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April 20, 2014

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MAACO Bowl Las Vegas:

Former Las Vegas High standout returns to Las Vegas with Boise State

Billy Winn has gone from high school state champion to NFL prospect

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Boise States Billy Winn celebrates after stopping Utah State on a third down during the first half of the NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008 in Boise, Idaho.

Las Vegas Bowl discussion

KSNV sports anchor Kevin West talks Boise State and Utah with Las Vegas Bowl executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy on "Sports Night in Las Vegas."

Some of Boise State defensive tackle Billy Winn's fondest football memories have come at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Winn, a Las Vegas native, grew up attending football camps at Sam Boyd and most notably was part of the Las Vegas High team that beat Galena (Reno) 33-6 to capture the 2006 state championship.

"It was a fun time," Winn said.

Winn hopes to add a bowl victory to those memories when No. 10 Boise State kicks off against No. 20 Utah at 5 p.m. today in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

He never imagined he'd have a chance to play in Las Vegas this season. The Las Vegas Bowl has no tie-in with the Western Athletic Conference, but was able to invite Boise State after the Pac-10 did not have enough teams to fulfill their bowl obligations.

Winn said one word popped in his mind as soon as he heard where the Broncos were headed — family. Winn will have as many as 60 people in the stands supporting him. The presence of one of them holds extra-special significance.

"To have my great grandmother at my game will mean a lot to me," Winn said. "She hasn't gotten to come to many of my games."

Winn said his great grandmother hasn't seen him play since high school. Winn was dominant at Las Vegas High, emerging as one of the state's top players.

He served as a linchpin on two state championship teams, earned Sunrise Region Defensive Player of the Year award and made at least one All-American team. Winn said he wouldn't have found immediate success in college if it weren't for his time at Las Vegas High and work with coach Chris Faircloth.

"The work ethic he introduced me to really helped me at Boise State," Winn said. "It's about every day going out there with a purpose and getting that task accomplished."

Winn, a junior, has played an integral role for the Broncos in each of the last three seasons after redshirting in 2007. He has appeared in every Boise State game since 2008 and made the All-WAC second team last year on Boise State's undefeated Fiesta Bowl championship team.

"He's a very good player who has progressed every year," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "He's got a lot of ability, and I really feel like his best year is still in front of him."

Winn has played well enough that he could skip his final year of college and enter the NFL Draft. ESPN NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper has mentioned Winn as a future pro and at least one scouting web site ranks him as a top-10 defensive tackle.

Winn, however, quickly shot down that notion.

"I made a promise to this university that I was going to stay five years," Winn said. "That's what I'm going to do."

But this week, all of Winn's focus is on the Las Vegas Bowl. He mentioned he was excited to play against a few of his old high school opponents on Utah, including running back Eddie Wide, who went to Cimarron-Memorial, and receiver De'Vonte Christopher, who went to Canyon Springs.

Perhaps a tackle against Wide or Christopher will put a smile on his great grandmother's face.

"For her to have the opportunity to come to this game, she's going to have a blast," Winn said. "She'll love to see her grandson out there playing football."

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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