Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Thomas Sperbeck catches on at Boise State

Boise State’s Thomas Sperbeck, a former Jesuit High School standout quarterback, is catching on as a wide receiver for the Broncos. He had six catches for 156 yards in his team’s 52-26 loss to Utah State in an NCAA college football game Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in Logan, Utah.
Boise State’s Thomas Sperbeck, a former Jesuit High School standout quarterback, is catching on as a wide receiver for the Broncos. He had six catches for 156 yards in his team’s 52-26 loss to Utah State in an NCAA college football game Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in Logan, Utah. The Associated Press

Thomas Sperbeck grew up as the son of a quarterback, then became one.

Now he works in sync with one, offering a keen understanding of defensive schemes, routes and timing.

A former quarterback at Jesuit High School, Sperbeck is now a junior wide receiver at Boise State, where he leads the Broncos in receiving yardage (682), touchdown catches (five), and receiving yards per game (97.4) and per catch (20.7) as a favorite target for quarterback Brett Rypien. Sperbeck has made some spectacular plays, including over-the-shoulder catches highlighted on ESPN but remains humble.

All this from a fellow who used to deliver the throws and then raced into the end zone in hot pursuit of a receiver to congratulate him for a touchdown.

“It’s been a great career, a great time here,” Sperbeck said last week. “I’m having so much fun. I think it definitely helps that I was a quarterback, reading defenses, identifying coverages, and it’s helped especially having a dad who really understands this game.”

Sperbeck grew up tagging along with his father, Marshall, and was as familiar on a football field as a blocking sled and shoulder pads. Sperbeck participated in running drills when his father coached at Foothill College in the Bay Area and later when he headed the Sacramento State program for seven seasons. The universal language was football – how to play it and how to compete. Marshall could speak from experience. He grew up as the son of a coach (Dick Sperbeck), set regional passing records at Valley in 1977 and started at quarterback at Nevada in 1981 and 1982.

Now the vice president of development at Jesuit, Marshall Sperbeck beams from afar. He has the weekends free to watch his son, a luxury he didn’t often have when he was at Sac State. It’s now a family affair in Boise, Idaho, for games, including Sperbeck’s mother, Kelle. Father and son talk shop afterward, either over dinner or on the phone, with mom often rolling her eyes and muttering, “More football after all day of football?”

“We talk about what works, what doesn’t, and he tells me his thoughts, so it’s definitely a great thing,” Sperbeck said. “When I need something, some insight or advice, he’s always there. He’s always been there for me. He taught me everything about the game, and I appreciate it more and more.”

The elder Sperbeck told his son that if he really wanted a college football scholarship, he should explore every viable position. He didn’t recruit him to Sac State because he didn’t want to mix family and business. But he offered counsel and made calls to pitch his son’s merits.

Sperbeck’s prep game film revealed a wiry, quick athlete who made plays – quarterback runs, deep passes with touch, defensive touchdowns, hard hits on special teams. He left Jesuit as one of the program’s most dynamic athletes. As a senior, he led the Marauders in passing, rushing, scoring and tackles. But at 6-foot and 175 pounds, Sperbeck received little interest as a quarterback.

Army wanted him as a quarterback and a soldier. Colorado State liked him as an athlete. San Jose State wanted him as a wide receiver. Sperbeck wound up in Idaho, enamored with Boise State, the football program, the outdoor life , and a city that lives for all things blue and orange with the beloved Broncos. Boise State initially signed Sperbeck as an athlete with visions of putting him at safety, but he wound up at his preferred spot, wide receiver.

“I was looking for the right position, the right school, and I did, and I feel so lucky,” Sperbeck said. “That was big for me in recruiting, figuring out what position worked best. I was willing to try all of them, but I wanted to find one position and really focus on that. I found it.”

Sperbeck emerged last season, when he had 51 catches for a team-leading 877 yards and three touchdowns. He earned the Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP honor after Boise State beat Arizona 38-30. In that game, Sperbeck caught 12 passes (11 for first downs) for 199 yards.

He carried the momentum into this season, including five receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown in a 56-14 victory over Virginia. And his biggest fan remains his father.

“I’m so proud and excited for him,” Marshall said. “He’s had a great experience. He loves the school, his teammates, the coaches, the town. It’s all fallen in place for him. What I’m most impressed with is how hard he plays. He blocks, he finishes plays, he competes. He doesn’t take plays off. He just loves football. I can’t believe how fast time goes. I remember him going to practices with me like it was yesterday.”

Thomas agreed, enjoying the role reversal.

“I know my dad loved coaching, but it’s a silver lining for him to be able to watch me play now,” he said. “I know he enjoys it, and I love having my parents attend my games.”

Though Boise State lost to Utah State 52-26 Friday, buckling under seven turnovers to drop out of the Top 25, the Broncos (5-2) are still in the Mountain West Conference title hunt. Sperbeck said the Broncos will finish strongly, adding he’s living the good life. It includes a major in business, an off-campus rental house with five teammates and a vibe of around-the-clock blocking and tackling conversation.

“It’s not too bad,” Thomas said of the house. “We’re all pretty tidy and clean. No complaints.”

In football or at home.