Boise State closes practice after spike in COVID-19 cases; Broncos add two quarterbacks

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Less than 12 hours before the Boise State football team was scheduled to hold its first practice of fall training camp, the university announced it will be closed to all guests — including media — because of positive cases of COVID-19 within the athletic department.

Boise State did not specify how many players or coaches tested positive, but a spokesperson for the program said the football team is still scheduled to practice.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes, and preparing for a successful 2021-22 athletics campaign, is our primary concern,” Boise State said in a statement on Tuesday night.

During his press conference in Albertsons Stadium on Tuesday morning, Boise State football coach Andy Avalos said his team’s vaccination rate was on the rise but there’s still work to be done. He also warned that COVID-19 protocols are still likely to be in place this fall and even apologized for some of what is coming.

“The protocols and the pandemic will play a role this year in college football,” he said. “We will see that there are certain protocols and I apologize for some of those up front, but those are the things we have to do.”

Boise State officials would not comment on the team’s vaccination rate during Mountain West media days last month in Las Vegas, but it was clear that the numbers weren’t in line with many other teams in the conference. Commissioner Craig Thompson said at media days that seven of the conference’s 12 teams have vaccination rates nearing 90 percent.

The Broncos only got a couple of spring practices in last year before it was canceled because of the virus. The Mountain West then postponed the 2020 season in August before announcing it would play a shortened season, beginning in late October.

Boise State was scheduled to play eight regular-season games, but a home contest against San Jose State and a road game at UNLV were canceled because of the virus. Most of the games the Broncos played were in almost-empty stadiums, and they ended the season with a loss to San Jose State in the conference championship game.

The Broncos’ players ended what was a tough year by voting not to play in a bowl game, ending the program’s streak of 18 straight seasons with a bowl appearance.

Two QBs join the fold

Less than a day before fall training camp begins, Boise State announced it has added two quarterbacks to the roster.

Boise State released its 2021 roster on Tuesday evening, and it included quarterbacks Colton Fitzgerald and Colt Fulton — both of whom played their high school ball in California.

Fitzgerald is a three-star, pro-style quarterback from Saugus High. He originally planned to do a postgraduate year at AHOP Christian Academy in North Carolina, 247Sports reported in May, and then decided to verbally commit to Toledo in July. But he had a change of heart after earning a scholarship from the Broncos.

The 6-foot-1, 194-pound native of Santa Clarita, California, was a two-year starter at Saugus High. He stepped in after the Centurions’ starter was injured heading into the 2019 season. This spring, he led Saugus to its first Foothill League title since 2008 with three touchdown passes in the championship game.

Fitzgerald was named the Foothill League MVP in May after leading Saugus to a 5-0 record during a season that was postponed and shortened because of COVID-19. He racked up 1,185 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Fulton is also a three-star, pro-style quarterback, according to 247Sports, and the 6-4, 180-pound native of Rancho Santa Margarita also had scholarship offers from Bucknell, Yale, Northern Colorado, Florida Atlantic and San Diego. He was also considering a late offer from FCS program James Madison, according to 247Sports. He’s joining the Broncos as a walk-on.

He transferred to Santa Margarita Catholic High in 2019, and the lefty finished the season with 2,259 passing yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for another 743 yards and eight scores. The Eagles went 3-3 this spring, and Fulton threw for 1,292 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Fitzgerald and Fulton join a position group that recently lost redshirt freshman Cade Fennegan, who transferred to BYU. Junior Hank Bachmeier and redshirt senior Jack Sears are competing for the starting job this fall, and the Broncos also have former Timberline quarterback Andy Peters (walk-on) and freshman Taylen Green on the roster. Green enrolled early this year and joined the team in January.

Boise State also has a verbal commitment from American Fork quarterback Maddux Madsen. He joined the Broncos’ 2022 class after quarterback Katin Houser had a change of heart and decided to commit to Michigan State.

Boise State’s Avalos on return to normalcy after COVID-19 season: ‘We’re not there.’

Broncos add Texas Tech transfer

Boise State also quietly added a massive offensive lineman from Texas Tech to the roster this offseason.

Will Farrar is listed at 6-foot-5, 322 pounds, and the redshirt senior appeared in 10 games for the Red Raiders last season as a top backup at center and guard.

Boise State has a wealth of experience back on the offensive line this year, beginning with left tackle John Ojukwu. Starting guards Jake Stetz and Garrett Curran are both back, as is center Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez and top backup Donte Harrington, who can also play center or guard. The one spot definitely up for grabs is right tackle, where Rice transfer Uzo Osuji and redshirt sophomore Ben Dooley look like the favorites.

The Broncos added two more big walk-ons in defensive tackle Bryson Kievit (6-4, 281) and tight end Luke Voorhees (6-3, 225). Kievit earned a two-star rating from 247Sports as an offensive and defensive lineman at Sprague High in Oregon. Voorhees is a two-star athlete from Pierce High in California, where he starred at tight end and linebacker, posting 12 sacks and 10 receiving touchdowns during his career, according to MaxPreps.

The Broncos’ roster also includes a pair of local players who joined the team as walk-ons this year: former Rocky Mountain linebacker Ty Tanner and wide receiver/running back Jordan Erickson.

Erickson joined the Broncos as a safety after he racked up 1,365 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns this spring and helped the Grizzlies win a state title. Tanner joined the team as a middle linebacker after he was a first-team All Idaho selection this spring while averaging 10.7 tackles a game.

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Broncos lose veterans

Boise State’s roster release on Tuesday also included four players who decided to leave the team this summer.

Cornerbacks Jonathan Earl and Chris Mitchell have medically retired, and linebackers Andrew Faoliu and Brock Miller have left the team for personal reasons, according to a BSU spokesperson. Boise State didn’t disclose the injuries that led Earl and Mitchell to retire.

Faoliu departed without ever playing a snap for the Broncos. He announced in April that he was leaving Oregon and transferring to Boise State to join his former defensive coordinator — Broncos head coach Andy Avalos. Faoliu was a pass-rush specialist for the Ducks, and he was a welcome addition to a defensive front in search of more consistent pressure on quarterbacks.

Miller and Earl both joined the Broncos last year as transfers. Miller came from N.C. State, where he started 11 games for the Wolfpack in 2019. He only appeared in three games last season because of injuries and COVID-19.

Earl joined the Broncos after two seasons at Golden West College in California. He spent his first season in junior college as a wide receiver before moving to cornerback. He didn’t appear in any games at Boise State.

Mitchell joined the roster in 2018 and redshirted that year. He appeared in three games the following season but didn’t record any stats, and he didn’t appear in any games in 2020.

Earl and Mitchell left a position group that is in search of two new starters after Avery Williams was picked in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft and Jalen Walker decided not to join the eight super seniors who took the NCAA up on its offer of an extra year of eligibility.

The Broncos haven’t been shy about adding cornerbacks this offseason. They’ve signed three transfers: Caleb Biggers, who is a veteran of 19 starts at Bowling Green, Jared Reed, who spent the past two seasons at Utah State, and junior college transfer Jalen Neal.

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