Within a day of turning down Pac-12 offers and publicly pledging his allegiance to Fresno State, prize recruit Marcus Lazarus went on a mission.
His goal: To reach out and persuade other players to join him.
He turned to social media, messaging prospective recruits on Twitter, almost daily since mid-December, and informing them of the university's history and how the school could use their skills.
Lazarus already knew most of those he addressed. There were some he had not met but learned that Fresno State was pursuing.
And he also called and texted a few others whom he played against or met at high school camps.
"I'm just having fun, doing this on my own, what I feel like is my role as a loyal future Bulldog," Lazarus said in a telephone interview this weekend, ahead of National Signing Day on Wednesday. "I've been getting to talk to different recruits around the country and trying to get them to come play with me at Fresno State so we can compete with the best of the best.
"I don't feel like it's just the coaches' job to recruit. Us recruits, we could have an impact, too. Maybe we can get them to take a closer look at Fresno State. Maybe we know some unseen talents that the coaches didn't know about. I want to help stock my team with as much talent as possible."
While it's not quite clear how much of an influence Lazarus' methods have had this recruiting season, the Bulldogs appear close to wrapping up the third class under coach Tim DeRuyter. And at least one assistant is offering high praise.
Coaches, per NCAA rules, aren't allowed to talk about specific recruits until a signed letter of intent is received. But in various tweets, defensive coordinator Nick Toth offered general excitement.
"Another one on board tonight, absolute baller we should have taken 2 months ago!" Toth wrote. "This defensive class is freaky. Love our guys. … This recruiting class is flat-out ridiculous with another freaky baller jumping on board tonight. Fresno State is the new 'Linebacker U.' "
DeRuyter declined comment this weekend, with Fresno State hosting a final group of recruits for visits.
The Bulldogs have received oral commitments from 19 players, according to recruiting website Scout.com. Three were given three stars (out of five), including Lazarus. A 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker from Berkeley High, Lazarus turned down Arizona State, Cal and Washington State.
Past results teach that some of the two-star recruits could turn out to be among the best players in school history. Two-star guys in recent seasons included 2011 signee Davante Adams, Jalen Saunders (2010) and Robbie Rouse (2009).
Those impact players all came aboard on former coach Pat Hill's watch. Hill arrived at Fresno State in 1997, lauded for his ability to identify talent and high-ceiling potential. And he left with 15 years of proof in the high-impact players he brought in.
DeRuyter, considered a defensive-minded coach with a sincere, relatable personality, was not thought to have had a strong impact on recruiting during his previous stop at Texas A&M. And it's too early to determine if any stars will blossom out of his 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes at Fresno State.
So far, only cornerback Jamal Ellis (2012), running back Marteze Waller (2012) and kicker Colin McGuire (2013) have provided significant game contributions.
Lazarus, however, could become an immediate impact player and potentially the centerpiece to this year's class and future Fresno State teams, his high school coach said.
"A lot of schools were after Michael — a lot of big-name schools, even after he verballed to Fresno," Berkeley coach James Barnes said. "He's fast and athletic enough to play safety if they wanted him to, but he's strong and big enough to stay at linebacker.
"He's always in the film room studying, and he knows the game. Physically, he's ready to play at that level. We'll see how fast he can learn their playbook. I just think his potential is unlimited and that the Fresno State coaches will bring the best out of him."
But as Lazarus points out, even if he develops into a star, one player alone doesn't translate into a strong recruiting class.
It's why Lazarus said he is going to keep tweeting. And texting. And calling.
As long as he hasn't been directed by coaches to do so, Lazarus isn't breaking any NCAA rules, Fresno State Senior Associate Athletic Director Steve Robertello said.
"People (have) been saying, 'You need to go to a big school,' " Lazarus said. "Heck, it's my decision. Smaller schools like Fresno can get big-time athletes, too. Even if we're not four-or five-star recruits, you can't tell me guys like Derek Carr or Davante Adams couldn't have done great at a bigger school.
"I feel like it's part of my commitment as a Fresno State recruit to let everyone know how great Fresno State is and how great it's going to be in the coming years."
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