Former Highland High School standout Jacob Boren survived walk-on tryouts at BYU in the summer of 2019.
His reward? Workout gear and absolutely no guarantees.
Boren has had an impact on special teams during the Cougars 2021 season and has been getting a few reps in the defensive backfield as well. Facing the run-and-shoot offense this week at Washington State could provide even more opportunities for the speedy sophomore.
But the fact is, Boren started at the very bottom.
If a high school football recruit doesn’t merit a scholarship offer, they might be lucky enough to earn “preferred walk-ons” status, which means the coaches know you by name and will hold a place for you on the roster.
Boren was not a preferred walk-on. In fact, once the 5-foot-8, 165-pound running back/defensive back completed his high school career and chose to serve a church mission, he figured his football playing days were over.
After serving in Pennsylvania, Boren enrolled at BYU in August of 2019 and planned to study construction management. His life changed one day when he saw a flyer for football tryouts posted on campus. He filled out the paperwork but only his parents knew his plans. Then he reached out to a friend, linebacker Ben Bywater, who was already on the Cougar roster.
Boren needed some convincing.
“I just didn’t think the playing college football was in the cards for me,” he said.
Boren showed up at walk-on tryouts along with dozens of other hopefuls as maybe the biggest long shot of them all.
“At tryouts there were a lot of guys that were defensive backs,” Boren said. “And all the guys trying out for running back were twice as big as I was. So I decided to go to the receivers group. I’d never played wide receiver in my life.”
A member of the strength and conditioning staff hand-timed Boren at 4.3 in the 40-yard dash and told the other coaches.
“No one believed him,” Boren admitted.
Still, the coaches were intrigued enough to offer Boren a two-week tryout period with the team to see if it was a good fit.
“You just get shorts, a t-shirt and some football gear,” Boren said. “You really don’t get any other stuff. You practice with the scout team. We had separate lifts and separate meetings with the grad assistants.”
Boren tried to make an early impression and ended up regretting it.
“The first day of practice, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “We were wrap-up tackling, just tempo, not hard. I got the ball and thought, ‘This is my chance,’ I lowered my shoulder on (linebacker) Drew Jensen. He didn’t like that and on the next play he knocked me on my butt.”
Boren said he was “starstruck” during his first year with the program in 2019, grateful to get his body back in shape and rekindle his love of football. He played in one game that season and one in 2020.
“I worked really hard and sometimes it was discouraging,” he said. “But the coaches are really good about helping us stay positive.”
Boren ran an electronically timed 4.38 40-yard dash last spring and was moved to the defense as a nickel back. In 2021, he’s been a special teams standout on kickoffs and as a gunner on punt cover.
“We have a lot of good players on defense and I get a few reps with the defense here and there,” Boren said. “I really enjoy playing on special teams. Even if I get zero reps on defense, I get reps on special teams in a game. I pride myself on giving it my all, especially in games where I’m not seeing the field on defense. I really like running down and hitting someone on special teams. It helps the team and it’s a big part of the game. A big play on special teams can really change the momentum. Having energy and flying around is a way to make my mark and contribute to the team.”
During his first two years at BYU, Boren worked an on-campus job in the equipment room doing laundry and packing travel bags for men’s Olympic sports teams.
“I would go to school in the morning, practice in the afternoon and then to my on campus job at night,” Boren said. “My parents helped me out with tuition and books and the money I made at my job went toward rent.”
That all changed in August when Built Brands offered a name, image and likeness deal that paid the equivalent of tuition for walk-ons.
“When that check came, it was really cool,” Boren said. “Not having to work and being able to concentrate on just getting better at football was great. I can study film and stay late at practice. That’s something I’m really grateful for.”
Punter Ryan Rehkow, who set a school record with an 83-yard punt against Arizona State, appreciates the effort of Boren as a gunner, the player charged with getting to the ball first on punt cover.
“Jake, man, I could not speak highly enough of him,” Rehkow said. “He’s just a workhorse and it’s been great to see him grinding every day and to see all of that pay off on the field this year. I’m so grateful for him because I know he’s going to work his tail off, He’s really sound on his assignments so you know exactly what you’re going to get from him. It’s awesome. Every time he makes a play on the field I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Jaren Wilkey/BYU BYU’s Jacob Boren (20) runs alongside teammates Jason Money and others during a team practice on Aug. 5, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
Ryan Campbell BYU sophomore defensive back Jacob Boren