alabama and Auburn this time last year. As those schools filled that position, Hopper waited for the right opportunity. Boise State coaches said in December they wanted to sign another tight end in addition to Coeur d’Alene’s Cole Ramseyer.

Hopper grew up playing as Boise State in the now-defunct NCAA Football video game series and has long been a fan. The Broncos first initiated contact last week, convincing him to visit this past weekend.

“Coach Hill and I went on a kind of world tour. We went to Oregon, Connecticut, Georgia, Phoenix,” tight ends coach Kent Riddle said. “... We had a chance to meet him, sit down with him and his family, and it was like, ‘This is the guy.’

“We kept scrubbing everywhere for every guy we could find that hadn’t signed and felt like he was the best of the bunch. Thankfully, he wanted to be here, too.”

The third signee, offensive lineman Dallas Holliday, wanted to be at Boise State, but not before he wanted to be at Colorado State. And San Diego State. The massive 6-foot-4, 300-pound guard from Oaks Christian High in California had committed to those other Mountain West schools in recent weeks, but flipped to Boise State last week. Pac-12 schools came offering shortly after.

“He’s big, long and physical,” offensive line coach Brad Bedell said. “Program fit and everything else, he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

The trio joins 20 players the Broncos signed during the December period, four of whom are on campus — junior college transfer quarterback Jaylon Henderson and freshman linebackers DJ Schramm, Brandon Hawkins and Phillip Mills. Harsin said the need to fill fewer spots allowed coaches to truly see how the three new names fit in with the first 20, plus get a head start on the 2019 group.

“We got a chance to spend more time with those guys. ... We feel like we finished up a really strong class,” Harsin said.

NOTE: The Broncos’ class was ranked No. 56 overall by 247Sports.com, trailing only Cincinnati (47th) among Group of Five schools.

HOW IT WAS BUILT

Boise State’s recruiting staff added up the effort it took to cement the signatures of the 23 signees, not even including all the miles traveled.

?  5,000+ letters sent by coaches

?  8,908 recruits’ film evaluated

?  50,000+ texts with potential recruits

?  1,000+ phone calls with potential recruits

?  121 verbal scholarship offers made

?  37 official visits made by recruits

Boise State 2018 recruiting class Signed WednesdayQB Riley Smith, 6-5, 215, Bartram Trail High (Jacksonville, Fla.)TE Tyneil Hopper, 6-3, 230, Roswell (Ga.) HighOL Dallas Holliday, 6-4, 300, Oaks Christian High (Westlake Village, Calif.)Grayshirt; expected to sign December 2018DL Scott Matlock, 6-4, 250, Homedale HighSigned in DecemberWR Billy Bowens, 6-1, 175, Redlands (Calif.) East Valley HighWR Stefan Cobbs, 6-0, 170, Fossil Ridge High (Keller, Texas)OL Garrett Curran, 6-5, 288, Granite Hills High (El Cajon, Calif.)DE/LB Kukea Emmsley, 6-5, 230, Kapolei (Hawaii) HighNT Keeghan Freeborn, 6-1, 300, Rocky Mountain HighC Kekaniokoa Gonzalez, 6-2, 291, Mater Dei High (Santa Ana, Calif.) LB Brandon Hawkins, 6-3, 210, Georgetown (Texas) HighQB Jaylon Henderson, 6-2, 210, Trinity Valley CC (Kingwood, Texas)WR John Hightower, 6-3, 175, Hinds CC (Landover, Md.)NT Scale Igiehon, 6-3, 334, Del Valle (Texas) HighCB Tyric LeBeauf, 6-2, 178, Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic HighLB Phillip Mills, 6-3, 224, Paloma Valley High (Menifee, Calif.)DB Chris Mitchell, 6-1, 190, Mission Viejo (Calif.) HighTE Cole Ramseyer, 6-4, 216, Coeur d’Alene HighLB DJ Schramm, 6-2, 224, Clovis West High (Fresno, Calif.)WR Khalil Shakir, 6-0, 180, Vista Murrieta (Calif.) HighRB Danny Smith, 6-0, 210, Oxnard (Calif.) HighWR Cameron Thomas, 6-4, 205, Westwood High (Austin, Texas)RB Andrew VanBuren, 6-1, 215, Chaminade Prep (West Hills, Calif.)STUD Demitri Washington, 6-5, 245, Santa Fe Christian High (Solana Beach, Calif.)

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