Riley Whimpey

Boise State linebacker Riley Whimpey (44) celebrates after a tackle against San Diego State on Oct. 6, 2018 at Albertsons Stadium.

BOISE — Riley Whimpey and his family were all big BYU fans while he was growing up — that is until his two other brothers began playing football at Utah State.

Boise State’s junior linebacker grew up in Highland, Utah, roughly 30 minutes north of Provo. His father graduated from BYU. So, until Kevin and Kyle Whimpey began their recruitment process, it was just natural for Riley to be a Cougars fan.

Whimpey will get a chance to play in Provo on Saturday against the team he grew up watching, as Boise State (6-0) takes on BYU (2-4) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“I’m from Utah, so all the family getting together, I have friends on that team, so it’s always fun to go back to BYU and play them,” Whimpey said.

The linebacker spent his first three years of his high school career playing at nearby Lone Peak High before moving to San Clemente, California, for his senior year.

He estimates that he will have roughly 50 family members going to the game, in addition to countless friends, including some on the opposing sidelines.

He named BYU players like running back Lopini Katoa and offensive lineman James Empey as friends.

“We grew up however many minutes apart from each other, we didn’t play on the same team, but we always grew up playing against each other,” Whimpey said. “So it’s always fun and I respect those guys, they’re fun. It’s always fun to be able to go out there and see them on the field and say what’s up.”

After his season ended prematurely last year due to an ACL injury, Whimpey comes into the game leading Boise State with 33 tackles. He added three tackles in last Saturday’s 59-37 win against Hawaii. He had a fumble recovery late in the first half which set up a 13-yard touchdown run by Robert Mahone to put the Broncos up 31-7.

“You can see that he’s playing with confidence and he’s directing traffic in there,” BSU defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. “There’s probably a little more juice, a little more having fun out there than trying to get the confidence back in his leg. I think that confidence is there.”

It was in the BYU game last season that Whimpey suffered his ACL injury. He tore the ligament late in the game, and had to watch from the sideline as Boise State’s defense stopped the Cougars at the goal line as time ran out on the Broncos’ 21-16 victory.

“I was on the sideline after I tore my ACL,” said Whimpey, who was leading Boise State with 55 tackles at the time. “(BYU) ran a screen, and that’s what took them all the way down there and we were like ‘you gotta man up and keep them out of the end zone. And that’s exactly what the defense did. We had a lot of dudes in there, and a great call and we were able to come out on top.”

He still wears a brace on his right knee, something he says helps him out just as much mentally as it does physically. He said he will probably wear it at least for the rest of the year. But he’s been able to bounce back from the injury and be a force on the Bronco defense, which is exactly what Whimpey wanted to do after the injury.

“As the season’s gone on, my knee’s felt better and better,” Whimpey said. “It’s been awesome to be out there with the guys and be able to participate and be able to do what everybody else is doing.”