Sophomore Safeties Seek to Maintain Level of Excellence

If the success of their predecessors over the past decade is any indication of what lies ahead for Boise State’s Jeron Johnson and Jason Robinson, football fame and fortune (relatively speaking) seems to be a distinct possibility for the pair.

That’s because the two sophomores from Southern California have the potential to become the latest in a line of standout safeties produced by Boise State in the past 10 years. During that time no other position has sent more Broncos to the NFL.

In the 10-year period between 1998 and 2007 under coaches Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins and Chris Petersen, Boise State established itself as one of the most productive offensive teams in the nation. But it is the safety position manned by the likes of Shaunard Harts, Quintin Mikell, Wes Nurse, Chris Carr, Gerald Alexander and Marty Tadman that has arguably produced the most individual talent during that time.

“We know about them and the history of the position over the past 10 years,” said Robinson following Monday’s scrimmage in Bronco Stadium. “But it’s more or less on us to become our own players. But that [tradition of success] definitely plays into our efforts to push ourselves. And the [coaches are] pushing us, too, because that’s the level of player the program is used to.”

Harts who played at Boise State from 1997 to 2000 and for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-04 began the string of standout safeties. He was followed by Mikell (1999-2002 at BSU), who was the Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, a three-time first-team all-league selection for the Broncos, and is entering his sixth year as a defensive back with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Next came Nurse (2000-03), a first-team All-WAC selection his senior year. He was followed by Carr (2001-04) who is starting his first season with the Tennessee Titans after a three-year stint as a kick returner/defensive back with the Oakland Raiders.

Then it was Alexander (2003-06), who is entering his second season as a starter in the Detroit Lions’ secondary. The most recent standout safety was Tadman (2004-07), a first-team All-WAC selection who played in the secondary with Johnson and Robinson last season and was the defensive MVP in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. A three-year starter and All-WAC second-team selection his sophomore and junior years, Tadman finished his college career last fall, paving the way for Johnson and Robinson along with senior safety Ellis Powers, who played linebacker and on special teams last year.

“Marty was a good leader and a good player to look up to,” said Johnson, a native of Compton, Calif. “But Jason and I are confident that we can do well in his absence. We feed off each other.”

“We can’t really think too much about losing Marty,” added Robinson, who hails from Los Angeles. “He couldn’t play here forever. That’s part of college football. Now it’s time for us to step up and carry the torch; we’ll do fine. Jeron and I are close, and we work well as a team.”

Johnson agrees. “Jason and I came into the program together three years ago; we were on the scout team together,” he said. “We’re comfortable with each other out there on the field.”

And last season on the field, they make their presence felt as freshmen. Despite missing four games with a back injury, Johnson finished fifth on the team with 55 tackles; Robinson played in all 13 games, finishing with 39 tackles and two interceptions.

“Playing a lot last year gave us invaluable experience, a chance to get our feet wet,” Robinson said. “With that year under our belt, I think it’s going to be a good year for the secondary.”

Marcel Yates agrees. Entering his sixth season as a member of the Boise State coaching staff, the Broncos’ secondary coach knows whereof he speaks when discussing Bronco safeties. After all, he either played with or coached all the aforementioned players. (In fact, Yates would probably be that elite list of star safeties if not for injuries to both his knees his freshman year. Although he played four years [1996-99] at safety for BSU, ACL surgery to both knees curtailed his career.) And according to Yates, Johnson and Robinson have the potential to join the list.

“They are very physical, more physical than Alexander and Tadman,” said Yates of his two sophomore standouts. “What they need to work on is understanding the game as well as Marty, Gerald, Quintin and Wes did. They’re not far away, but they need to gain the kind of knowledge those other guys played with. As far as the physical aspects needed to play safety, they both have it.”

High praise indeed. Does either player have aspirations to follow the ex-Bronco safeties who made it to the pros? Based on Johnson’s reply, perhaps they are already displaying some of the needed knowledge and maturity to which Yates alludes.

“I started playing football at the age of 7,” he said. “It has always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL, and I’m going to work by hardest to make it there. But right now I’m focusing on playing college football and focusing on my job at Boise State.”

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