Boise State's Thomas Sperbeck talks chase for undefeated season, memories of '07 Fiesta Bowl, playing on blue turf
Thomas Sperbeck does not look intimidating. The Boise State wide receiver is just 6-foot and 180 pounds.
But he'll torch secondaries all day. Just ask New Mexico, which has surrendered 643 yards to Sperbeck over the past three seasons. Earlier this season the senior became the leading receiver in Boise State history, with 3,139 career yards (he has 810 and counting this season). When the Broncos released their All-Blue team this year, celebrating 30 years of that famous blue turf, Sperbeck was the only current player listed.
Before Boise State travels to Wyoming this week in hopes of keeping its undefeated season blemish-free, Sperbeck chatted with Campus Rush.
Lindsay Schnell: You just became the leading receiver in Boise State history. Given what this program has done over the last 10 years, what does that mean to you?
Thomas Sperbeck: It definitely means a lot to me, especially seeing the other guys who were up on that [records] board. It's really an honor just to be in the same sentence as those guys, to be part of the program that I'm in right now. It feels like the best decision I ever made. To see everything work out the way it did and be part of something special like this football team this season, it means a lot to me.
LS: Your team is undefeated, but it hasn't been easy. What's it like to get everyone's best shot every night? How do you prepare for that and make sure there's no letdown on your end?
TS: I think we definitely feel like we have a target on our back, especially with preseason hype and things like that. Our coaches do such a good job of having us just focus on that team in front of us and trying to go 1–0 each week that we don't look ahead too far. We're always preparing the exact same way each week.
LS: You play this week at Wyoming, whose stadium sits at 7,220 feet above sea level. Have you played at crazy elevation before? Is it really as hard to catch your breath as everyone says?
TS: We play at Air Force, that's high elevation [6,621 feet]. And I played at Wyoming two years ago so, yeah, you notice it a little bit. But once you're in the atmosphere of the game and you're thinking about the next first down and scoring, you're not thinking about it too much. But the first time you go out there and first drive you make, woo, you have trouble catching your breath a little bit.
LS: Your dad was head coach at Sacramento State when you were a kid. What did he tell you about college football when you started at Boise?
TS: He obviously helped me a lot in the recruiting process, and making the transfer from high school to college. The main thing he said is just that it's faster and you really have to know the playbook inside and out. I grew up around his team and obviously I knew what he was talking about. I really took what he said to heart and made a huge effort to learn the plays faster than any of the other receivers.
LS: You were a high school quarterback, but now you catch a lot of passes. So from a QB's perspective, what does the perfect receiver look like?
TS: I think the perfect receiver has to know what each play is designed to do. There are some plays where the receiver may not even be in the read progression and his job is to distract the safety or something like that. A lot of times, guys forget what their role is. As long as a receiver knows his role, it's a lot easier for the whole play to develop than everyone just trying to get open. So I would say knowing his role.
LS: How many times have you been asked about how you look vs. your production? I've heard people say stuff like, "Thomas looks like a Chili's waiter, not a football player." How sick are you of those questions?
TS: Yeah, I definitely get asked that all the time [laughs]. People are always telling me how I look like the Average Joe without my football pads on and then I put up some good numbers. But I think that happens because, like I said before, I do a good job of knowing the playbook and finding different ways to get open.
I'm not really sick of those questions. I don't take it to heart or anything. I mean, they're pretty much right [about how I look]. It's true, so I can't really fight it. I think it's funny, too.
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LS: You came into Boise State as a safety after being a stud QB in high school and now you're a receiver. What position would you still like to try that you think you'd secretly be good at? Is there an offensive lineman buried within you?
TS: I'm barely big enough to play receiver right now, so offensive line is definitely out. I would say maybe a long snapper or a kicker. I know how to drop kick it. Remember the old school way of kicking field goals where you drop the ball on the ground and kick it at the same time? I've got that in my back pocket.
LS: What trick play are you dying to run?
TS: We definitely are known for trick plays here. We've run a lot since I've been here. I'd say any play where I get to throw the ball is usually my favorite play that week. I still enjoy channeling my inner quarterback and watching the defense, making a read. Obviously I know those days are behind me, but those are still a lot of fun for me.
LS: Aren't you and receiver Cedric Wilson a combined 4 for 4 throwing the ball this season on trick plays?
TS: Yes, we are. We have a better QB Rating than [quarterback] Brett [Rypien] right now. Once in a while I tell him we're right there, ready to compete with him, but he just laughs it off.
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LS: So is the blue turf as weird to play on as people think? Is it as big of an advantage as it's made out to be?
TS: It is pretty cool playing on it. A lot of times when teams come and play on it, they'll get pictures on it. There's always people outside the gates saying they came from all over the U.S. trying to take pictures. I'd say if you play here you don't really notice it as much. It's normal. I'm not saying it's weird to play on green fields now or anything, but blue is normal for us.
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LS: You were 12 years old during the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Did you watch that game? What do you remember about it?
TS: I definitely watched that. I think we were all in the living room with my mom and my dad, and I just remember my dad going crazy. Obviously he was pretty excited. He was always kinda following Boise State and a big Boise State fan, and that's how I was growing up, too. It was a pretty hectic household. It was an awesome finish from that team.
LS: If that's Boise State's program highlight, what's your favorite personal football highlight from your entire career?
TS: I would say winning the Fiesta Bowl my sophomore year. With that team overcoming two losses early in the season and winning out, it was a huge deal for us. That was one of our goals that year, and we did a good job completing it.
LS: What three TV shows are you absolutely addicted to?
TS: Oh, wow. I like Entourage, The Office—that's kinda me and my roommate's fallback—and, hmm, oh, Breaking Bad. I loved that show. And right now I'm trying out How I Met Your Mother.
LS: It's almost Halloween. What's your favorite Halloween costume of all time?
TS: [laughs] To be honest, I am so lazy when it comes to Halloween costumes, I just throw something on. I think I was a basketball player, like, 10 years in a row because I just wanted to wear basketball shorts and a t-shirt or jersey. And I'm from California, so you can get away with it.
LS: What do you think coach Bryan Harsin should dress as for Halloween?
TS: I think he should get a full-fledged Bronco suit, and not take it off the entire day.
LS: Well, I hope he sees this and is inspired by that idea.
TS: Oh man, me too.