‘They keep the wheels on this bus moving.’ Meet the women of Boise State football

McKenna Drevno arrives at the Bleymaier Football Complex before the sun is up.

It is 5:30 a.m., and the Boise State assistant athletic trainer has lots of work to do before the football team begins practice at 9 a.m.

There’s an hourlong taping session at 6 a.m. There are treatments to administer and rehab activities to direct.

“In my role, it’s different because the guys are hurt. They’re at their lowest of lows,” Drevno said. “And sometimes, yes, it’s nice to have a coach be there and stuff, but I’ve had guys just open up to me randomly. I don’t know if it’s just like a girl’s perspective or that motherlyness type of thing, but I sometimes just have a deeper connection with athletes.”

Drevno is one of more than a dozen women working behind the scenes to keep the Boise State football family operating at full tilt. While their names are not familiar to the general public, they are known to everyone inside the Broncos’ circle.

“Their roles affect the success and the everyday operation,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “A lot of times, you know, (Associate Director of Football) Brooke (Pahukoa), (Football Operations Graduate Assistant) Sophie (Warda), the women in our training room, the women in our film department, the women in our equipment department, they help keep the wheels on this bus moving.

“They’re a huge part of our family here, and we’re just very grateful for the time commitment they put in and their dedication, and what they bring to the program.”

The Idaho Statesman sat down with several of the women to learn more about their roles with the Broncos.

THE ASSISTANT ATHLETIC TRAINER

Drevno has been around football all her life. Her father, Tim Drevno, is the offensive line coach at UCLA.

“I grew up going to football games every Saturday,” McKenna Drevno said. “It was cool because as a young girl, your dad is in the office all day long, so being able to see what he does all week on a Saturday was the best, and getting to wear my little cheerleading outfit, too, was always fun. But that’s how I got into it. I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field and then I found out what athletic training was, put the two together, and here we are.”

Drevno said she knows every player by name and takes the time to get to know them as individuals. She helps make a difficult time in an athlete’s life more palatable.

“I try to say hi to everybody,” Drevno said. “If they’re walking in I’m like: ‘Hey so and so. How are you? Good morning guys.’ Or I give them a high-five or something. Normally everybody I try to interact with.”

Drevno is on the sideline for games and is an essential part of practice and game-day prep. If a player gets injured, she’s the one running onto the field.

“You act as one big family, no matter what department you work in,” she said. “Even as a young girl I remember one time I hit my head and was brought down to the athletic training room and met the athletic trainers. I knew the equipment staff wherever my dad was at. All of the behind-the-scenes people we always knew, and so I knew I wanted to do something within that realm.”

McKenna Drevno is the assistant athletic trainer for the Boise State football team.
McKenna Drevno is the assistant athletic trainer for the Boise State football team.

THE GRADUATE ASSISTANT OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS

It’s Sophie Warda’s job to take care of all the details.

It’s the things most people don’t think about — hotels, buses, planes, food. They’re all reliably there without a second thought because of Warda and her boss, Joel Schneider, the director of football.

For away games, Warda is known as the Broncos’ “advancement person.” She travels the day before to make sure everything runs smoothly. Hotels are stocked with food for the players and transportation is arranged.

“When they arrive, I’m there with the buses and the rental cars and handing out forms and car keys,” Warda said. “I’m making sure their landing is smooth, and when we arrive at check in at the hotel, it’s smooth, and our meeting rooms and roommates and all that fun stuff. I work with the other school to make sure the stadium is set with our needs, our sideline, police escort, postgame meal, locker room adjustments, stuff like that.”

Warda received her undergraduate degree in communications and psychology from UC Davis. She is now working toward her master’s in athletic leadership at Boise State.

Warda medically retired from playing soccer because of concussions and said she knew she wanted to be around athletics. She began an internship with the UC Davis football team in 2017 and joined the Boise State staff last summer.

“I feel like it’s my job as a woman in sports to help progress it,” Warda said. “If I’m not doing that, then I really feel like I’m failing everyone who I’ve worked with and met.”

Sophie Warda is the graduate assistant of football operations for Boise State. She helps coordinate every associated with team travel.
Sophie Warda is the graduate assistant of football operations for Boise State. She helps coordinate every associated with team travel.

THE EQUIPMENT MANAGER

The washer and dryer used to clean Boise State’s football uniforms? “They’re huge,” sophomore Jeneil Serrano said.

How big?

Serrano can fit inside them.

As one of the student equipment managers for the team — she’s specifically in charge of the running backs’ gear — Serrano has to do a lot of laundry.

“We have laundry shifts,” she said.

Serrano helps set up any and all equipment for practices and games. She pulls out the sleds, square bags and, of course, the footballs. She also arranges the equipment necessary for individual drills, with specific instructions handed down from coaches.

On game days, she assists with locker room setup, neatly laying out players’ helmets, uniforms and cleats.

Serrano, a Las Vegas native, was the team manager for her high school football team, and she joined the Broncos’ equipment staff her freshman year.

“I, honestly, am so thankful for it. I love football,” Serrano said. “One day I want to go up in a higher position, like with recruiting, maybe, or I’m majoring in nursing, so maybe being like an athletic trainer.”

THE DIRECTOR OF SPORTS NUTRITION

As she walks along the main hallway inside the Bleymaier Football Center, Sam Wade greets players by name as they pass, and coaches stop to say hello.

Wade, Boise State’s director of sports nutrition, is popular for good reason.

She’s in charge of what the players eat on a daily basis. She stocks an expansive snack bar adjacent to the weight room and plans meals for game day.

But her job isn’t just about food.

“One of the many things I’ve been trying to focus on is doing a lot with bloodwork testing,” said Wade, a former Penn State softball player. “So looking into athletes, testing their iron — or ferritin levels — testing vitamin D levels and seeing if they’re deficient in any area.”

If athletes are deficient, Wade provides them with a supplement and also explains where they can get that specific vitamin from foods.

Athletes can come to her to learn more about safe supplements, weight gain, weight loss, eating disorders and even meal prep.

“It’s important for them to know why they’re getting those meals,” Wade said. “So I really try and empower the student-athletes to know the why behind what we’re doing. So that way, if I’m not there one day, they’re not feeling lost. ... I want them to feel empowered that they can go make choices out at a restaurant or at home or wherever it may be.”

Wade also performs hydration testing two days before games so that players know their hydration level and can increase or maintain their current intake.

“Hydration is one of the No. 1 causes of early onset fatigue for athletes,” Wade said. “And that’s one of the most controllable things that they can do for themselves, is making sure that they’re drinking enough water.”

Brooke Pahukoa, a former Boise State women’s basketball player, is the associate director of the football program.
Brooke Pahukoa, a former Boise State women’s basketball player, is the associate director of the football program.

THE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE FOOTBALL PROGRAM

Brooke Pahukoa wears a lot of hats.

“Often you’ll find in athletics titles don’t always show what you do,” Pahukoa said. “And that’s the beautiful part of athletics, in my opinion.”

Pahukoa still refers to herself as the assistant to the head coach, although that is not her only duty. In speaking with Pahukoa about her job, you get the sense that she’s an integral part of any and every aspect of the program.

“First and foremost, making sure that this program runs smoothly,” said Pahukoa, a former Boise State women’s basketball player. “That can mean a lot of different things — making sure our players and our staff are happy and healthy and have the resources to thrive. It comes across in different ways every day, making sure that coach Avalos has what he needs and is prepared to lead this program and, in a lot of ways, this athletic department and university.”

Pahukoa is in charge of managing Avalos’ schedule, from speaking engagements to practice time to team meetings. She’s also the liaison for the university’s academic advisers, making sure players have the resources they need to be successful.

Last week, she even popped in on each of the team’s freshmen to get updates on their classes and make sure things were going well.

From health and wellness to the Bronco Life program, academics and day-to-day operations, Pahukoa is an important resource for players.

“It all, for me, comes back to the student-athlete experience and making sure that they have the best resources, and I say happy and healthy a lot, but a happy and healthy experience while they’re here,” she said.

Krystle Apellaniz was part of the officiating crew for Boise State’s 37-0 victory over New Mexico last season at Albertsons Stadium. She is one of three women officiating in the CFO West this season.
Krystle Apellaniz was part of the officiating crew for Boise State’s 37-0 victory over New Mexico last season at Albertsons Stadium. She is one of three women officiating in the CFO West this season.

AROUND THE MOUNTAIN WEST

Boise State isn’t the only Mountain West program to place women in important roles in the football program. Nine of the league’s 12 programs list at least one woman in their online staff directory.

And the CFO West employs three female officials who work games in the Mountain West, Big 12 and Southland conferences: Cat Conti, Krystal Apellaniz and Henrietta Powell.

“I think it’s very empowering,” Wade said. “Obviously, we’re not even close to having the full representation that we can have, but I think having the fans in the stands see, especially young girls and young females and just young people in general, that females can be on the field. I think it’s … exciting, because it means that the times are changing, and that means that there’s more opportunity for females in this realm.”