Sam McCaskill figured Andy Avalos would eventually get an opportunity he couldn’t turn down to leave Boise State.
It turned out that his former coach left for his old hometown to become the defensive coordinator at Oregon.
“To see him wanting to progress in his career makes sense,” said McCaskill, a former Sheldon football star who played at Boise State from 2012-16. “It was only a matter of time before he got a new opportunity to head out. I dealt with some coaching changes while I was at Boise so it makes sense talking to coaches and seeing how they want to progress. It was the next logical step, but we were sad to see him go. He’s a good guy.”
McCaskill was an all-state defensive lineman for the Irish who arrived at Boise State the same year Avalos was hired to coach defensive ends. When Chris Petersen left for Washington in 2014, Avalos switched to coach linebackers for two seasons before being named defensive coordinator prior to McCaskill’s senior season.
“He is one of the most intelligent and creative football coaches on the defensive side of the ball that I have ever been around,” said McCaskill, who works in commercial real estate in Boise. “With his ability to innovate and come up with new schemes to give every offense a headache, I’m not sure there is a better coach out there for doing that. He coaches with a tremendous passion. There is nothing better than being around someone who is tenaciously chasing their biggest passion and for him that is coming up with a scheme to shut a team out.”
McCaskill was a three-year starter for the Broncos who had 100 tackles in 51 career games. He earned first-team all-Mountain West Conference honors as a senior when he had 50 tackles, including 14 for loss with 6 1/2 sacks.
“Playing for him was a team that was very technical,” McCaskill said. “Anybody coached by Avalos will tell you that he pays more attention to eye placement and hand placement and knowing your responsibilities. One of the things he prides himself on is if you play for Avalos, it was expected that you know everyone’s role around you so that you could execute.”
McCaskill began his career at the STUD position before switching to play a true defensive end role on the other side of the line. Curtis Weaver and Jabril Frazier were all-conference selections as stand-up defensive ends during Avalos’ final two seasons with the Broncos.
“One of the things he was able to bring in and coach up was that STUD position,” McCaskill said. “He is so particular on the technique that he teaches, you truly understand the full scheme of the defense. That is valuable as a player and you see how productive it has been. The versatility of that position to have someone who can rush the passer, set the edge and drop back in coverage throws a curveball at the offense. When big, imposing guys can step up and blitz or drop in the flat to cover a running back, that is not something you expect and so it causes problems. His ability to come up with schemes is impressive.”
Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins played a version of the STUD position last year for the Ducks and freshman Kayvon Thibideaux, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound freshman ranked as the top recruit in the nation by ESPN, could fill that spot next season. Avalos will be the position coach for that group.
“STUD is what you would hear at the NFL Combine for example referred to as an edge guy,” Avalos explained. “Guys who have rush and pass capabilities in terms of drops. So the STUDs are the outside linebackers that allow us to be multiple with our fronts. Allowing us to have multiple fronts and move in and out of things in terms of three- or four-man fronts.”
During Avalos’ first year as defensive coordinator with McCaskill on the line, Boise State defeated Washington State and Oregon State. The following year, the Broncos defeated Oregon 38-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
“You can see in his record when he got the opportunity to scheme up against a big program, the defense stood up,” McCaskill said. “The mindset at Boise State is to get excited when we are able to play against Power 5 teams. For him to be able to go against that every week, I’m sure he is fired up for it.”
Avalos played linebacker at Boise State from 2001-04 before spending the past seven years coaching at his alma mater.
“He played linebacker and he coaches with the same intensity and it shows,” McCaskill said. “He has a tremendous passion for the game. He loves to see it done at a high standards and holds players to that.”