You can’t really blame Boise State wide receiver Julian Hawkins if he wonders how the heck he’s going to get into any games this fall.
After all, the Broncos’ abundant supply of wideouts boasts a quintet that has it all depth, skill, speed, youth and experience. It includes a young threesome that combined for more than 2,000 yards in receptions last season as well as a pair of savvy and multidimensional seniors, all five of whom will be vying with Hawkins for playing time in 2008.
Leading the list is All-Western Athletic Conference first-teamer Jeremy Childs, who last year as a sophomore had one of the best seasons by a wide receiver in Boise State history with a school-record 82 receptions. But Childs isn’t the only young and talented wideout who is coming back. As freshmen last year, Austin Pettis and Titus Young caught 46 and 44 passes, respectively, for the Broncos. The trio combined to grab 172 passes for 2,149 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2007.
Then there are Vinny Perretta and Tanyon Bissell, the two versatile seniors who will certainly be part of the Broncos’ offensive game plan. Perretta, one of the heroes of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl win, is back after missing a good chunk of last season with a shoulder injury. Bissell, meanwhile, filled Perretta’s role as the Bronco offense’s wild card a multifaceted player who can line up at various positions and run, catch and throw the ball with equal skill.
Now they’re both back, along with Childs, Pettis and Young.
Oh yeah, then there’s Hawkins, who caught 23 passes for 208 yards last season. But the senior from Long Beach, Calif., doesn’t consider himself the odd man out, nor is he over wrought about the issue of playing time.
“I’m one of those guys who doesn’t say much,” he said between practice sessions on Monday, which began the third week of fall camp for the Broncos as they prepare for their Aug. 30 season opener against Idaho State. “I can play that backup role to those guys. There’s no jealousy toward any of those guys.”
Besides, he considers himself a bit of a different player than his five teammates. “I’m more of a slot receiver,” he said. “I don’t get as many touches. I do most of my work over the middle of the field. I played tight end [as a freshman and sophomore], so I’m used to being between the hashes instead of the outside.”
So Hawkins is the guy who will get you the “tough yards” the guy who will get the team the needed 3 yards on third-and three?
“Definitely,” he replied. “We all have roles and that’s my role; that’s what I bring to the team.”
Hawkins, who had five catches in last season’s Hawaii Bowl, has been with the program long enough to know that with the Broncos’ complex offensive schemes and multiple substitutions, role players often thrive despite limited playing time. And although he may not get the same amount of playing time as his fellow wide receivers, Hawkins says it’s unlikely he’ll languish on the bench.
“That’s one of the things that drew me to BSU,” he said. “We use so many guys instead of abusing one guy and giving him the ball all the time. We have four capable running backs and a great group of receivers that can all do something different with the ball. We’ve all got our niche, including me. The system we have also keeps guys fresh.
“Coach Pete [head coach Chris Petersen] was just saying today that when you know you’re not going to play, you’re not into it’ as much. If you don’t see yourself as part of the game plan, you’re not going to take that extra step like working harder in practice and watching film. It’s just human nature. But when you know you’re going to play, like so many guys do, it keeps you enthused and fresh.”
It’s that unselfish perspective, says Petersen, that makes Hawkins so valuable to the Broncos.
“Julian is one of the leaders of that receiver corps,” he said. “He brings some pretty good maturity to that group. He’s one of those guys we’ve got to have to win.
He may not be a headline guys every week in the paper, but there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes that he’s doing to make that group better.”