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The Boise State football team had four players named preseason All-Mountain West Thursday at Media Days.
Wide receiver Khalil Shakir, defensive back Kekaula Kaniho and offensive linemen John Ojukwu and Jake Stetz made the team, which was voted on by conference media members.
Shakir led the Broncos last season with 52 catches for 719 yards and six receiving touchdowns. In 2019, he led the team with 63 catches and scored 10 total touchdowns: six receiving, three rushing and one passing.
He has been racking up preseason honors, making the watch lists for the Maxwell and Biletnikoff Awards. He was named third-team All-America by Pro Football Focus and first-team all-conference by Athlon, Phil Steele and PFF.
“The preseason accolades are good to see and hear but what it comes down to is execution on the field,” Shakir told reporters on Thursday.
Shakir missed spring ball this year while recovering from offseason surgery to fix a broken foot and a hamstring injury he suffered during the Broncos’ loss to San Jose State in the Mountain West championship game. He’s healthy now, though, and Boise State football coach Andy Avalos said Wednesday that he expects him back for fall camp.
“On the field, he’s a special player — strong fast, can do it all,” Kaniho said of Shakir. “It’s great going against a guy like that every single day. Off the field, he’s a guy that keeps everybody accountable around him and stays on top of things, whether it’s in the classroom or in the community.”
On Wednesday, Boise State was picked to win the Mountain Division for the ninth year in a row. This year marks 11 straight seasons that the Broncos have been picked to win their division or a conference title.
Ojukwu has started 25 games since 2018, most of which were at right tackle before he moved to left last season to replace Ezra Cleveland, who went to the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Ojukwu and Stetz were both second-team All-Mountain West last season. This marks the fifth straight season Boise State has had at least one offensive lineman on the preseason all-conference team, and the third time in that span two Broncos have received the accolade. Ojukwu was also named first-team preseason All-Mountain West by Athlon and Stetz received the same honor from Phil Steele and Pro Football Focus.
“Those two guys are special players, and they’ve taught me a lot since I stepped on campus,” Shakir said. “The expectations are high not just for those guys but for the whole team.”
Kaniho is one of eight super seniors who took the NCAA up on its offer of an extra year of eligibility because of the impact COVID-19 had on the 2020 season. He has racked up 165 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, five interceptions, 26 pass breakups, three forced rumbles and three fumble recoveries in his career.
He also has scored a touchdown on a punt return and an interception return. He is a two-time All-Mountain West pick, including a first-team honor in 2019, and is on the Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List this year. He was also named the FBS Senior CLASS Award winner and a CoSIDA Academic All-American last season.
“He gets me better every day, not only from a player standpoint, but as a person and as a leader,” Shakir said of Kaniho.
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong — last season’s Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year — was named preseason offensive player of the year after leading the conference last fall with 2,858 passing yards and 27 touchdowns through the air.
Strong said Thursday that he’s been limited this offseason after having knee surgery about five months ago, but he expects to be ready to go by the time training camp starts. He’s also working hard to keep everything in perspective after he was mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
“It’s cool to hear because this time last year I didn’t have any of that hype at all,” Strong said, “but at the end of the day, if you want to be a first-round draft pick and an NFL quarterback, you have to win all your games.”
Strong has plenty of talented wide receivers to target again this fall, including his roommate, Romeo Doubs, who led the Mountain West last season with 58 catches for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Wolf Pack also has Tory Hunter back after he caught five touchdown passes last year as a 17-year-old freshman, and they added several transfers, including former four-star recruit Marquis Spiker, who joined the team after leaving Washington.
Nevada finished second in the conference last fall with 319.1 passing yards a game, and with so many reliable targets back, Strong said there’s no reason they can’t eclipse that number this season.
“They are so dynamic,” Strong said of his receivers. “It’s kind of pick your poison. You can’t double team everyone, and we have guys all over the field who are matchup problems for defenses.”
San Jose State’s Cade Hall — the 2020 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year — was named preseason defensive player of the year Thursday after leading the conference last fall with 10 sacks.
Hall is still riding high after the Spartans won their first conference title in program history last season. And, he said it didn’t hurt that they beat Boise State to win it.
“It was a lot of years of hard work that finally came to fruition,” Hall said. “(Beating Boise State) was a big deal. They have a lot of respect around the conference, and they’ve done a great job of building a longstanding, winning program, so it meant a lot for us to beat them.”
The Spartans and Broncos were supposed to play in Albertsons Stadium during the regular season, but the game was canceled just hours before kickoff after COVID-19 cases popped up at Boise State.
“We knew the only way we were going to play them again was in the championship, and we wanted another shot at them,” he said.
Utah State’s Savon Scarver was named preseason special teams player of the year on Thursday. He has six career kickoff returns for touchdowns, which is No. 2 all-time in the Mountain West.
He’s also tied for the second-most kickoff returns for touchdowns in NCAA history, behind four former players, Houston’s Tyrone Carrier, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, Memphis’ Tony Pollard and Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, all of whom finished their careers with seven.
Breaking the record isn’t Scarver’s main concern right now, though.
“When that time comes I’ll definitely be excited for it, but right now my main focus is winning games with my team and getting to the Mountain West championship because if we get there, that record will break itself,” Scarver said.
