*In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. To kick things off, we cover the offensive tackles. Boise State's Ryan Clady is today's subject. *
Coming out of Eisenhower High School in Rialto, Calif., Ryan Clady never really had NFL aspirations. He was an athletic defensive tackle that showed promise, but needed developing. The two football powerhouses in his back yard - USC and UCLA - weren't interested in a project.
It was on to Boise State, his best offer from a list of school that included San Diego State, Idaho State and UTEP.
And while Idaho is largely out of the public eye when it comes to college athletics, Clady improved from project to prospect after a shift to the offensive line as a sophomore did wonders for his career and the Broncos.
"It felt like family up there," he said of his alma mater. "I loved the coaches and the town in general. It was a great place to play college ball."
The town was certainly lucky to have him.
In recent history, Boise State was a team that would annually romp through the Western Athletic Conference, only to flop when it got to a bowl game. Clady saw that first-hand when he redshirted in 2004, then again in 2005, only to buck the trend in 2006.
The Broncos went undefeated during Clady's true freshman campaign, only to lose 44-40 to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. The next year, he started 11 of 13 contests at right tackle, helping his offense rank ninth in the nation in scoring (36.1 points per game), 19th in rushing (202.46 yards per game) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (36).
The end result? A loss to Boston College in the MPC Computers Bowl.
Boise State answered that disappointment with another perfect record. Clady moved to left tackle, and the Broncos improved to second in the nation in scoring (39.7 point per game) and second in rushing touchdowns (39).
The end result this time was a shocking 43-42 victory over No. 10 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, capped by a now-famous Statue of Liberty sealed by a key Clady block, which sprung running back Ian Johnson for the winning two-point conversion.
"I had to pull around the left side to seal the block," Clady explained. "Fake like I'm down-blocking a little bit for a couple of seconds, and then pull around for the seal."
A quick check of YouTube confirms Clady's assertion.
That wasn't just a big play for the school, or for the program, which sent the most players in Broncos history to the NFL Combine that year.
"We had about six guys come to the combine," said Clady. "I think that really was due in part from the Fiesta Bowl. It's definitely a growing program."
The play also showed a huge audience how nimble Clady can be and what he could offer at the next level.
Clady, an All-American in 2007, is not only the first underclassman from Boise State to declare for the draft, he should also be the first Bronco taken in the opening round.
As a young player, Clady couldn't stir up any interest from the schools in his own home city.
But, far away from southern California, it's safe to say the people of Boise know him well.
"There's definitely a lot of excitement," he said. "The first first-round pick, that's something that doesn't come around too often at Boise."
BR.com originally reported the score of the Louisville - Boise State game as 44-0 and has since changed the score to the correct 44-40.