BOISE – Brett Rypien may not have been here, sitting on a chair inside the recruiting lounge of the Blaymaier Football Complex talking about preparing for his final season at Boise State.
In fact, he probably wouldn’t have been here.
Had former quarterback Ryan Finley not suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the third game of the 2015 season against Idaho State, Rypien’s career at Boise State would look a lot different.
Rypien may have been here. He just wouldn’t be in the same spot.
“We’ve thought about that,” Brett’s father, Tim Rypien, said. “And fortunately it worked out for both guys.”
One of the two figured to eventually transfer. And it just as easily could have been Rypien. A true freshman at the time, he almost surely would have redshirted in 2015 had Finley not got hurt. And Rypien might have had to sit behind him for two more years until Finley ran out of eligibility.
Sure, he could have beat out Finley at some point, but the more likely scenarios would have been either Rypien only playing his junior and senior seasons or electing to transfer elsewhere.
“I’m sure Brett would have gone someplace or Ryan would have gone someplace,” Tim Rypien said. “I think that’s what would have happened. One of the two. They were both quality kids and maybe it was going to be Brett leaving. Sometimes that happens in today’s game unfortunately with kids who want to play, and you can’t blame them.”
After a record-shattering career at Shadle Park High, Rypien enrolled early for spring practices in 2015 in hopes of putting himself in position to win the starting job that fall as a true freshman. He arrived with huge expectations and comparisons to Kellen Moore after breaking all of the former Boise State quarterback’s high school passing records in the state of Washington.
But Finley, a redshirt sophomore in 2015, outperformed Rypien and earned the starting nod that fall.
“There was no expectation he’d start, to tell you the truth, because he was just learning the system and if it wasn’t for Ryan getting hurt, he probably wasn’t going to play, to be honest,” Tim Rypien said.
Whether Rypien ever would have ended up playing for Boise State is a scenario everybody involved is thankful they don’t have to ponder. Had Finley stayed healthy and played well that fall, he likely would have had the leg up for the starting spot again in 2016. Would Rypien have wanted to stick around for three years as the backup to only have two years left to play?
It would seem more likely that Rypien may have elected to transfer. The other four schools among the five he visited prior to committing to Boise State were Oregon State, Arizona State, Washington and Washington State, and one of them surely would have welcomed him a year later.
“That definitely could have been the case,” Brett Rypien said. “I don’t really think about that too often, but that definitely could have happened.”
But the tables quickly turned. After thinking Finley would have the game experience to keep the job the following year, it was Rypien who instead used his freshman year to grab the starting spot for good.
After entering in the second half against Idaho State when news got back to Boise State’s coaches that Finley was done for the year, Rypien seized the opportunity and didn’t look back. In his first career start the following week in a Friday night nationally televised game at Virginia, he passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was a crazy, crazy fall,” Rypien said. “Going from thinking I was going to sit basically three years and then get thrown into the fire in the third game and have to make my first start on the road against a Power Five school. I learned a lot from that first year. It was crazy.”
Rypien finished as the Mountain West Freshman of the Year and the All-Mountain West First Team quarterback. He led the Mountain West in passing yards (3,353), completions (273) and attempts (429) and was second in completion percentage (63.6) and touchdown passes (20) - despite not playing in the first two games.
Barely nine months after arriving on campus, Rypien went from redshirting to the best quarterback in the Mountain West.
“It wasn’t the ideal situation for anybody, but Brett was ready,” said former Boise State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Eliah Drinkwitz. “Brett had prepared every day for that moment and took the reps in practice seriously, and when the opportunity presented itself, he took advantage of it.”
Drinkwitz, who now holds the same positions at North Carolina State, said he knew that Rypien was ready when they decided to move forward with him at quarterback.
“There’s a lot of people that aren’t prepared for those opportunities because they sulk or pout, and Brett didn’t do that at all,” Drinkwitz said. “He was a rock. There’s no wonder he’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in Boise State history.”
Finley, meanwhile, rehabbed his broken ankle and engaged in another battle with Rypien for the starting spot during spring practice in 2016. When coaches informed Finley shortly after the spring game that Rypien would remain the starter that fall, it was Finley who instead elected to transfer and play elsewhere.
“I think it was the best thing that could have happened to a lot of people,” Drinkwitz said. “You can’t always see that right there in that situation, and I remember putting Brett in the game in the second half vs. Idaho State, and I remember talking to Ryan and his parents in tears in the locker room after the game. At that moment, I don’t think anybody saw that as the best thing that could have happened to either guy, but it sure has turned out that way.”
Since Finley was injured during his redshirt season in 2014 and only played in parts of three games due to injury in 2015, he was able to apply for a medical redshirt to get back the year of eligibility. Since he also graduated that spring in three years, he was able to transfer somewhere and play immediately that fall with three years of eligibility remaining.
Drinkwitz had left for N.C. State in January, and he reached out to Finley in April once he announced publicly that he was planning to transfer. Finley eventually decided to transfer to N.C. State, and has been the starting quarterback there the past two seasons. He passed for 3,059 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016, and 3,518 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2017.
Rypien started the past two seasons for Boise State, helping the Broncos to a Mountain West Championship as a junior with a win over Fresno State in the title game last December.
“Ryan and I had the chance to play golf a few times and he’s a great kid and I still stay in touch with his dad, but it was a real hard deal because nobody wants to see that happen and nobody wants to get a job from an injury standpoint,” Tim Rypien said. “And I know that was super hard on Ryan, but thank goodness it has worked out for both of them.”
Rypien has remained in touch with Finley and has followed his progress from a far. Finley, also a senior this fall, is projected by some to be a first-round draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
“I’m not surprised with the success he’s had,” Rypien said. “He taught me a lot throughout my first six or seven months here. I knew he was going to be a great player. If he was going to be playing here he would have done really well as well. I’m not surprised, and I’m really happy for him.”
Even if Finley had stayed healthy and Rypien stayed anyway, he still wouldn’t have been in this spot. He wouldn’t be talking about his fourth year as the starter, with hopes of cementing himself as one of the best quarterbacks ever to play at Boise State and goals of a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game this winter.
But that’s where Rypien is, saddled with huge expectations both from those inside and out of the Boise State football program, as he looks to make the most of his final year in Boise.
It’s exactly the place he wants to be.
“I definitely don’t take it for granted, being able to play here has been a blessing and something that I never would have imagined as a young kid,” Rypien said.
“It’s something I’m going to miss for the rest of my life, being able to play quarterback here. It’s been really the best four years of my life.”
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