BOISE — In his final home game as a college football player Ryan Wolpin subbed in for the injured Alexander Mattison and scored the game-winning touchdown to help Boise State win the Mountain West championship.
He might be called upon to make a similar impact a week from Saturday when the Broncos face Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Mattison was seen with a big boot on his left foot and lower leg Sunday when the Broncos were honored at halftime of the basketball game, and his status remains unknown for the Dec. 16 bowl game.
“It’s the same as every week, just be ready to step up,” Wolpin said Wednesday. “Hopefully Alex is 100 percent by game time, but I’ll attack it like I do every week and just be ready and be prepared.
“I’m always ready to step up for him and he’s always ready to step up for me. We’ve had a great relationship over the years and built a really strong friendship, so we’re always ready to back each other up in any situation.”
It would seem unlikely that someone that needed a scooter to get around would be able to play 13 days later, but coach Bryan Harsin hasn’t ruled out Mattison playing, at least publicly. He did say running backs need to be close to 100 percent due to the cuts needed and the violent nature of playing the position, which would seem like a hint that it might be tough for his 1,000-yard rusher to go.
That means Wolpin could get a chance at significant action against the Ducks in what likely will be his final football game ever. The redshirt senior is second behind Mattison with 99 rushes for 377 yards and four touchdowns.
“We’re 100 percent confident in Ryan,” Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien said. “Catching it out of the back field, making plays in the run game, he can do it all. I have 100 percent confidence in really all our backs, if (Robert Mahone) has to step up and get more reps also.”
The senior sat out a season at Northern Colorado, transferred to Boise State as a walk-on, earned a scholarship with strong special teams play and did enough to earn the start at running back in the season opener.
Now he could start against the Oregon Ducks in the Las Vegas Bowl with Kirk Herbstreit talking about him on ABC. Not a bad way to finish up a career.
“I think definitely being in a bowl game, especially on this stage, is an exciting opportunity,” Wolpin said.
How did Wolpin get to this point? A ton of hard work, and plenty of perseverance.
He went nearly three years without playing a game from the end of his high school career to making his Boise State debut in 2015 after redshirting at Northern Colorado in 2013 and with the Broncos in 2014.
He played mostly on special teams as a walk-on in 2015, but did rush for 155 yards on 25 carries as a backup running back. Many of those came in a 55-7 blowout win of Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Coaches thought enough of Wolpin to give him a scholarship prior to last season, but he was behind Jeremy McNichols and Mattison on the depth chart and had only 13 rushes for 39 yards while again mostly contributing on special teams.
But with McNichols gone and Mattison missing the spring due to a shoulder injury, Wolpin earned most of the first team reps in spring practice and fall camp and made the most of them. He impressed enough to earn the start in the season opener against Troy and got 37 carries in the first three games.
But his playing time decreases as Mattison found his groove, and Wolpin had just 51 carries in the next nine games leading up to the Mountain West title game.
Mattison became the workhorse back the Broncos expected him to be, rushing for 1,074 yards to this point, and Wolpin was left to get a random carry here and there. His senior season appeared to set to end up going just like the others, making most of his contributions on special teams.
That is, until last Saturday, when Mattison had to be helped off the field with an injury to his left leg early in the fourth quarter. Suddenly Wolpin, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on, was thrown onto the field in the fourth-quarter of the Mountain West title game with the Broncos losing 14-10.
“I was just ready for the opportunity to step up,” Wolpin said. “That’s something coach Harsin always touches on, being ready to be the next man up and step up for the team. You have to be ready for anything, and that’s always been my mindset, to step up for the team.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and something the coaches always preach about, continuing to work regardless of your role and just being ready for the next opportunity.”
Wolpin had 11 rushes for 50 yards, but none were bigger than his two on Boise State’s game-winning touchdown drive. The Broncos went 90 yards — 95 if you count a penalty on the first play of the drive that pushed them back to the 5 — and scored the go-ahead score with 4:42 left to play in the game.
The senior had a key 11-yard run to pick up a first down, and then found the end zone on a 2-yard run out of the wildcat formation to cap the drive and give the Broncos just their second outright Mountain West title in six years since joining the league.
“It was awesome for him,” Rypien said. “He’s been our hardest worker the last three years since I’ve been here. The weight room, on the field, the guy just brings it every single day. He only has one speed. To see him score that final touchdown and give us the lead, it was pretty surreal for me.”
How far has Wolpin come in five years? His interview with the media Wednesday was interrupted when a Vegas showgirl asked him if she could give him a kiss for scoring the game-winning touchdown. He reluctantly said yes, knowing he’d have to explain the red lipstick on his cheek to his girlfriend.
“What was the question again?” Wolpin joked after the encounter.
When he found his focus again, he described a cool postgame moment with Mattison in which the two shared a hug in the locker room.
“He was real proud of me,” Wolpin said. “When he was coming off the field I grabbed him and said he’s going to be fine and I had his back and that we’d score, so after (the game) it was an emotional moment for me and him.”
He might get another chance to fill in for Mattison next week against the Ducks. Is there any doubt he’ll be ready?