OGDEN — Weber State football rose to new heights in 2008 with a first-round playoff victory at Cal Poly, the first postseason win in program history.
The next season, just days into the tenure of new WSU athletic director Jerry Bovee, the Wildcats led Colorado State 23-17 in the fourth quarter. Then, trailing 24-23, Weber drove to the CSU 11 with less than a minute left. With one final play to set up a game-winning field goal attempt, WSU fumbled the snap and lost the game.
Six months later, WSU men’s basketball held a 40-20 lead at halftime of the Big Sky championship game before Montana’s Anthony Johnson scored 34 points in the second half and the Griz upset the regular-season champions 66-65.
“That’s how I started and I thought ‘wow, there’s going to be some tough days,’” Bovee said. “I remember getting home and I had young kids crying … to deal with that and work through that, you learn from those things.
“I’ve always believed that you don’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows ... You realize you can’t survive on the roller coaster. You enjoy the highs and survive the lows, but it’s the everyday grinding through the things that continues to make you better.”
Ten years later, that everyday grinding will find a new outlet for Bovee, who is moving on to become Utah State University’s deputy athletic director.
That grinding has made Weber State athletics better in many ways.
Facilities-wise, Bovee led WSU as it added the Marquardt Field House. The 73,000-square-foot indoor space is used by many programs on campus for training and weightlifting, and provides an indoor practice facility for football and softball, among others, to use as weather dictates.
A student-athlete success center opened in 2016, a central place for athletes from all programs to study and meet with advisors and tutors in the midst of a demanding schedule that includes classes, practices, training, weightlifting, film study and travel.
Last September, Weber State broke ground on a north end zone expansion to Stewart Stadium that will further catapult the school to the forefront of the Big Sky. The new building will house strength and conditioning facilities and a 125-seat team meeting room for use by all Weber State athletes. It will also contain new football locker rooms, coaches offices and an equipment room, while also creating a new main stadium entrance, ticket office, souvenir shop and stadium plaza.
At more than $16 million — about half coming directly from donors — the north end zone expansion is the largest such project, monetarily, in school history.
That is on track to open this August. When that’s done, efforts can move forward to turn old locker-room and weight-room space under the stadium into an expanded physical training room and space for physical therapy.
In the next year or two, efforts to upgrade video-board and multimedia capabilities at Stewart Stadium and the Dee Events Center will hit full gear.
While it’s all material, those are tangible ways to see progress.
“We’ve grown the facilities here over the last 10 years in a way most never dreamed could happen. That’s rewarding,” Bovee said. “That’s going to stand the test of time. It’s a pressure you feel to be true to those who came before you and try to do it right.
“I think of Reed K. Swenson in his time working to make that field house over there, the Swenson gym, as good as it could be. And they were proud of that. Then someone came along and said we can build a bigger place, the Dee Events Center. So it’s really bigger than you,” Bovee continued. “You’ve got a space of time to carry the torch that other people lit. So someone will come after me and hopefully they feel that pressure and that desire to be as good as they can be so it continues.”
Bovee pointed to rewarding on-the-field markers, too.
The softball program launched in 2010 and totaled a 20-58 record in Big Sky play in the first four seasons. Mary Kay Amicone was hired ahead of the 2014 season, and in 2015, the Wildcats surged to an NCAA Tournament berth, setting up four straight regular-season conference titles to follow.
Former track athletes like Lindsey Anderson and Sarah Sellers have emerged on the national stage in places like the Olympics and the Boston Marathon.
And football. If ever there was a roller coaster to survive, it was football. Ron McBride brought new life into a struggling program that seeped out upon his retirement in 2011 when the months-long tenure of John L. Smith created a years-long hangover.
Now, Jay Hill has the Wildcats winning at unprecedented levels for what looks like a perennial top-five program knocking on the door of the national championship game.
“Jerry’s the reason I came here. I believed in him and what a great person he is. I saw the potential in the university and in the athletic department, and a lot of it was him,” Hill said. “This is a hard loss for us because he’s really good and he’s helped build our program into what it is now.
“He never told me no. That doesn’t mean I always got my way, but we always found a way to work through what I felt we needed to get done. He was always 100% supportive of that and I’ll always be super grateful for that.”
Bovee’s lasting legacy is likely to be the culture he fostered in the department — coaches, athletes and administrators that care about each other and work together.
“Jerry did a great job of developing that and making that an emphasis,” head men’s basketball coach Randy Rahe said. “And I really felt like that’s what coaches wanted, but it’s hard to get to because sometimes ego gets involved. Here at Weber State, we don’t have that. Everybody’s here to support each other and take care of each other. I’ll go to other coaches for advice, they’ll come to me. It’s all based on relationships and trust, and when you have that, good things happen.”
