Usually, special teams players are college football’s roadies.
Like those anonymous workers who go on the road with famous musicians, they are an integral part of the tour but lack the rock-star status of, well, rock stars with whom they travel. They toil backstage while the band members enjoy the fame and get the glory. They do the heavy lifting, the sound checks and myriad other tasks, but their work goes largely unnoticed.
However, it doesn’t work that way with the Boise State football team. According to head coach Chris Petersen and special teams coach Jeff Choate, players do not get “relegated” to special teams.
“A lot of places talk about the importance of special teams and every program practices special teams,” said Petersen, “but I believe our guys really like playing it. They understand their importance certainly better than any other place I’ve been. I don’t ever get the feeling we’re pulling teeth in terms of anything we do regarding special teams. I think our guys are totally sold on their importance.”
So much so, two weekly awards go to special teams play at Boise State.
The next time the Broncos run onto the field to start a game, take a close look at the player leading the charge. More than likely, he’ll be lugging some extra weight The Hammer.
What began in 2006 as a way to recognize outstanding plays on Boise State’s special teams, the awarding of a full-sized, 10-pound sledgehammer to one Bronco player after each game has become a popular team ritual. As determined by the coaching staff, that player is singled out for making the game’s biggest hit or most pivotal play on special teams. The weekly winner of The Hammer then gets to tote his “trophy” emblazoned with the team logo and the jersey numbers of previous winners and lead the Broncos onto the field at the start of the next game.
Choate brought the concept with him from Eastern Illinois, where he worked before joining Petersen’s staff following the 2005 season.
“It became kind of a big deal at Eastern Illinois and took on a life of its own,” said Choate. “When the players came back on Sunday [following a Saturday game] one of the first things they asked the coaches was, Who got the hammer?’”
According to Choate, the award is used to emphasize the importance of special teams play in the Broncos’ long-running success. “It’s a way to recognize players who aren’t necessarily starters but who are still important to the team,” he said. “It has become quite popular and a badge of honor with the entire team.”
In addition to recognizing a special teams player for a single play in each game, the coaches also award The Rock to the player who had the best overall special teams performance in each contest.
“Whoever accumulates the most special teams points per game with the points system we use gets to keep The Rock in his locker that following week,” said Choate. “At our awards banquet at the end of the season, the player who has generated the highest point total over the entire season gets to keep The Rock. The Hammer might symbolize that physical mentality of our special teams, but The Rock represents our steady performer, our special teams MVP.”
According to Petersen the two awards “are designed to represent our hard-hat, lunch-pail mentality. [They] represent a blue-collar attitude and tradition of hard work and sacrifice that has been built by players past and present.”
Although the awarding of The Hammer and The Rock won’t begin until the Broncos’ season begins Aug. 30 against Idaho State, Choate was asked to name a few players who would be candidates for the awards based on their performances during fall camp.
“[Defensive back] Travis Stanaway has really stood out as a guy who has had an excellent camp,” he replied. “Also, Hunter White and Aaron Tevis are a couple of young linebackers whose physical style of play epitomizes our special teams. And I’d throw [safety] Ellis Powers in that group as well. He’s been working hard on special teams and bringing that physical attitude and blue-collar mentality we’re looking for.”
The Hammer certainly provides plenty of incentive for the players to come up with a big play or a huge hit on special teams. But the honor is not automatically handed out each week. On a couple of occasions, the coaches decided not to award The Hammer after a game when it was felt there were no individual plays on special teams that merited the honor.
“We don’t want to diminish the award,” Choate said. “It really needs to be a spectacular or game-changing play to win it.”
There was also one exception, however, when The Hammer was awarded for a play that was not made on special teams defensive back Gerald Alexander’s jarring hit on Utah running back Darryl Poston in 2006. Alexander’s highlight-reel shot stopped Poston in his tracks and separated his helmet from his head. “We had to make an exception for that one,” said Choate with a smile. “It was such a big-time hit.”