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Former Borah star back on field for Boise State after gruesome injury. Can he step up?

The first catch of Boise State wide receiver Austin Bolt’s college career was a long time coming.

Expectations were high when the former star at Borah High School joined the college program he grew up rooting for.

Bolt racked up 2,771 yards of offense and 36 touchdowns as a senior at Borah. He was named the Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year and the No. 3 recruit in the state by 247Sports in 2019, but his chances to make an impact at Boise State kept getting delayed.

A couple of position changes put his debut on hold. Despite what was a slender frame, Bolt began his college career as a tight end. He even spent a few weeks as a defensive end before moving to wide receiver last spring.

Then there was a gruesome injury. Bolt broke the tibia and fibula in his left leg while covering a kickoff in Boise State’s 2022 season opener at Oregon State. It took him 14 months to get back on the field, but his perseverance finally paid off.

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The first catch of Bolt’s career covered 33 yards and set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Boise State running back George Holani on Saturday in the Broncos’ loss at Fresno State.

Bolt almost scored himself. He fended off a tackler with a stiff arm but stepped out of bounds at the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line. He will do his best to add a few more catches to his resume Saturday against Mountain West foe New Mexico (8 p.m., FS1).

“It’s a pretty big blessing,” said Bolt, whose 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame can no longer be described as slender. “It felt good to put in all the work to get back into running shape and figure things out enough to make a big play for us.”

Bolt said he didn’t even know he was injured when he broke his leg. It wasn’t until after he tried to get up and felt his leg cave in that he knew he was seriously hurt.

“After that, everything was kind of a blur,” Bolt said. “I had a lot of adrenaline going and I didn’t really know what was going on.”

A rod was inserted into his leg during surgery the next day, and a long recovery process followed. Bolt was restricted to bed rest for almost four weeks, and when he was finally able to walk again, he couldn’t even wiggle his toes because of the atrophy in his leg.

“My quad was as skinny as my forearm,” Bolt said.

There were multiple times this summer and fall that Bolt thought he was ready to make his return, only to be disappointed when his leg began to swell after the slightest bit of running. He said he tried to push himself to be ready in time for this year’s season opener at Washington, but Boise State’s training staff shut him down.

Bolt admitted Tuesday that there were times he wondered whether his football career was over, but he said his support system kept him focused on getting back into playing shape.

“I had the right people in my corner,” Bolt said. “I’m from (Boise), so I had a lot of people from around town reach out. Former players reached out, coach Avalos and Jeramiah Dickey were checking in on me. It was still a struggle, but this big brotherhood we always talk about showed up when I needed it the most.”

Boise State’s Austin Bolt has been an athlete in search of a position. Has he found it?

He’s back to 100% now, and Boise State coach Andy Avalos said he’s excited to have Bolt on the field.

“We all felt pretty confident that last week was going to be the week he got his first catch,” Avalos said on Monday. “Given all the things he’s been through, we just want to continue to see him grow and have fun and thrive.”

Bolt isn’t just back on the field. He’s in Boise State’s starting lineup heading into Saturday’s game at Albertsons Stadium.

The Broncos have a big hole to fill at wide receiver after the team’s leading receiver, Eric McAlister, decided to transfer with three games left in the regular season. McAlister not only led Boise State with 873 receiving yards and five touchdowns, but he averaged 18.57 yards a catch as the team’s most consistent deep threat.

Bolt and freshman Prince Strachan have experience playing the position McAlister vacated. The two of them will get the first shot at filling his shoes, Avalos said Monday.

“It’s next-man-up mentality, and the next guy has to make plays for us now,” Bolt said. “It all comes down to practice. Whoever makes the most plays in practice gets the coach’s trust on Saturday to get the ball.”

On Saturday, the Broncos will face a New Mexico defense that is giving up 241.6 passing yards a game. Offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said he’s excited to see Bolt back on the field making an impact.

“His resiliency to get back and keep chipping away to get his body right and put himself in the position he is in now is something I think I’ll always remember him for, and something that he’ll remember for a long time,” Hamdan said.

NEW MEXICO AT BOISE STATE

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,363)

TV: Fox Sports 1 (Guy Haberman, Charles Arbuckle)

Radio: KBOI 670 AM/93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)

Records: Boise State 4-5, 3-2 MW; New Mexico 3-6, 1-3 MW

Series: Boise State leads the all-time series 12-1, and the Broncos have won six straight games against the Lobos.

Vegas line: Boise State by 25 points

Weather: High of 53 degrees, 4% chance of rain, 6 mph wind