In addition to all those things, Bovee said there are plenty other memories to last forever.
Like the fun: the road trips with staff, unique experiences like having travel plans derailed by monsoon weather, and the everyday camaraderie.
And, the poignant: sitting with athletes in his office as they step back from the thought of suicide, or the death of a beloved golf coach — “such an important person in the community that everybody loved. Nobody ever said anything negative about Jeff Smith,” Bovee said.
“Those are things that will stay with me the rest of my life. Just the day-to-day, having relationships is important to me.”
Bovee said it would’ve been easy to stay at Weber State, but what would make it easy to stay are the same things that make good timing for change.
“You can leave when it’s down and run from it, or leave when it’s up so it carries on. It’s bigger than just one person,” he said.
The chance for a new challenge felt right for him and his family. Bovee has had other opportunities to leave but not many have ultimately appealed that much. He describes himself as aspirational, but only as far as it makes him a good husband and father. Those things come first, so the idea of moving all around the country wasn’t appetizing.
“I always thought that big-time is where you are. This has been big-time for me,” Bovee said.
Enter Utah State: the school listed on his Bachelor’s diploma, the school where he met his wife and where they started a family, the school where he first worked in athletics administration.
“It felt right and an opportunity to continue to grow and have an adventure for our family,” he said.
Some of those kids have grown up and moved out. Two still live at home, one of which will begin high school in Cache County. One is a student at Weber State and will remain. Another is serving a mission who, Bovee said, told him “whatever it is we do, we do together.” So Bovee sent word Tuesday to his mission president, former MLB pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, that the family was headed to Logan.
But that’s not to say he’s completely Aggie Blue inside.
Bovee is an Ogden native and attended Ben Lomond High School. He said Weber State was part of his family growing up.
“This was a destination for me, too,” he said. “I will always have a huge part of my heart that’s here and what was built here, who I got to work with and what we accomplished here. It’s something you don’t just pack up and go away from.”
He said when he came to Weber, he kept rooting for Utah State — except on head-to-head gamedays, when it “didn’t take long” to be out for blood from his former home, he said. So this should be much the same, just the other way around.
“It’s hard to leave here. It’s hard to leave a place you love. People wonder ‘why would you leave?’ To some degree, you still wonder if it’s right but, when it got announced, I told my wife ‘we can’t take it back now,’” Bovee joked.
“This is a hard place to leave. It’s a great place.”
THE NEXT AD
Only 50 miles up the road, Bovee said he’s willing to be available to Weber State’s next athletic director and help how he can, much like Jerry Graybeal did for him.
“It depends on what the vision of the administration is, but I’m invested,” he said. “I hope to see Weber State continue to thrive and get to that goal of winning a national championship in football, and other sports continue to do well.”
The task to hire Bovee’s replacement falls to Brad Mortensen — at WSU since 2004 and the new school president of five months — and his vice president for administrative services, Norm Tarbox.
The feeling in the foothills is that this search for a new athletic director — on a campus that shies away from costly, trendy search firms for such openings — is in good hands.
“Whenever you have change … there’s maybe a little anxiety. You hope that whoever gets put into those positions are people you trust and have the same philosophies,” Rahe said. “But we went through it with hiring Brad Mortensen and boy did they nail that one. That was a home-run hire.
“That’s what you hope for is somebody who knows the culture of Weber State and understands what Weber State is all about. I have great faith in Norm Tarbox. I’m sure Brad will be involved. When you have good people in place that understand Weber State and it’s in their DNA what Weber State’s about, I have great faith that whoever they put in place is going to be the right person. I’m excited to see who that will be and start working with them, develop relationships with them.”
Tarbox has been at Weber State since 2002.
“Everybody’s got great faith in him and what he’s all about. He’s going to do a great job and that’s why we’re excited to see what happens,” Rahe said.
Did Bovee have any nerves over passing that torch and moving on?
“Not really. We have a great administration in our president and Norm Tarbox. They’re Weber guys through and through; they’re solid. They’ll make the right decisions,” he said.
“My wife asked me if I died; people said such nice things about me on social media. I appreciate that ... but I don’t for a second believe I’m that important,” Bovee continued.
“Someone else is going to come and ... they’ll have talents and abilities that I don’t have. You celebrate the time you have in the chair and try to do the best you can and hope it was good enough, and hope somebody comes in after you who’s a lot better than you. I have no doubt (Mortensen and Tarbox’s) love for this place will force them to bring somebody in who has all the talents and a love for this place to take it to the next step.”