Boise State has a rich history of outstanding running backs. Doug Martin (Muscle Hamster), Jeremy McNichols (McWeapon), & Jay Ajayi (Jay Train) are all competing in the NFL. These players and many before them have truly set a precedent of the workhorse mentality of Bronco running backs.
There is no doubt that Alexander Mattison is the preferred workhorse of choice. His sophomore season had incredible numbers – 677 total yards on 140 total carries. His dominant game against Colorado State included 242 yards on 23 carries for a 10.5 yards per carry average. He is expected to continue, if not improve upon, his success again in 2018.
With all-around lovable Ryan Wolpin’s feel-good senior season ending last year, the new number two position falls to redshirt sophomore Robert Mahone.
Mahone was a two-star recruit from Prosper, TX, a small suburb of Dallas. There, Mahone made a transition from safety to running back between his sophomore and junior years.
That position change also came with leadership as Mahone led his team as captain his final two years. He tallied up 2,040 yards and 28 TDs those last two years.
Mahone was recruited well and received offers from Arkansas State, Colorado State, Houston, Louisiana-Lafayette, and UTSA. Ultimately, Mahone boiled his choices down to two options: Boise State and SMU (he must be attracted to “horse” power). Mahone announced on June 20, 2015 his commitment to Boise State.
Mahone had a redshirt year in 2016 and received minimal carries throughout the majority of the 2017 season. As number three on the depth chart, Mahone only had 11 carries through the first 8 games. He received considerably more on the November 4th blowout against Nevada.
That game, Mahone had 9 carries for 24 yards, garnering a respectable 2.7 yards/carry average. Mahone saw only three more carries the remainder of the regular season, but that did include a touchdown in the exciting 59-52 comeback overtime victory over Colorado State on November 11th (although, that is a particular kind of excitement Bronco Nation will not want to endure again).
Mahone had his best game in the Las Vegas bowl against Oregon. With Alexander Mattison out with as ankle injury, Ryan Wolpin was called upon to start the game and received the majority of carries.
Deservedly, after a fantastic senior season as an all-around athlete and heart of the Bronco offense, Wolpin had 23 carries on 71 yards with 2 touchdowns. His success opened up opportunity for Mahone to have significant play time.
Mahone ultimately had 12 carries on 34 yards (2.8 average), with 1 reception of 3 yards. The increased on-field time also came with some mistakes, including the botched “Statue of Liberty” play that was well-read by the Oregon defense and led to a fumble and Duck’s touchdown. Nevertheless, Mahone showed glimpses of greatness and a view into his potential to develop behind Mattison in 2018.
Running Backs coach, Lee Marks, had encouraging comments about Mahone’s spring and summer training. “His confidence is up,” Marks tells the Idaho Statesman, “Last year, you could tell he had little confidence, right now he has a lot of confidence. It’s encouraging to know where he’s going. I’m excited to see what he does this season.”
Mahone, at 5’10” and 204 pounds, will be an excellent complement to Mattison this year (do I hear some M&M references coming..?). When the offensive line is doing well, Mattison is at his best, while Mahone can succeed regardless with his cut-and-go style.
More importantly, Mahone has the same workhorse mentality so prevalent among BSU running backs that he can provide Mattison plenty of rest time to prevent undue stress on that healing ankle. Mattison has participated in preseason practices minimally, so Mahone has stepped up as the go-to running back and will likely play a larger role than most backups. Mahone might even surpass Wolpin’s 122 carries from last year.
Mahone has a uniquely perfect situation. He has seen how to be an effective 2nd punch in a 1-2 knockout, by working with Wolpin. He spent last year getting more and more comfortable with the coaches and building his confidence.
This year he gets to play a major role in the success of the offense. All of this will be super effective when combined with his leadership skills.
In 2019, Brett Rypien leaves and we can only suspect that Mattison may follow Ajayi and declare for the draft after his junior year. Mahone will effectively become the foundation stone for that 2019 season.
This year will be an all-important build-up for that day.