The idea is to identify the players who are good but not transcendent stars. These are players who are talented but not household names to college football fans outside of the Mountain West Conference. These are often solid players whose talents and production is appreciated more by watching a season’s worth of conference games rather than catching highlights on ESPN or getting national attention from sports media. It may be the best player on the team, and for other teams, it may simply be one of the better players. The main rule is that their in-conference reputation has to be far greater than their out-of-conference reputation.
Here is the last version for reference:
(Provided by NittanyFalcon)
For Air Force, I’d say DL Chris Herrera is the best example of a Mountain West type player. Beginning his third season as a starter for the Falcons, he has toiled in the shadow of an outstanding player in Jordan Jackson, just as the conference itself toils in the shadows of the P5 conferences. Last year, he led all defensive linemen on the team with 44 tackles. Although he only produced 3.5 sacks, he also had 8 QB hurries, and his pressure made Vince Sanford and Jordan Jackson shine brighter.
As the leader in career starts on the defense, he’ll be expected to be a leader this year, and I expect big year for him, with possible all-conference recognition when his senior year ends.
(by Aiden Petterson)
Someone who embodies the Bronco culture and has put on a show in the Mountain West is DT Scott Matlock. After forging his way through a difficult childhood, Matlock came to Boise vying for a scholarship that was not guaranteed. A Homedale, Idaho native, he worked tirelessly to become the best version of himself while wearing the blue and orange. While the likes of JL Skinner, Hank Bachmeier and George Holani are spotlighted, Matlock has made his presence known to opposing offensive lines. Last year, he put up career numbers, totaling seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Since his first year as a Bronco (Brett Rypien’s senior year), Matlock has improved to where if the chips fall in his favor this season, his name could be called in the 2023 NFL Draft.
(by Lute Moss)
I’ll go with Sophomore safety Jack Howell. After injuries plagued the Rams secondary in 2021, Howell, a true freshman, stepped up in a big way. Starting in 6 games, and appearing in 10, Howell was just the third player in school history to be named to the FWAA Freshman All-American team. He was also Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded true freshman safety.
Not only is Jack Howell an incredible young player for the Rams, his dad John was a legend at CSU, eventually playing in the NFL and winning a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Heading into his Sophomore year, Jay Norvell has been impressed with Jack and has described the younger Howell as a leader on the defense going into the 2022 season. Jack Howell embodies the toughness of previous Ram teams led by Sonny Lubick. For a school hoping to get back its glory days, Howell is my choice for a player who may not be a household name nationally, but is someone who will be a key contributor in getting CSU back on the right track.
(by Matt Robeson)
I’ll put Evan Williams down for this one. Ever since arriving on campus in 2019, he has been a leader and force in the defensive secondary. He became a captain as a sophomore in the 2020 campaign, and has proven to be integral to the defensive growth of the Bulldogs. Now as a senior, he looks for another strong season before making a tough decision as to whether he heads to the NFL or returns for a fifth season in the Valley.
As a true freshman, he became the first Fresno State freshman to earn MW Player of the Week honors, and led all freshmen in tackles that year. Even though he was only able to play in 4 games in 2020 due to the COVID-impacted season, he was still 3rd on the team in tackles. The 2021 season would be his best, as he would lead the team in tackles with 93 including 60 solo tackles. Led the team in interceptions, and looks to be the first 3-peat defensive captain as the 2022 season begins in two weeks.
He truly embodies the Bulldog spirit, and represents the Valley at the highest levels. While he might not be well known outside of the conference, or even outside of the West Division, he is a player that everyone should get to know before he picks off their QB.
(by Jeremy Rodrigues)
The mass exodus that occurred in January left Hawaii in a compromised position, and eventually without a head coach after Todd Graham resigned. Graham resigned of course because of the outcry over star players like Chevan Cordeiro and Darius Muasau leaving over behind-the-scenes issues with Graham. Some of these issues were brought to light in a now-infamous state senate meeting by former Hawaii football player Leonard Lee, who was kicked off the team by Graham.
One year later, Lee has miraculously not just rejoined the program, but earned a scholarship and sits atop the depth chart at safety. Lee represents precisely what new head coach Timmy Chang is hoping to rekindle with the program: a local boy who had the determination to fight his way back to represent his home state.
Time will tell if Leonard Lee thrives at safety or not, but he exemplifies a Hawaii program that’s attempting to succeed in difficult times. It’ll take that type of spirit to rally and make the best of the makeshift stadium era of Hawaii football.
(by Matt Hanifan)
The vast majority of Wolf Pack players we haven’t seen play most — if any — snaps. So I’ll choose a player who we’ve seen play at the Mountain West level.
I’ll go with Toa Taua. Taua was one of the most under-appreciated running backs entering the 2021 season, having rushed for nearly 700 yards on relatively low volume — registering 5.9 yards per carry — the year prior. He was less featured in the run game last year with the offensive line regressing, so he only 57 more yards on 36 more carries last year.