Shakir, Kaniho are vaccinated for COVID-19
Shakir and Kaniho both confirmed Thursday that they’re vaccinated for COVID-19, but neither is going to push it on their teammates, even if it may become a competitive advantage this season.
The Mountain West announced Wednesday that players or coaches that aren’t vaccinated will undergo many of the same testing and contact tracing protocols as last season. Conference commissioner Craig Thompson also said games canceled because of positive cases will not be made up and will instead be considered a forfeit.
“I got vaccinated for my own personal reasons, but if somebody doesn’t want to get vaccinated, they don’t want to get vaccinated,” Shakir said. “We may have some work to do, but at the end of the day, people are going to make their decisions and they know the consequences that come with it.”
Shakir did say the last thing he wants is anything that even remotely resembles last season, when players were tested as often as three times a week, the Broncos had two games canceled because of the virus and the players voted not to play in a bowl game because of the toll the season took on them.
He’s hoping his teammates feel the same and take the simple step that can go a long way toward ensuring there will not be a repeat of last season.
“I would hope with everything going on and the whole process that they would go get vaccinated,” Shakir said. “You can walk right down the street and get vaccinated on campus. It’s not hard, but if you have a reason to not, to each his own.”
Thompson said Wednesday seven of the Mountain West’s 12 teams have close to a 90% vaccination rate, but Boise State football coach Andy Avalos wouldn’t comment on how many of his players are vaccinated.
Fennegan lands at BYU
Former Boise State quarterback Cade Fennegan announced Thursday on Twitter that he’s transferring to the Broncos’ biggest rival, BYU.
Fennegan left the team at Boise State earlier this month.
He would have been a redshirt freshman this year after seeing playing time in three games last season and completing 15-of-28 passes for 182 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The native of Dallas, Texas, signed with the Broncos in February 2020 after he spent two years on a church mission in Argentina. He had a prolific three-year career at Woodrow Wilson High, passing for 6,454 yards and 94 touchdowns and adding 796 yards and 18 more scores on the ground.
Utah State’s Bond is still close with Maile, Collins
Utah State safety Shaq Bond said it will be weird facing two of his former coaches when the Aggies host Boise State on Sept. 25.
Boise State defensive line coach Frank Maile and special teams coordinator Stacy Collins both came from Utah State and Bond has a strong relationship with both, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to take it easy on them.
“It’s going to be a good experience to see them again and take that after-the-game picture after beating them,” Bond said.
Maile spent five years at Utah State before joining Avalos’ staff in January. He was the Aggies’ co-defensive coordinator last fall, and he spent the final three games of the season as interim head coach after Gary Andersen was fired.
Maile was the first coach to introduce himself when Bond arrived on campus in 2018, and they became as close off the field as they were on it.
“He’s very genuine, very loving and a great character off the field,” Bond said. “He wants to make sure you’re good, you’re fed and you’re family is good. He always told us if you’re good off the field, it’s going to translate on the field and if it’s bad, it’s not going to be that great.”
Collins, who was also hired in January, spent five years at Utah State, where he coached linebackers and special teams before spending last year as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. He recruited Bond out of Southwestern Junior College in California.
“He was calling everyday, to the point where at first I was like ‘Why does this dude keep calling me?’” Bond said. “But he just wanted to make sure I was doing good. He always asked about how my grades were and how the family was.”
In three years with the Aggies, Bond has racked up 167 tackles, 12.4 tackles for loss and five interceptions, but he hasn’t been part of a team owns a win over Boise State. The Broncos have won five straight against the Aggies, including a 42-13 victory last season in Logan, Utah.
Boise State to host Movie on the Blue
Boise State will hold its first Movie on The Blue event at Albertsons Stadium Saturday at 7 p.m. with the showing of Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, which was picked by fans through a Twitter poll.
Admission is free and the stadium will open at 6 p.m. Parking is free on the west side of the stadium, fans can enter through Gate A and concessions will be available.
2021 Mountain West preseason team
QB Carson Strong, Nevada
WR Romeo Doubs, Nevada
WR Khalil Shakir, Boise State
RB Xazavian Valladay, Wyoming
RB Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State
OL Keegan Cryder, Wyoming
OL John Ojukwu, Boise State
OL Jack Snyder, San Jose State
OL Zachary Thomas, San Diego State
OL Jake Stetz, Boise State
TE Cole Turner, Nevada
DL Cade Hall, San Jose State
DL Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
DL Scott Patchan, Colorado State
DL Viliami Fehoko, San Jose State
LB Chad Muma, Wyoming
LB Caden McDonald, San Diego State
LB Darius Muasau, Hawaii
DB Kekaula Kaniho, Boise State
DB Jerrick Reed II, New Mexico
DB Cortez Davis, Hawaii
DB Tre Jenkins, San Jose State
P Ryan Stonehouse, Colorado State
PK Brandon Talton, Nevada
PR Calvin Turner, Hawaii
KR Savon Scarver, Utah State
Offensive Player of the Year: Carson Strong, Jr., QB, Nevada
Defensive Player of the Year: Cade Hall, Sr., DL, San Jose State
Special Teams Player of the Year: Savon Scarver, Sr., KR, Utah State