#BroncosInTheCommunity: Team Harsin
Dec. 16, 2015

As our more than 450 student-athletes turn their focus to finishing the fall 2015 semester during finals week, Boise State Athletics wants to honor their achievements off the field by focusing on the work they have done throughout the community since starting the school year. Each day this week, BroncoSports.com will highlight one of the many examples of Broncos giving back to the community that gives so much to them and the athletic department. While their accomplishments in their respective field of play are what garners the most attention, the work done beyond athletics - both in school and in the community - makes us proud every day. Good luck during finals week to all of our student-athletes.

The recent talks of the negatives of youth sports, specifically football, are lost on Boise State senior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes. For Williams-Rhodes, football has provided him with an outlet.

"It's been a place where I can escape from everything else and just do something that I really love," Williams-Rhodes said. "It's kind of an escape for me from the rest of the world."

For the past two years, Williams-Rhodes has been able to provide members of the Optimist Youth Football program in the Treasure Valley with an escape thanks to the Boise State football team's partnership through the Team Harsin program.

When Bryan Harsin returned to Boise State as the Broncos' head football coach in December 2013, assistant athletic director for football Brad Larrondo pitched the idea of the Team Harsin program. Harsin, who participated in Optimist Youth Football while growing up in Boise, gave the green light.

"I knew he was active in youth football and that it was an important part of his life," Larrondo said. "He's been instrumental in the growth of football here in the valley. It's a way for him to stay involved at the youth level and something that's close to him because it's been a part of his life ever since he was a little kid. His son (Davis) now plays Optimist Youth Football."

I want to show them that, `hey, this guy talking to me, is a normal dude, he's made it to where I want to be.'

One of the highlights of the program is the direct connection it provides Boise State football student-athletes to youth football players in the Treasure Valley. Team Harsin puts on a clinic during the spring where members of the Boise State football team help coach Optimist players. In the fall, Team Harsin has an "Adopt a Bronco" program where members of the team are divided between the Optimist teams and serve as mentors.

Team Harsin also provides tickets to Boise State home football games to a group of deserving Optimist Youth Football players, often who are on scholarship from the organization. The kids are given a tour of the Bleymaier Football Center before the game and help form the pre-game tunnel for the team's run out onto the field.

Larrondo's goal was to instill positive values throughout youth sports in the Treasure Valley, and from the response he's received thus far, he believes Team Harsin is accomplishing that goal.

"How we've been able to inspire, to motivate, to keep kids on track, we've seen that and we've seen the response from it," Larrondo said. "We know it's the right thing to do and we want to continue to grow. We're impacting a small sliver of kids that need that out there, but every one of these kids that we help continue to think about how they can become better."

Participation in the program has been just as beneficial for members of the Boise State football team. Both Williams-Rhodes and redshirt senior defensive end Robert Ash feel the need to give back to the community.

"I feel like having this pedestal, and being able to influence kids at a young age, it's one of the most important things you can do as an athlete," Ash said. "I just hope to give them hope, that's a big one. A person that they can see has been where they are, and that has made mistakes and lived their life. I want to show them that, `hey, this guy talking to me, is a normal dude, he's made it to where I want to be.'"

Williams-Rhodes' favorite memories of his involvement with Team Harsin has been the yearly clinics the program puts on in spring.

"A lot of times, most of the kids look at me as one of them because I'm so small," the 5-foot-6 Williams-Rhodes said. "They always jump on me and they kind of always immediately cling to me. I really enjoy it."

"I would say that our players, they are the model when it comes to our interaction with young kids," added Larrondo.

Now that Team Harsin has been up and running for two years, Larrondo hopes to see it grow. He would like to see the program provide more tickets and add more events to turn it into a year-round program.

"It's great to touch them once, to have them come to a game and make them feel good, but a lot of these kids don't come from a good home life," Larrondo said. "So one time is great, but how do you follow up with them and continue to get better? We want to continue to show them that we care about them."

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