Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007 | Imagine this: The San Diego-raised son of a father who played football for Don Coryell preferred Boise State as a college destination over San Diego State.
You had to wonder what Vinny Perretta and his father, Ralph, were thinking. Today, you know the answer.
Boise State has become to college football in the West what San Diego State was a generation ago under Coryell — before he moved onto the NFL — and his SDSU successor, Claude Gilbert. Back then, the Aztecs were known for creative offenses and national rankings despite playing in the shadow of the Pac-10’s big boys.
Somehow, that identity now belongs to Boise State.
The Broncos capped the 2006 season with a 43-42 overtime win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl that rates as one of college football’s epic games. Boise State finished ranked No. 5 in the nation and 13-0 with a fifth-straight Western Athletic Conference title.
There are a number of explanations for the seismic shift of mid-major football preeminence in the West from San Diego to a school in Idaho. But instead of detailing the reasons, let’s put the face of a San Diego athlete on the story.
Vinny Perretta is a junior wide receiver at Boise State from San Diego’s suburban La Costa Canyon High. A versatile playmaker, he was one of the miracle workers that pulled off Boise’s Oklahoma upset.
“I’m thankful to be a part of something so special,” Perretta said. “I never imagined all this stuff could have happened to me. Boise State is everything I could have asked for; it’s a dream come true.”
In overtime, he threw the touchdown pass that set up the game-winning two-point conversion moments later.
Perratta was lined up in the backfield when he shifted into shotgun formation and quarterback Jared Zabrinsky went in motion to the left. Perretta took the snap, rolled right, sold the defense on a run attempt and pulled up to hit the tight end with a touchdown toss in the right corner.
“Our coaching staff is pretty sneaky,” Perretta said. “They love trick plays. If it’s legal, it’s football.”
Perretta possessed the background for such improvisation. He played his senior season at La Costa Canyon in 2003 as a running back, wide receiver and return man.
His father played six seasons as an offensive lineman for the Chargers from 1975 to 1980, a span that included the Air Coryell years.
Perretta’s quarterback as a junior at La Costa Canyon was Kevin O’Connell, now SDSU’s senior starter. And after Perretta’s senior year, he played with then-future-and-now-former SDSU quarterback Kevin Craft in the mid-summer Alex Spanos High School All-Star Classic.
But despite all those San Diego connections, when Perretta’s Division I-A opportunities were limited to walk-on offers from SDSU and Boise State, he chose Boise.
As Perretta, a 5-foot-9-inch, 196-pounder, tells it, landing at Boise began with his father watching a game on ESPN between Boise State and BYU. Ralph noticed an undersized receiver making plays in the Boise State passing game.
“He wondered if Boise might be the best place for me,” Vinny said. “Their receivers weren’t the biggest or fastest guys, but they were spreading the ball around and having fun. We looked into it and liked the coaches. We liked how they treated walk-on players. Boise had a good thing going.”
Vinny’s first year at Boise was 2004 when he redshirted. He was named the scout team’s offensive player of the year and was awarded a scholarship after the first semester. In 2005, he played in all 13 games as a backup wide receiver and caught 13 passes.
Last year as a sophomore, he was forced into splitting time as a running back because of injuries to players backing up starter Ian Johnson, a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2007. Perretta finished third on the team in rushing with 324 yards and three touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
He enters the Broncos’ 2007 opener Aug. 30 against Weber State as a starting wide receiver for a team with a 13-game winning streak that is the longest in the nation and preseason rankings of No. 23 by USA Today and No. 24 by AP.
But Perretta says he’s not alone among productive players on the roster that were overlooked by college recruiters.
“I think our coaches look at talent second and what type of football player you are first,” Perratta said. “You have to be willing to buy into the system. If you’re a five-star recruit who just wants the ball and you’re not going to block, that’s not going to work here. We have a good group of guys that puts the team first. The coaches preach to us every day we have to have a blue-collar mentality. If you have that, a good group of guys can succeed against five-star talent.”
Boise State’s rise to national prominence began with hiring Dirk Koetter. He went 6-5 in 1998 and 10-3 in 1999 before he left for Arizona State in 2001. (ASU fired him after the 2006 season.)
The Broncos promoted Dan Hawkins to replace Koetter and they kept winning. Hawkins left for Colorado in 2006, Chris Peterson was promoted and the Boise State reveled in its best season yet.
In contrast, San Diego State has fired six straight coaches dating back to Gilbert’s dismissal following the 1980 season, and each time a new coach from the outside, with a new system, was brought in.
But SDSU is finally providing more administrative support that the football program needs to win. The Aztecs begin their second season under head coach Chuck Long on Sept. 8 at Washington State.
Football also lacked support under Coryell and Gilbert, but they worked the kind of magic now found at Boise. Perretta hopes similar success for his hometown state university will come soon.
“I support San Diego State; I’ve got friends playing there,” Perretta said. “I was mad they didn’t give me a scholarship, but I understood why. They wanted five-star recruits. San Diego State has some great athletes, and I wish them the best.”
Considering how Vinny’s career has turned out, his father learned more about football from Coryell than how to block.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to the editor.