Freshman running back turns heads at Boise State spring game; defense gets after QB

Boise State offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has worked with plenty of talented running backs during his 40-year coaching career, including former Bronco Doug Martin, who played for Koetter when he was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Koetter knows a special ball carrier when he sees one, and he said Boise State has another up-and-coming star in freshman running back Sire Gaines.

“For a 17-year-old, wow, he’s off to a great start,” Koetter told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s very impressive, not only when it comes to running the ball and yards after contact, but he’s physical in pass protection.”

Gaines graduated high school a semester early and has been on campus at Boise State since January. The power he possesses in his chiseled 208-pound frame, his top-end speed and explosive cuts, and his workmanlike mentality have stood out since he arrived, head coach Spencer Danielson said.

“No one is going to outwork him because his success means more to him than anybody else,” Danielson said. “He’s very developed physically as a 17-year-old. That’s a product of how hard he works.”

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Boise State fans got their first look at the talented freshman Saturday in Boise State’s annual spring game, and they didn’t have to wait very long to see what he’s capable of.

Gaines’ first carry of the game went for 27 yards. He finished with 45 yards on five carries, averaging 9 yards per carry. He also caught three passes for 18 yards.

“He’s grown so much as a person and a player since he got here,” wide receiver Prince Strachan said Saturday. “The first talk we had was on the field while we were doing some work. He was so intentional with everything that I told him, ‘If you keep it up, you’re going to go far.’”

Last season’s Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, Ashton Jeanty, is going to carry the load for the Broncos again this year. He led the team with 1,347 yards and 19 total touchdowns last fall.

And Gaines still has some work to do to wrestle the No. 2 running back job away from sophomore Jambres Dubar, who finished the spring game with just five yards on six carries but scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Gaines has done enough to prove to coaches that he’s ready for a role on offense, Danielson said.

It all adds up to a deep backfield.

“Knowing him, I know he’s going to take advantage of whatever opportunity he gets,” Danielson said.

Boise State University running back Jambres Dubar is brought down by linebackers Udoka Ezeani, left, and Gavin Hambrick, right, during their spring football game, Saturday, April 20, 2024 at Albertsons Stadium.
Boise State University running back Jambres Dubar is brought down by linebackers Udoka Ezeani, left, and Gavin Hambrick, right, during their spring football game, Saturday, April 20, 2024 at Albertsons Stadium.

Caples up to old tricks

Wide receiver Latrell Caples is focused on returning to the form he showed in 2022, when he led the Broncos with 51 catches for 549 yards. He missed last season with a torn Achilles tendon, but he was up to his old tricks Saturday.

Caples was one of 11 players who recorded a catch in the spring game, and he led the team with four catches for 40 yards. The redshirt senior from Lancaster, Texas, ran crisp routes and was a consistent check-down option for former USC quarterback Malachi Nelson, who made his debut on The Blue. Caples also took the top off the defense and hauled in a 23-yard pass despite tight coverage.

“He’s one of the biggest leaders in our room,” Strachan said. “He’s a great player who works hard and holds other players to a high standard.”

Junior college transfer Chris Marshall finished the spring game with three catches for 35 yards. Strachan caught two passes for 48 yards, and former Colorado wide receiver Chase Penry added two catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. Penry transferred to Boise State last year, but nagging injuries kept him off the field until late last season.

Boise State University edge Gabe Hunter intercepts the ball during their spring football game, Saturday, April 20, 2024 at Albertsons Stadium.
Boise State University edge Gabe Hunter intercepts the ball during their spring football game, Saturday, April 20, 2024 at Albertsons Stadium.

Defense wins the day

Boise State’s offense scored two early touchdowns Saturday, but the Broncos’ defense bounced back to win the game.

The spring game featured a non-traditional scoring system that awarded points for things such as sacks, three-and-outs, turnovers and explosive plays, as well as touchdowns and field goals. The defense won 47-29 after racking up five sacks, an interception, which linebacker Gabe Hunter returned 33 yards, and one forced fumble.

The offense was limited to 3.2 rushing yards per carry and held to 2-of-15 on third down.

“There are things we have to clean up from the first half in terms of fits and leverages, but I’m very proud of how (the defense) responded,” Danielson said. “It was good to see our players make the plays they missed in the first quarter.”

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Creating more pressure on quarterbacks has been the focus this spring, linebacker Andrew Simpson said. The Broncos finished last season with 36 sacks, 12.5 of which were credited to Ahmed Hassanein. Simpson said the defense racked up more 30 sacks this year during Boise State’s 15 spring practices.

Simpson, fellow linebacker Jake Ripp and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Demanuel Brown finished the spring game with one sack apiece. Junior college transfers Udoka Ezeani (linebacker) and Joseph Marsh (edge), redshirt freshman defensive tackle Michael Madrie and freshman linebacker Clay Martineau were all credited with .5 sacks.

“We have confidence in all our pass rushers,” Simpson said after the game. “The depth is there this year and everybody wants to get to the quarterback.”

Ripp and Madrie led the defense with four tackles each. Former Borah standout defensive lineman Trevor McKenna finished with three tackles and a forced fumble. Freshman cornerback Khai Taylor also finished with three tackles.

Freshman defensive lineman Lopez Sanusi was also disruptive. Sanusi, who came to Boise State this year from the NFL Academy in England, pressured Nelson into inaccurate throws on back-to-back plays in the red zone in the second half. He also had a tackle for a loss.


Jeanty limped to the sideline after scoring a rushing touchdown in the first half. Danielson said after the game that he tweaked a hamstring but it’s not serious. Danielson also said cornerback A’Marion McCoy injured his ankle Saturday, but that also doesn’t look serious.

Nathan Cardona started at center in place of Mason Randolph, who has been out this spring because of injuries suffered last season. Tyler Keinath started at right guard in place of Roger Carreon, who has also been out this spring. Hall Schmidt started at right tackle. Kage Casey was at left tackle, and Ben Dooley started at left guard.

Former defensive lineman JJ Tallo has moved to the offensive line and is wearing jersey No. 61.

Safety Zion Washington didn’t play because he was out of town to attend the funeral of a family member.

Boise State announced that 7,137 fans attended the spring game. That’s more than double the announced attendance of 3,402 last year.