This Boise State pass rusher overcame early doubts to put together ‘special season’

Doubt started to creep into the mind of Boise State edge rusher Ahmed Hassanein two weeks into the season.

The Broncos were 0-2 after losses to Washington and UCF, and Hassanein had registered just five tackles. He didn’t have a single sack to his credit.

Playing a position that has produced a long list of stars at Boise State — Curtis Weaver, Jabril Frazier, now coaching the Broncos’ edge rushers, and Dallas Cowboys star DeMarcus Lawrence among them — Hassanein was questioning whether he could be that caliber of player.

“Can I do this?” he remembers asking himself. “Am I that player?”

Two and a half months later, the answer is clear, and Hassanein is one of the best players on Boise State’s defense.

The junior has posted at least one sack in eight straight games, the longest streak in the nation. His 12 sacks lead the team and rank No. 2 in the Mountain West, just behind Colorado State’s Mohamed Kamara, who has 13.

Hassanein became the first Boise State player to rack up more than 10 sacks in a season since Weaver posted 13.5 in 2019, which happens to be the last time the Broncos won the Mountain West championship.

He’ll try to extend his streak when the Broncos travel to Las Vegas to face UNLV in the Mountain West title game Saturday (1 p.m. Mountain time, Fox) at Allegiant Stadium.

“We’re excited and grateful for the opportunity,” Hassanein said Tuesday, adding that he’s never been part of a championship run in his football career. “Celebrating with my teammates would mean the world to me.”

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All-Mountain West performer from Egypt

Hassanein’s impressive season hasn’t gone unnoticed. He was named first-team All-Mountain West on Tuesday and said he couldn’t wait to share the news with his dad in Egypt — even though he said he’d probably have to explain what “first team” means.

“My dad is probably going to cry on the phone,” he said. “I can’t describe the feeling I’m having right now. My teammates and coaches have been big part of it, and this means the world to me.”

Seeing his name mentioned among the best players in the conference meant so much to Hassanein because his football career is still in its infancy. He didn’t play the game until he moved from Egypt to the United States when he was 16.

Three years ago, he was on the bottom of the Broncos’ depth chart and just thankful to have a scholarship. Now he’s well on his way to becoming Boise State’s next great pass rusher and putting himself in discussion for the NFL.

“Five years ago, I didn’t know I was going to be here,” said Hassanein, who posted the first two sacks of his career last season. “I didn’t know how to speak English, and I didn’t know much about football. I still have big room to grow, and I’m blessed to have the coaches I have.”

What sparked Hassanein’s turnaround? He said it was meetings with Frazier and interim head coach/defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson, in which he was advised to own his process.

Hassanein did just that. He broke down everything in his life, from how much time he spent in the training room to when he went to bed, what supplements he took and how much time he devoted to school work.

“Coach D always says to find your process and live in it,” Hassanein said. “Find what works for you, because what works for other guys may not work for you.”

Broncos’ sack leader has skills, work ethic

Hassanein is having what linebacker DJ Schramm called a “special season” because he doesn’t waiver from his process.

“What you guys see on Saturdays, he’s the exact same way in our Tuesday practices,” Schramm said. “The way he competes and how eager he is to get better, it’s no surprise to anyone in our locker room that he’s having the year he is.”

Despite how raw Hassanein was as a football player, Danielson said he had the physical skill set to be a great pass rusher. That came from years spent in combat sports, such as boxing and jujitsu, and a CrossFit career that saw him nationally ranked in Egypt when he was a 250-pound teenager.

Danielson also praised his work ethic.

“He always had that mentality where he wants to and is willing to put in the work to be great,” Danielson said. “There’s a difference in wanting to be great and earning that every single day.”

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Danielson said Hassanein is also eternally grateful for everything that comes his way.

“The first time he got a protein shake, it was like I gave him a million dollars,” Danielson said. “He was like, ‘Can I get one of these after every workout?’ I told him you can get two if you want.”

The Broncos (7-5, 6-2 Mountain West) need Hassanein to put pressure on UNLV quarterback Jayden Maiava on Saturday. The Rebels (9-3, 6-2 MW) have one of the most explosive passing attacks in the Mountain West, ranking No. 5 in the conference at 236.6 yards a game.

Maiava is completing 64.4% of his passes, and he’s thrown for 2,626 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. His favorite target, wide receiver Ricky White, leads the Mountain West with 1,308 receiving yards and is averaging 17.21 yards per catch.

“The quarterback can run and do it all,” Hassanein said. “Our goal is to get pressure on him and help our DBs, because they have really good wide receivers and they like to throw it deep.”

BOISE STATE AT UNLV

When: 1 p.m. Mountain time, Saturday

Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas (65,000)

TV: Fox (Jason Benetti, Brock Huard, Allison Williams)

Radio: KBOI 670 AM/93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)

Records: Boise State 7-5, 6-2 MW; UNLV 9-3, 6-2 MW

Series: Boise State leads the all-time series 8-3.

Vegas line: Boise State by 2 points