DeMarcus Lawrence has a theory as to why Boise State has become a football powerhouse this century.
It’s the same reason Lawrence feels the New England Patriots have had so much success in the NFL.
“There ain’t nothing to do in New England. There ain’t nothing to do in Boise,” said Lawrence, the Dallas Cowboys’ Pro Bowl pass rusher who played at Boise State. “So, if you’ve got nothing else to do but football, it becomes your life. That’s what it is out there.
“It’s bone-on-bone, blue-collar football.”
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That’s the philosophy Jason Garrett is trying to instill in the Dallas Cowboys. He wants to have a blue-collar approach to the game, playing smashmouth football behind an elite offensive line and bringing a similar physical approach defensively.
So it’s no surprise Boise State has become a farm system of sorts for the Cowboys. The Broncos have been ranked in the top-25 at the end of 11 seasons since 2002.
Along with Lawrence, defensive end Tyrone Crawford and the newest member of the defense – first-round linebacker Leighton Vander Esch – all called Boise State home. So did wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr., a sixth-round pick who has landed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
And don’t forget about quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore, who is transitioning from player to coach this season, and Orlando Scandrick, a cornerback who spent a decade with the Cowboys.
All of them were overlooked at some point during their football careers.
Lawrence attended Butler Community College in Kansas for two seasons, and Wilson also had to play junior college ball; Crawford grew up in Canada and had to spend a year in junior college too; Vander Esch played eight-man football in a tiny town in Idaho and had to walk on; Moore and Scandrick didn’t get much interest from bigger schools because of their size.
All of them ended up making it to the NFL.
“It’s just motivation and more fuel to the fire,” Lawrence said. “It makes you look at it like, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got to take the JUCO route and now I’ve got to make it out of JUCO. Now, once I get to the college level, I’ve got to make it out of college. So it’s just a stepping stone to keep you motivated and keep you going.”
Added Moore: “It’s always been a unique cast of guys. A lot of guys that weren’t big-time recruits, certainly unique paths from junior colleges or Canada. All of the cliché stuff – guys with chips on their shoulders and whatnot – is real. Plus it’s a unique culture and environment.”
Casual football fans associate Boise State with the blue “Smurf Turf” at Albertsons Stadium, or the famous “Statue of Liberty” play used to defeat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
But it’s a program with more history than that, particularly in the coaching ranks. Dirk Koetter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, landed his first head job at Boise in 1998. Following Koetter were Dan Hawkins, Chris Petersen and now Bryan Harsin.
Those four coaches have combined to go 213-45 in the last 20 years (Bob Gregory served as interim coach for Boise State’s loss in the 2013 Hawaii Bowl).
The philosophy has been consistent throughout – finding and developing overlooked players other programs pass on.
“I think we find really good people and they work because of who they are,” Harsin said. “We have the right character in our program and they happen to be really good players who take advantage of their opportunities. Players have confidence of being in a program that is proven to be able to produce players and win on the field.
“I don’t know if the NFL really cares about conference or Power Five, they care about getting great people and great players – guys who will come in and help their organization, which is what they’re going to get from our program.
“I know this – I don’t know how many are going to play in the NFL, but I know our players are going to know football, they’re going to know how to work and they’re going to be really good people.”
That’s been the case on the Cowboys. Scandrick served as a defensive captain last season, as well as Crawford. And Lawrence has become one of the leaders of the team too.
Vander Esch is expected to assume a similar role in the foreseeable future. He served as a captain for Boise State last season and has the makings of becoming one for the Cowboys.
Crawford has seen the Boise State genes in Vander Esch in the little time he’s been in the organization.
“He just reminded me of when we were out there – just hard-working, down to earth and loves football,” Crawford said. “He comes in here and he works. He doesn’t say much, keeps quiet, but he knows how to work and he knows how to respect his coaches.”
That’s the Boise State Way.
“We’re blue-collar athletes,” Vander Esch said. “We’re a blue-collar program and we have that in huge letters in our weight room, all over the facility. That’s what we’re known for.
“We’re always going to be in the fight and we’re always going to give you our best shot no matter what. When people doubt us, that’s a bad thing to do, because we’re probably going to prove your wrong and we’re going to do all that we can to do so.”
That’s music to the ears of his Boise State coaches and others associated with the program. There’s a sense of pride for everyone who is associated with and is a product of that program.
“We have the ability to recruit different guys and we need those guys in our culture, guys who have the chip on the shoulder with something to prove,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “A guy like Leighton Vander Esch who was walk-on; Kellen Moore who got overlooked; Tyrone from Canada; Tank from the other side of the United States.
“The thing in common is all those guys have that chip on the shoulder. That’s a big piece of the ‘Blue Collar Way.’”