Shane Williams-Rhodes was the rare sort of player that Boise State football coach Chris Petersen nearly ticketed to play right away before he ever even practiced with the Broncos.
On signing day in February 2012, Petersen said “the smallest guy on our roster might be the guy that excites everybody the most. I don’t like to put pressure on any guys, but coming in we haven’t had many guys who have made the plays he can make in high school.”
The 5-foot-6, 158-pound Williams-Rhodes showed that playmaking ability right away last fall, when he had 25 catches for 142 yards and ran for 97 yards, scoring three touchdowns. Heading into his sophomore season, the Spring, Texas native is primed to make a bigger impact.
“I needed that year, I learned a lot,” Williams-Rhodes said. “I feel like I’ll do much better this year, the game will slow down a little more, and I know the offense a little better.”
After quickly earning playing time as a true freshman, Williams-Rhodes has been digesting film and the speedster thinks that his strengths will be amplified with more knowledge of the game.
“I can see now what I could have done better on a lot of plays, and it’ll slow down, so I think I’ll be a little faster out there this year,” Williams-Rhodes said.
Williams-Rhodes averaged 24.9 yards per kickoff return, and his season-long 47-yard return in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas got the Broncos inside Washington territory, setting up the game-winning field goal.
“That felt good, really good to contribute to a win,” Williams-Rhodes said. “It was another piece of the puzzle, things started to come together. I’m kind of hard on myself — I think I did pretty good returning, but I think that can be a lot better, too.”
Williams-Rhodes was off-limits to the media last fall and this past spring, as was running back Jay Ajayi. I spoke to Ajayi on Thursday. Click here for my story on the sophomore.
Quarterback Joe Southwick, along with nickel Jonathan Brown, has spearheaded the planning behind the sixth annual Bronco Football Summer Classic on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. It’s another part of the senior-to-be’s grasp on the leadership role of the Boise State offense.
“It’s belief in myself first off, that guys will follow suit, coaches have put that on me and I’ve tried to run with it,” Southwick said. “We have a great group of seniors, and that makes my job a lot easier.”
The conclusion of the 2012 season has done wonders for Southwick, who was never one to lack confidence, but has solidified his spot as a starter and has earned him the high expectations of many Boise State veteran quarterbacks that preceded him.
In the last four games of last season, Southwick was 79-of-113 for 888 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 73 of his 121 rushing yards last season in those final four games.
“Absolutely, as an offense, we built momentum and really started to figure out what worked for us — it was a long process, but it showed that the process worked,” Southwick said. “For me, it gave me a ton of confidence. I think I’m in a really good place. I know what to expect, and can’t wait to go and play again.”
Southwick and offensive tackle Charles Leno will join Petersen at the Mountain West media days in Las Vegas on July 22 and 23.
Southwick is the Bronco Football Summer Classic’s two-time defending home-run derby champion, but part of the fun of watching the event is seeing some of the Broncos who are, well, less adept at softball.
Williams-Rhodes joked that he hasn’t played on the diamond since T-ball.
“I was hoping they’ll let me pinch run or something, I’m not much of a hitter,” he said. “I’ll probably just bunt every time, but when they come in, I’ll take a big swing at it over their heads.”
Ajayi is in the same boat as Williams-Rhodes — born and raised in England (he moved to Texas in 2000), he grew up a better soccer player.
“I’m going to showcase a few skills — baserunning, for sure, I know I can run all right,” Ajayi said with a laugh. “Maybe I’ll be a power hitter. I’ve just got to get on base somehow.”
In its sixth year, the event has become a summer ritual for the Broncos, marking the twilight of the offseason, with fall camp just around the bend on Aug. 5.
“It just kind of built on itself, and to help someone else while we’re having fun and being competitive, involving the fans, it’s everything we want in one,” Southwick said.
Here’s some more info on the Bronco Football Summer Classic:
Where: Saturday at Memorial Stadium
When: Home run derby begins at 6 p.m., offense vs. defense charity game benefitting The First Tee of Idaho begins at 6:45 p.m. Post-game autograph session will take place from 8:30-9:30 p.m.
Tickets: Range from $3 (children 12 and under) to $12 (third base/home plate box seats); available for purchase at www.boisehawks.com or at the stadium box office on Saturday
On Friday, Boise State unveiled the four banners that will go outside the east side of Bronco Stadium this upcoming season. Seniors Southwick, Leno, center Matt Paradis and defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe will be featured. Here is a look at all four, courtesy of BroncoSports.com: