LAS VEGAS — The football weight room smelled in that dank way one expected of a concrete room in the basement of a football stadium.
There were scattered free weights behind a rickety door. A couple of exercise machines were available, though a strength coach was not. Still, Pete Kwiatkowski and his Boise State teammates ventured down there in 1984.
“It was like a dungeon,” Kwiatkowski said.
Stories of what Boise State’s football program was are consistent in their references to previously inferior facilities, but also on-field success and an embracing community.
The Broncos had evolved into an NCAA Division I-AA school by the time Kwiatkowski, currently Boise State’s defensive coordinator and a member of the Boise State Hall of Fame, showed up. Boise State was a junior college before moving to NCAA Division II in 1968, then I-AA in 1978, winning junior college and I-AA titles along the way. It made the leap to Division I in 1996.
After moving to the upper tier, Boise built itself up from newbie to national novelty following a stunning win in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, to the country’s most consistent winner. It has won 10-plus games for seven consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the nation. The Broncos went 112-17 (.868) during the 2000s, including undefeated seasons in 2006 and ’09, compiling two more wins than Texas and Oklahoma to lead the country.
The rapid ascent came through an influx of internal support and common philosophy.
Dirk Koetter was hired as head coach in 1998 and began to shove the rock up the mountain. He is from Pocatello, Idaho, and played at Idaho State. The locals knew him, and, importantly, believed in him. The Broncos were just 6-5 in his first season, but then won 10 games each the next two seasons as well as bowl games both seasons.
The coaches met on racquetball courts. There was still a small weight room with players using metal lockers, though progress was being made.
Koetter moved to Arizona State and one of his assistants, Dan Hawkins, took over. Hawkins had played fullback at UC Davis, then was an Aggies assistant coach from 1983-85. The quarterback at Davis in 1985 was Chris Petersen, a slight guy from Yuba City, Calif. Petersen had eventually made his way onto Oregon’s staff as the wide receivers coach when Hawkins offered him the offensive coordinator job at Boise State. He accepted.
Boise kept winning and kept building. The locker rooms were upgraded. The coaches took over former doctors’ offices and started the process of morphing the space into the football center it is today. There was no indoor practice facility. It went from idea to built in nine months in 2006.
With the Broncos the main attraction in town, youth football boomed along with the Boise State program. Everyone pulled in the same direction, which wasn’t surprising since most had a shared experience.
Petersen had coached with Koetter at Oregon. He and Hawkins had played at UC Davis. At Portland State, Petersen coached with Chris Strausser, the current Boise State associate head coach. Strausser had coached with Hawkins at Sonoma State. Current assistant coach Bob Gregory coached with Hawkins at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., before heading to Boise. The links go on with the current staff, many in their second stint in Boise.
“You’ve just got a whole bunch of guys that are really on the same page about what football’s about,” Hawkins said. “There’s no second-guessing, there’s no doubting what goes on, how it goes on and what it’s about.”
Which affects recruiting, too. Boise State would mine the most obscure local and out-of-state places for talent. The Broncos offered Korey Hall a scholarship when he was a sophomore playing in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, population 1,284. He became an all-conference linebacker and won the Super Bowl as a fullback for the 2010 Green Bay Packers.
One of his Packers teammates came out of Boise State. Daryn Colledge decided on the Broncos from North Pole, Alaska, where he lived on South Santa Claus Lane. The offensive lineman became the highest draft choice to come out of Alaska when he was picked 47th overall in 2006 by the Packers.
Helping to pluck those players for Green Bay was current Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider. He carries the mentality most in the NFL do when looking at Boise State players: you know what you are going to get.
“I think they know exactly what they’re looking for,” Schneider said. “They’ve had a program in place there now for several years, and they just keep bringing kids in and plugging them through.”
“We’re looking for a tough kid, a hard-working kid a team guy, that’s a football junkie,” Hawkins said. “Guy may not come in the same package as everybody else, but he’s successful because that’s who he is.”
Petersen, who has been attached to just about every coaching rumor at a prominent school since taking over for Hawkins in 2006, explains the success is multi-faceted. Most point to him for continuing to raise the bar the way Koetter and Hawkins did before him. He spreads the credit as the recruits have gotten a little bit taller and stronger.
“It’s not one thing,” Petersen said. “We’ve been able to hang on to some pretty good coaches and just continually progress. I think that’s the one thing in college football: Everyone puts it on the coach. The coach is either the savior or he can’t do anything, and it’s not that. There’s just so many other factors.
“We have really good support here. Then, it’s just been a lot of really hard work. It really has. I think people, even here, just take it for granted we’re going to win a lot and it’s going to work out and it’s not that easy.”
Yet, they keep making it look that way.
Countdown to the Las Vegas Bowl
Rushing yards, to lead both teams, for former Huskies quarterback Jake Locker in the only prior meeting between Boise State and Washington, the Huksies’ 24-10 win in 2007.
“The core of what they do is up front with their five offensive linemen.”
— University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian on the Boise State offense
The last time Washington went to three consecutive bowl games was following the 2000-02 seasons. After the 2000 season, the Huskies won the Rose Bowl against Purdue, 34-24. Washington then lost twice: to Texas in the 2001 Holiday Bowl, 47-43; and Purdue in the 2002 Sun Bowl, 34-24.