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Who is Jacob Boren and why is he suddenly starting in the Cougars’ secondary?

The former Highland High star didn’t plan on playing college football, but that all changed when he saw a flier inviting BYU students to try out for the football team.

BYU defensive back Jacob Boren (20) disrupts a pass intended for Washington State wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr.
BYU defensive back Jacob Boren breaks up a pass intended for Washington State receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. during game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pullman. The former Highland High standout, who needed a tryout to even get on BYU coaches’ radar, has risen to a starting nickel back for the Cougars the season.
Young Kwak, Associated Press

If he continues on his upward trajectory, Jacob Boren’s story is one of those that will make a good movie some day.

Who is Jacob Boren? That was a question asked throughout Cougar Nation last week — and even in the press box at Martin Stadium in Pullman — as BYU knocked off Washington State 21-19 with some guy wearing No. 20 making pass breakups and key tackles in the blue-wearing Cougars’ secondary.

Boren, listed as a backup nickel back to starter Jakob Robinson on BYU’s two-deep chart, will probably get the start again this week as the Cougars face another pass-happy attack in former BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s system (8:15 p.m. MDT Saturday, ESPN2) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“We have a big challenge in front of us,” Boren said.

What makes the returned missionary’s story so unbelievable is that he didn’t even come to BYU as a walk-on, let alone a preferred walk-on. Instead, he made the team via a tryout, impressing coaches so much with his speed in 2019 that they invited him back for a two-week training session with some bonafide members of the team.

He passed that test, too, and now he’s a valued member of defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki’s defense as a DB and Ed Lamb’s special teams units as a gunner on punt coverage and a variety of other spots.

Boren tied linebacker Ben Bywater for team-high tackling honors with five in the win over the crimson-wearing Cougars.

“For the past couple of years I have been working really hard,” he said Tuesday in a Zoom call with reporters. “Obviously there have been some changes with people getting injured or moving positions and things like that. Just the combination of the work I have put in these past couple of years, and then some recent opportunities, have given me the chance to get some more playing time on the field.”

Here’s how it all started:

Boren grew up in Salt Lake City and attended Highland High, smack dab in the middle of Utah Utes country.

BYU defensive back Jacob Boren, left, tackles Washington State receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. during game on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. The former Highland High star who needed a tryout to make the team, is now making plays on the BYU defense.
Young Kwak, Associated Press

“My family is mostly Utah fans,” he said.

He shined for the Rams as a running back and cornerback, but got absolutely zero offers to play beyond high school. “I didn’t think college football was in the cards for me,” he said.

While on his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Boren applied at Utah and BYU, then decided to attend BYU “so I could do my own thing, live away from home.”

He saw a flier inviting students to try out for the football team and was encouraged by Bywater — who also grew up in Utes’ territory and attended Olympus High — to give it a whirl.

“I thought it would be fun, and here I am,” he said.

He initially tried out to play receiver because he’s fast — he was reportedly clocked running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash by a member of the BYU strength and conditioning staff — and because there were too many DBs and “a lot of the running backs were pretty big dudes.”

Boren played receiver and on special teams in 2019, appearing in one game. In 2020, he was moved to the secondary, but didn’t see much action aside from special teams.

This year, he’s slowly moving into a key role. He has made 10 tackles while appearing in all eight games.

Getting the start against Wazzu “was pretty cool,” he said, although his family wasn’t able to attend the game, missing a contest for the first time this season.

“I was definitely a little nervous,” Boren said. “But I felt like overall my week was pretty similar. I had prepared the same way that I would normally prepare for the games and things like that. When it came time to play — obviously leading up to the game I had some butterflies, but as soon as I started playing it went away and I got dialed in.”

Safety Malik Moore said the Cougars “have trust in everybody on our roster” and nobody flinched when Boren moved into the starting lineup.

Tuiaki said Boren “has been busting his tail” to get more playing time, and proved to be ready when his number was finally called.

“Because of different (personnel) movement, different guys being injured and out and all that stuff, he has had an opportunity to play and did a really good job,” Tuiaki said.

Will he play as much against Virginia, which brings in the No. 4 offense in the country?

“I mean, we will see. We change quite a bit, depending on who our opponent is,” Boren said. “There have been games where the nickel position has gotten a lot of reps, and there have been games where the nickel position has gotten hardly any reps. So I think that all kinda depends on who we are going up against. Hopefully I will be able to see the field a little bit more going forward.”

Because hope is how this whole unbelievable story got started.