Tyler Shoemaker #89 of the Boise State Broncos. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
When I first saw Boise State's WR #89 Tyler Shoemaker , 6' 1" 213 lbs, back in the fall of 2008, I wasn't impressed. He reminded me of some big farm kid lumbering across a pasture dodging cowpies as he plodded and banged his way past the opposing teams defensive line and into their backfield. He looked awkward and somewhat gangly, and definately not the typical graceful receiver I had come to expect at Boise State. From my place in the stands his hands looked like a couple of pancakes when he reached out to pull in a pass. I didn't see any broken-field running or dodging. No tricky footwork. Just a young man who played straight up, in your face football.
And therein lies the deception.
Shoemaker has been a man on a mission. Faster than you can join his many fans with a resounding yell of "Shooooooe!" he will run a pass route, body-block a defender and turn toward the quarterback in time to either reach up or drop down to snag what many would consider an uncatchable football. He's tough and dependable, and capable of the big play at any moment. He excells when there is a quiet desperation in the air and the crowd is stilled. He has an ability to thrive when the pressure is so thick you can cut it with a knife. That is why he is easily one of QB Kellen Moore's major tools when its over-the-middle or outside in heavy coverage on a third down play.
It wasn't always that way. That first year in 2008, Shoemaker only caught 7 passes for 110 yards. But one he hauled in was a 56-yarder, and two were for touchdowns. Not a bad beginning for a freshman. When 2009 rolled around, he showed more skills and received more playing time. Shoe logged 21 catches averaging 16.4 yards a catch, but he was playing behind All-WAC wide receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis. By his junior year, he had emerged as a seasoned veteran and disciplined playmaker. He plied his trade in the slot position where he proved he was a major threat on the team. Playing in the shadows of Young and Pettis, he still accounted for 32 catches and 582 yards and burned opposing defenders for 5 TDs. That's a very good average of 18.2 yards per reception.This year looks to be a whole different world out there on the Blue for wide receivers. Young and Pettis have moved on to the pros, leaving the downfield lineup wide open. And Shoemaker is the only returning starter in that postion. Eveyone in Bronco Nation are wondering if he will be the playmaker that is expected at wide reciever. He has proved he can handle the pressure, but it won't all rest on his shoulders. He will have some help looking for the ball: sophomore WR Geraldo Hiwat, 6' 4" 189 lbs, is also starting after good spring; and of course returning starter Kyle Efaw will be holding down the starting TE positon. Shoe will also have QB Kellen Moore's brother, sophomore WR Kirby Moore, 6' 2" 196 lbs, as his backup, and junior WR Chris Potter, 5' 9" 161 lbs, is behind Hiwat. Both will be pacing the sidelines and waiting for chances to play.
That whole new receiver lineup with Shoemaker at the lead ought to make QB Kellen Moore, 6' 187 lbs, feel pretty comfortable. Moore has watched Shoe hone his skills for three years, and seen the steady improvement. There is no doubt Moore has confidence in Shoe's hands, who has shown an uncanny ability to pull in even the most hurried of passes.
Shoemaker came to Boise State as a walk-on from Mountain View High School in Meridian, Idaho, where he he first proved his athletic ability. He was a three-sport letterman, lettering four times in basketball, three times in football and once in track and field. As a HS senior he was named first-team all-state. And he has brains to go with those athletic traits: he was selected as an Idaho Top Scholar and has been a three-year member of the all-academic team.
It definately wasn't easy finding a fit on the Bronco squad. He faced some very serious competion for a receiving spot on the talented Boise State team. All-WAC WR's Young and Pettis were his main competion, but the Boise State coaches were there to instill and shore up his confidence.
"They [the coaches] treat you just like another player on the team, but as far as you’re concerned you’re not," Shoemaker said last year. "There’s definitely something to prove there. Even today, coming in, I still try to think about it sometimes."
Maybe having to prove himself is what it took. Three years have passed since he earned a scholarship in 2008. Its 2011, and Tyler Shoemaker is getting ready to take it up another notch to a whole new level this year. You won't see some big, clumsy-looking kid running out there like a farm boy crossing a pasture. But you are not going to see a swift, flashy showboat out there, either. What you will see is a big-hearted, hard-charging, highly skilled football player showing some leadership and determination in getting the job done.