Blake Renaud knew it once he visited.
There was just something about the environment, about the coaching staff, about the city of Boise and its intertwined feel with the football program.
Renaud, a three-star defensive end from Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, had come off a visit to Oregon State in early August and he liked it well enough. But once he spent time at Boise State, he knew he wanted to commit.
"Talking to the coaches and learning about the team and feeling the vibe of the town, it was pretty cool," Renaud said. "The atmosphere is all Boise State and everyone is behind everyone else and knows they can win. There just seems to be a winning atmosphere there."
There sure is a winning atmosphere, cultivated by coach Chris Petersen, who has turned down higher-profile programs to build the Broncos from a competitive-but-quirky Top 25 team that plays on blue turf into a legitimate national title contender.
Only Alabama and Ohio State are ranked higher in the latest Associated Press poll. The third-ranked Broncos already beat then-No. 10 Virginia Tech, which lost the following week to James Madison, and Wyoming on the road. This week Boise State hosts No. 24 Oregon State, the Broncos' last legitimate test until it visits Nevada on Nov. 26.
What really drew Renaud to Boise State was that the coaching staff didn't try to sell him on playing for national titles. The message from Boise State's coaches was simple: We just want to win.
That also worked for three-star defensive tackle Jeff Worthy of La Habra (Calif.) Whittier Christian.
"All they worry about is winning," Worthy said. "They just want to win no matter who they play, no matter when and where they play them. They want to beat them pretty bad.
"That kind of stuck with me because that's my mentality too. All I want to do is win no matter what conference I'm in, whether I'm in the WAC or the Mountain West or if I'm in the SEC. I just want to win. That's what sparked my attention to Boise."
And, obviously, no one does winning better than Boise State these days. Four of the past six regular seasons have ended in perfect records for the Broncos, and Petersen is 51-4 in four-plus years as head coach.
How much, though, does that lure bigger, stronger and faster players to disregard offers from BCS programs and choose Boise State, which announced earlier this summer it was bolting the WAC for the Mountain West Conference?
According to the Rivals.com rankings, Boise State has 11 commitments in its 2011 class, five of which are three-star prospects. Still, it's not enough to land Boise State in the Top 50 of Rivals.com's 2011 rankings.
Boise State's 2010 recruiting class wasn't even best among WAC schools. Or second-best. The 10-member class featured a four-star and six three-stars, but the Broncos finished behind Hawaii and Fresno State in their own league.
The Broncos have seen a gradual climb in recruiting, thanks to all the winning, but they haven't soared into the Top 50 nationally. Since 2002, the Broncos have signed only two four-star prospects: Bakersfield (Calif.) C.C. defensive end Tyrone Crawford in 2010 and Los Alamitos (Calif.) wide receiver Jeremy Childs in 2005.
Still, Boise State has found a way to make it work.
"Sometimes there is a player you really like that doesn't have much interest in you and then you move on," Petersen said. "Sometimes there are some other guys you like but a player has a lot of interest in you and maybe you don't have the same feeling for the other guys. So it's kind of that marriage thing that you have to work out."
Worthy's recruiting experience was similar to Renaud's. UCLA was a hometown favorite for Worthy and many expected the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder to end up with the Bruins or at Oregon, which had been involved for a while.
However, Boise State took an interested approach to get Worthy. The Broncos offered him off highlight tape alone and then invited him to summer camp. Traditionally, it's the other way around, but that tactic intrigued Worthy and so he visited.
He fell in love with the coaching staff, with the stadium, with the idea of an underdog mentality (even though the "little guy" label is fading with the newfound respect Boise State is receiving from pollsters).
Then it was a no-brainer. His mind was already made up. Playing in the Pac-10 or the Big Ten, or at history-rich Nebraska, just didn't seem as interesting. Worthy had lots of options but he felt Boise State was clearly the best fit.
"They're very much a family, they're very family-oriented, and there is a brotherhood going on there," Worthy said, "and they work their butts off. The coaches are great, I love the blue turf and I love their stadium. The indoor facility is really nice, too, and that's always a plus."
It's difficult to believe Boise State, short of getting into the Pac-10 eventually, will regularly compete with the big boys for the elite recruits in California. Texas and the Pacific Northwest have been fertile recruiting ground for the Broncos, but not for the highest-rated players.
Does it really matter though? Boise State has a system that works, a recruiting style that works and Petersen has the program in the race for a national championship. To think a school tucked away in Southwestern Idaho, stocked with relatively anonymous players, has a realistic opportunity to be crowned national champs is nothing short of remarkable.
And would a national championship mean doors of the five-star prospects suddenly would swing open for Petersen and his staff?
Does it even matter? Boise seems to be doing just fine without them.
"We're always looking for the best players we can get our hands on and then it just comes down to how much interest they have on us," Petersen said. "That's a two-way street and a process, no matter where you're at, that you always go through."