"Physical. That's the number one thing. Physical."
Sophomore Tanner Vallejo and the rest of Boise State's linebackers are on a mission.
"We're trying to get it back to the old Bronco way. That's why we all came here," he says.
Injuries in 2013 forced underclassmen onto the field, and now Boise State has a good problem- ten linebackers competing for two starting spots.
"One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. Obviously last year, it was a struggle for us with inexperience in there, but as we said all along, we knew going into this season it was going to pay off for us," says linebackers coach Andy Avalos. "All those guys are doing a great job competing with each other, not against each other."
"It helps to have guys with experience in there," notes redshirt freshman Joey Martarano. "When you don't know something, they can help you out. It should be a good year, we have a lot of good guys."
"I've told all these guys we've got to go to practice every day preparing like you're going to be the starter, because at some point, you're probably going to be, as long as you do it right," adds Avalos.
Four linebackers started at least six games last season: senior Blake Renaud, junior Tyler Gray, and sophomores Tanner Vallejo and Ben Weaver. Weaver led the team with 89 tackles, but missed some of spring ball with an injury. Avalos says he's 100% now.
"Ben is sharp now, and he knows it. When he wasn't out there on the field, he was on the sideline and he was dialed in. I could hear him making all the calls right behind me all the time."
Vallejo and Renaud are competing for the starting middle linebacker position, and helping each other get better along the way.
"We're good friends," said Vallejo. "If I have a question, I go up to him because he's older. He knows some stuff I don't know. If he knows how to play something better, I'll go up and ask him."
Gray or Weaver should win the other starting spot, but the depth chart is bubbling with big time potential. Coaches are especially high on Martarano, who spent half the summer playing professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs rookie affiliate in Mesa, Arizona.
"He has been competing the entire time, which I love," said head coach Bryan Harsin. "Professional baseball? That's competing."
"When he came back, he jumped right back into it, he didn't miss a beat," noticed Avalos.
"I want to balance it through and keep both options open," said Martarano, who plans to continue his baseball career next summer. "Whatever is my best chance to make it to the pros, that's what I'll do."
Senior Travis Saxton and sophomores Darren Lee and Chris Santini should see significant time on kick-offs and punts, trying to earn a shot in the starting rotation.
"Linebackers are supposed to be some good special teams players," laughed Vallejo. Coach Avalos is always telling us that if someone is in a special teams spot ahead of you, you need to go up and compete against them so you can get that spot."
"There are going to be guys that have bigger roles than others, that's just the way it is," says Avalos. "We'll find ways to get all these guys reps, to prove what they can do"