Not much has gone right this season for the Fresno State Bulldogs, who are 1-9 and buried deep in the standings and the statistics. But not everything has gone wrong and they have in the bank that one day in fall camp when, due to a pressing need in a position group that has long been under development, Nick Aibuedefe was moved from defensive end to offensive tackle in what at the time was an innocuous roster move.
Aibuedefe is a redshirt freshman and walk-on. He had not played much football, had never played on the offensive line and was ticketed for the scout team.
The plan then was to plug a hole and expectations were not terribly high, even though on the practice field he always looked the part. At 6-foot-4 and about 260 pounds, Aibuedefe has a long body, long arms and good feet and is athletic. But maybe it was more the number on the jersey and it was as simple as that. Even then, playing end, he wore No. 79.
I think the guy is going to have a bright future. He has a long way to go, but he has the traits that you’re looking for – he’s tall, he’s long, he’s athletic, he’s smart, he loves it. He has a great attitude and really works hard at it.
Fresno State interim coach Eric Kiesau, on Nick Aibuedefe
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The coaches on the offensive side saw potential, though.
“That’s why we stole him,” said interim coach Eric Kiesau, the offensive coordinator at the start of the season.
Slog through three months of rough football and Aibuedefe still is there and has piqued curiosity almost every time he lines up in a one-on-one drill.
Aibuedefe admitted he was frustrated when first making the move. He didn’t know the position, how to line up or get into a stance. He got some help from left tackle Christian Cronk and center Aaron Mitchell in a crash course on the basics of offensive-line play.
On top of that, he was starting over in his second year in the program.
“I had just recently learned the defense,” he said. “I just tried to keep a positive attitude and keep working harder.”
But he also made it clear from the start, just from his raw ability, that it was the right move.
Fresno State has had difficult rushing all season, but on Saturday, the Bulldogs face a Hawaii team allowing 5.6 yards per play and 258.0 yards per game on the ground. The Rainbow Warriors also have allowed 27 rushing TDs, tied with San Jose State and Nevada for most in the Mountain West.
“The thing is, when he came over and he would go one-on-one pass pro, which is usually a hard skill to teach, he was a natural at it,” offensive-line coach Mark Weber said.
“It was interesting to watch,” Kiesau said. “We brought two D-linemen over at the same time and they both started out fast, and then one kind of tailed off and one kept getting better – and Nick is the one that kept getting better.
“It will be fun to watch him develop over the next couple of years and see where he takes it because I think he has ability.”
It is up to Weber, and Aibuedefe, to continue to develop that potential. At this point it’s difficult to know where the ceiling might be, but he is a long way off.
“I’d like to take it as far as it can possibly take me,” Aibuedefe said. “I’m going to keep taking the coaching from Coach Weber and how I can continue improving every practice and every week and see where it takes me.”
I’d like to take it as far as it can possibly take me. I’m going to keep taking the coaching from Coach Weber and how I can continue improving every practice and every week and see where it takes me.
Fresno State offensive tackle Nick Aibuedefe
The final two weeks of the season, while in game prep for Hawaii on Saturday and San Jose State on Nov. 26 at Bulldog Stadium, Aibudefe will get more in the offense.
“It’s easy when it’s a one-on-one block and you don’t have to think about who you’re supposed to block. You just block that guy who is going at you,” Weber said.
“Of course, he has to get reps and we’re trying to get him more reps now with us and learning the offense and all those things. When you see his raw skills in a one-on-one run block or pass block drill, he has the skills and it shows. Now it’s just how fast he can learn and put it all together and play football. It’s not one-on-ones; it’s not running off (play) cards on the scout team. He has to learn the concepts and understand that.”
But with spring practices and a long summer ahead, the Bulldogs might have some unexpected help at a position that has proven to be a tough fix.
“I think the guy is going to have a bright future,” Kiesau said. “He has a long way to go, but he has the traits that you’re looking for – he’s tall, he’s long, he’s athletic, he’s smart, he loves it. He has a great attitude and really works hard at it.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. HAWAII
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-9, 0-6 Mountain West; Rainbow Warriors 4-7, 3-4
- Radio: MWN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)