Admittedly, I’d prefer if the Wolf Pack stuck with a pass-heavy attack. But that’s ultimately not the reality of the situation with Ken Wilson, as opposed to Jay Norvell. What matters is that there will be a focus on developing the offensive line and establishing the run game with Taua. If he’s able to get in space, he’s not the fastest guy, but defenders will bounce off him.
We’ve seen spurts of a productive ground attack since Taua, the conference’s freshman of the year in 2018, has been a part of the Wolf Pack. Most nationwide don’t know the name, and don’t be surprised if he’s on a highlight or two barreling through defenders throughout the season.
(By Adam Evarts)
Without a doubt, for the Lobos this has to be Jerrick Reed II. Reed is utilizing his Super Senior season this year following up on a 2021 season in which he led the team with 89 tackles. Reed shines in Rocky Long’s defense, as the Lobo-back he gets to roam the field and make plays. This is the same position that Brian Urlacher made famous in Albuquerque, and Reed should be able to follow suit. His leadership should spark the defense to new heights in 2022.
San Diego State:
(by Jeff Carter)
The Aztecs are loaded with stars on both the offense and defense side of the ball. There are no surprises or sleepers with any of those returners. New QB Burmeister is not a household name and does not yet have a track record with the Aztecs. Jesse Mathews has been a household name with proven success. Most of my focus has been on the continued defense evolution and because of that will nominate LB Caden McDonald. He was overshadowed last year by Cameron Thomas, Michael Shawcroft and Patrick McMorris in the defensive stats, but is an anchor on a defense that should dominate most games.
San Jose State:
(by Vic Aquino)
First, second, and third thoughts on this one - senior QB Nick Nash. Statistically, his numbers put him under the radar because he’s mostly been an enhancement cog in the Spartan offense; mainly as a backup.
In his 24 career games, Nash has 1,317 passing yards, but his legs are what teams are most aware of with 844 yards (5.7 per carry) going into his senior season. Nash is San Jose State’s all-time career rushing QB too. He’s dynamic and teams have to account for him.
In the Spartans’ 2020 championship year in the third game that season against San Diego State, Nash replaced starting QB Nick Starkel who was injured on the very first play. Nash’s superb efforts in that 28-17 win on the Aztecs’ home field put him on the big-time appreciation map for Spartan fans.
This year along with QB Chevan Cordiero, it could be very interesting what OC Kevin McGiven can do with two dual-threat QBs. It’s definitely something for opposing defenses to chew on if both are on the field at the same time.
Plus, it’s just two syllables to his name - Nick Nash. It rolls off the tongue like he should’ve been in a movie like “The Longest Yard” or alongside Bobby Boucher in “The Waterboy.” In any case, Nash has provided the spark and done enough to be memorable during his time with the Spartans.
(Provided by Zach Ballard)
Senior linebacker Austin Ajiake. Ajiake is the Swiss Army knife of the defense. He leads the team in tackles and is a leader on a defense that has shown significant improvement this season. Ajiake is leading the surprising Rebels to a season that is shaping up to be very memorable. After emerging as a reliable linebacker, he seems poised for an even bigger senior season.
(provided by Graham_Gibson)
Utah State has a few good players that others outside the Mountain West might know. Logan Bonner, Justin McGriff, Calvin Tyler Jr., AJ Vongphachanh, Byron Vaughns, and Patrick Joyner are just a few of those names. However outside the Mountain West, not many may know about a running back that helps add depth for the Aggies: Junior running back John Gentry.
Gentry played in 14 games as a sophomore and finished with 268 total yards, rushing for 235 on 66 carries and catching five passes for 33 yards. He is well known in the Mountain West but not outside the Mountain West as he has not put up starter type numbers yet, though his numbers have been productive. Gentry was an important reason why Utah State came back against Washington State, rushing for 47 yards on 14 carries. Against Boise State, Gentry had a career best game with 57 yards on seven carriers and had a career best 41 yard run.
In his freshman season in 2020, Gentry played in five games and had 147 all purpose yards. He returned five kickoffs for 118 yards and rushed for 33 yards on seven carries. All five kickoff returns happened against Air Force.
Gentry was a three star recruit coming out of high school and was rated as the 52nd best running back in the nation according to 247Sports.com. As previously mentioned not many outside of the Mountain West know about John Gentry, especially after Utah State added Calvin Tyler Jr., however many players, teams, and fans inside the Mountain West are aware of the contributions that John Gentry has made on the team and should he put up bigger numbers this season, more people outside the Mountain West will recognize his name.
(provided by Mike Wittmann)
I considered Easton Gibbs (who may be a candidate for next year’s list), as the Cowboys have a knack for developing NFL-level linebackers and Gibbs is poised to be the next one. But for this year, the answer is running back Titus Swen. Swen was excellent in a secondary role behind Xazavian Valladay last season, gaining 785 rushing yards and finding the endzone seven times. With Valladay gone, Swen has had no issue stepping into the lead role. He is on pace to have a monster season and is still flying under the radar on the national scene and even in the Mountain West to some extent.
Your turn: Who would you nominate as a team’s most Mountain West player?