Nevada's Valley recruits eager to play Bulldogs

October 18, 2011 

Rejection can be tough, especially when you've been dumped or ignored by those you loved.

But who doesn't like proving their ex wrong and showing that he or she is the one who made the mistake?

A handful of former central San Joaquin Valley high school players now at Nevada get that chance Saturday afternoon against Fresno State – the school that for the most part did not want them or didn't consider them priority recruits.

At least, that's how they recall it while preparing for a 1:05 p.m. game in Reno that could decide the Western Athletic Conference championship.

Nevada has nine players in all that list Fresno or Tulare counties as home, including running backs Stefphon Jefferson (El Diamante), Lampford Mark (Buchanan) and Kendall Brock (Clovis West).

"They were recruiting me hard in the beginning," Jefferson said. "Then they suddenly stopped calling me – straight cold shoulder.

"I obviously still remember how things went. Most of us do."

Separated by about 300 miles, Fresno State and Nevada regularly compete for the same recruits, especially high school players from the Valley.

When a regional product ends up starring anywhere other than Fresno State, Bulldogs coach Pat Hill usually cites it as a numbers game. There are only so many scholarships and roster openings to go around.

But with the Bulldogs boasting a strong Valley-wide following – a relationship that Hill has cultivated heavily in his 15 years at Fresno State – kids who grew up rooting for the Bulldogs tend to feel hurt after finding out there's no place for them at the hometown school.

"He pretty much sat me down and said, 'You can walk on and play corner because you're not the type of running back we're looking for; you're not the downhill kind of guy,' " Brock told the Reno Gazette-Journal of a conversation he had with Hill while at Clovis West.

"We all kind of wanted to go there growing up. And as time progressed, they didn't want us there. So, we're going to have to make them pay."

Jefferson, a starter the past two games, has rushed for 345 yards on 53 carries in his sophomore season with the Wolf Pack (3-3, 1-0).

Mark, a senior rounding into shape after a knee injury last year and an illness that cost him four games this season, has 114 yards on 24 carries. He had three scoring runs in last week's 49-7 rout of New Mexico.

Brock, a freshman, got his first carries against the Lobos and gained 70 yards on five attempts. He also caught two passes and returned a kick 31 yards.

Hill knows he's in a no-win situation when it comes to talking about the region's ex-prep stars.

He simply wishes those players luck and hopes that the players he did recruit end up as good or better as those who feel snubbed.

"You can't take them all," Hill said. "It's not unlimited scholarships like the old days. Nevada got three really good players from the Valley, and hopefully, they have very good careers there."

Hill is left to hope that the success doesn't come against Fresno State, 3-4 overall but alone atop the WAC at 2-0.

The reporter can be reached at banteola@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6362. Follow him on Twitter: @Banteola_TheBee.

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