In fall camp, Josh Hokit was an inside linebacker for Fresno State, playing the Mike and making an impression with some rambunctious hits on the practice field.
The freshman was moved to outside linebacker once into the season, playing both spots in the 3-4, first the Sam and then the Joker.
While playing as an outside linebacker, the rookie from Clovis High also was deployed on offense as a fullback in short-yardage and goal-line situations and played on the kickoff cover and return teams.
And now in practice this week, Hokit has been taking reps at running back with a chance he could line up there Saturday when the Bulldogs (1-9, 0-6 Mountain West) play Hawaii.
He is a wrestler, physically and mentally tough. He does a great job for me on special teams. He’s just a good overall football player. You’d like to have a lot of those kind of guys that can do a variety of things.
Fresno State running backs coach Dave Ungerer, on Josh Hokit
With two chances remaining this season to win another game, the Bulldogs just need Hokit on the field. Somewhere. This week, with a banged-up backfield, it’s running back.
“We’re trying to get the best guys on the field, so we’re trying to use him in different spots,” said Eric Kiesau, the Bulldogs’ interim coach through the end of the season until yielding to Jeff Tedford for 2017.
“He’s smart, knows what he’s doing, is competitive, plays hard. We need help at that position, so why not? This staff, we’re not giving up. We’re not going to just throw in the towel. We’re going to try to find solutions where we can. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result.”
Hokit points out that he has a “little history of running the ball.”
As a senior at Clovis High, he rushed for 820 yards at 6.7 per pop with eight touchdowns.
But where he ends up next season is a guess.
“He’s a good, solid, hard-nosed football player,” running backs coach Dave Ungerer said. “He has some skills. He was a pretty darn good running back in high school.
“You’d like to have a lot of those kind of guys that can do a variety of things.”
Fresno State freshman Josh Hokit has played in all 10 games this season, recording seven tackles, including five solo stops.
Said Kiesau: “The best fit? I don’t really know. Maybe linebacker, but he’s so versatile he can do a lot of things for us, so we just have to find spots for him to help us win.”
Hokit, The Fresno Bee Defensive Player of the Year in his final season at Clovis, showed a knack at the Mike in the fall.
“I love defense,” he said. “I love hitting.”
But with a goal of playing in the NFL, moving to fullback or running back might be a better fit. That and Hokit’s talents on the wrestling mat would put him on the same course as former Fresno State star Lorenzo Neal, who played fullback and was a heavyweight wrestler for the Bulldogs from 1989 to 1992 before a 16-year NFL career.
Those are footprints few attempt to follow, but Hokit will in his next transition.
Once football season ends, he will start to train with the Bulldogs’ wrestling program, restored this year and set to begin competition next season.
The sports overlap beginning in November and there could be a bowl game in a future December. Plus, there is spring football. But he is committed.
“I have to talk to the coaches to see how it’s going to work,” said Hokit, a CIF state champion at 182 pounds as a high school senior.
“I know Lorenzo Neal did it. I have to see the schedule, I know I’m going to be busy. Playing football and wrestling at the same time, it sounds crazy, but you only live once; you’re only in college once, so make the most of it.”
I gave the wrestling coaches my word that I was going to do it and a lot of people want to see me wrestle now that the program is back. I want to be a part of that. It’s going to be big.
Fresno State linebacker/running back Josh Hokit
For that, Neal has only applause.
“I think it’s awesome when you have a guy that’s that dedicated to those two particular sports,” Neal said. “It’s very unique. You hear a lot of people say, ‘I play football, I play basketball, I play baseball, I play golf, I play tennis.’ You never hear anyone say, ‘I play wrestle, I play boxing.’ Those are the most tedious, vigorous sports, I think.
“You can’t play those sports. It’s you and another individual. It’s tough. You go on your back – it didn’t happen to me – but you’re looking up at the lights and people are screaming and you can’t hear anything. You’re like, ‘I got myself here, do I have enough heart? Do I have enough will? Am I going to get pinned?’ And you have to exert that much more energy just for your pride, your preservation. You never want to be pinned. If he pins you, that means to me you weren’t even competitive. That’s one of the most demoralizing feelings you can ever have. That sport is just full of emotions.
“The average football play lasts six seconds. You get winded on a long drive, you can always touch your helmet and you can come out. Wrestling, you can’t touch your helmet, you can’t touch your hat and say, ‘I’m coming out, I need someone to take my place.’ ”
Hokit turned down a wrestling scholarship to Drexel to compete in both sports at Fresno State and is not giving that up.
“I gave the wrestling coaches my word that I was going to do it and a lot of people want to see me wrestle now that the program is back,” he said. “I want to be a part of that. It’s going to be big.”
The average football play lasts six seconds. You get winded on a long drive, you can always touch your helmet and you can come out. Wrestling, you can’t touch your helmet, you can’t touch your hat and say, ‘I’m coming out, I need someone to take my place.’
Former Fresno State fullback and wrestler Lorenzo Neal
He plans to wrestle as a heavyweight – he is up to 226 pounds and has designs on getting to 235 by next football season. He plans to participate in spring football, the first under Tedford, and can compete for playing time at positions where the Bulldogs do not have a lot of depth.
And participating in one sport, Neal said, will help the other.
“I give this young man kudos and much credit,” Neal said. “My hat goes off to him because after it’s all said and done, you look back and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Wrestling made me. When it’s fourth-and-1, I wanted the ball. When you line up and you’re playing against Ray Lewis, Zack Thomas or Patrick Willis, the linebackers I was able to play against, when you line up and you do a lead play and it’s just you and that guy, bam, you hit like two battering rams, you go back to the huddle and I would say, ‘He’s going to quit.’ Somebody is going to quit because your body is not meant to do this.
“That’s what wrestling gave me. It gave me that, I will not be denied. I won’t quit. I’m going to outwork you. No matter what you do, I’m going to be here.”
On Saturday, Hokit will be on the football field. The rest, his best fit on the field, moving between sports, can be figured out later.
“Not many people wrestle and play football,” Hokit said, “and the people that do, they have an advantage in the NFL. Lorenzo Neal, look at him. Stephen Neal (Bakersfield College wrestler/New England offensive lineman), look at him. That’s who I want to be. It’s going to be crazy, but I can get through 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: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)