Fresno State beat some big programs to land quarterback Chason Virgil – Oklahoma and Louisville also were there at the end.
But three years later the coaches that Virgil has worked with have changed, twice, and on the field he has been bounced around and banged up. The Bulldogs have struggled, ranking last in the Mountain West Conference last season in first downs and explosive plays of 20 or more yards, in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense. Only a fraction of that falls to the quarterback, of course. But as a starter Virgil is 1-10 in two seasons, the first cut short by injury and the second due to ineffective play.
With coach Jeff Tedford and a new staff coming in, Virgil could have opted to take a fresh start elsewhere, transfer out and move on and there were discussions to that end.
Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil last season became only the third freshman in school history to pass for 2,000 or more yards. Virgil racked up 2,021 to join Paul Pinegar (2,929) and Kevin Sweeney (2,359).
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Tedford spoke to him about that possibility after taking the job and it was no secret that the Bulldogs were actively recruiting that position, signing JC transfer Jorge Reyna. A transfer was discussed and explored and yet Virgil is back this spring, taking another run at it with a third different quarterback coach and offensive coordinator in his three seasons.
One of the few constants for him at Fresno State played into that decision.
“I put in work with these guys for three years,” Virgil said. “We went through hard times. We had some good times, but mostly hard times. When you go through battles like that with a group of guys, you go through a season like that, you can’t give up on them.
“I never wanted to leave. I came out here as a freshman, I left Texas and so that meant I wanted to be away from my family, to be with a group of guys I’m with right now. I wouldn’t want to leave those guys at all. We’ve been through so much. We still have a long way to go and I’m glad I’m here with these guys.”
Said Tedford: “I’m glad he stuck around, for sure. But I explained it to everyone on what it was going to be and they could make their own decisions based off that and he had to think about it for a while. He didn’t give me an answer right away.
“But I’m glad that he took some time and thought about it, about what this offense was going to be and what his role was going to be and that he was going to compete. He called me a few days later and said ‘I’m all in, excited to be here.’ ”
This spring, Virgil has not been the old guy out. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer through the first five practices has kept the practice reps fairly even.
I had to take myself out of the equation and think about these guys, the guys that I’m out here with all day every day. ...I wouldn’t want to lead those guys around and just go somewhere else, I would want to have success with these guys.
Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil
Virgil had fewer on Saturday when the Bulldogs were in full pads for the first time, but took more on Monday in the fifth of 15 sprint practices. He’s in competition with Reyna, senior Christian Rossi and redshirt freshman James Quentin Davis.
“I think Chason is doing a good job,” DeBoer said. “He has the most snaps under his belt at the college level, so you’d kind of expect that. But they all have little things that they do well. Jorge creates and kind of ad-libs things once in a while and makes plays and extends plays. Christian, when he gets the opportunity to cut it loose, he has some great arm talent. When guys are open he makes those throws and makes those plays.”
To this point the Bulldogs have worked with a narrow focus installing run and pass concepts that they will put into play in the fall, and the goal has been to exit spring practices with a direction and not necessarily a starter.
“You don’t want to get just two reps on it when we’re focusing on it,” DeBoer said. “You want the guys to get a feel and be able to communicate and work together and it seems like against our defense we get so many looks anyway it’s something where every play you run it’s a different look that we’re going against. They’re doing a good job.”
Just one thing – Center Aaron Mitchell on the most important thing to accomplish this spring:
The Bulldogs last season had 11 rushing touchdowns, five by Dontel James. That is the fewest rushing TDs in a season since they had 11 in 2000.
“Just getting back to the fundamentals of being a power football team, being able to run inside zone to our full ability. I think it comes down to being physical. If we can get our physicality and our tempo down I think as an offensive line we’ll be strides ahead of where we were. A lot of offensive lines always talk about how they want to be a power team or an inside zone team and it’s all mostly just talk.
“We’re really focusing on being a tempo team – not necessarily how fast we’re running plays, but how fast we’re getting to the ball, how fast we’re getting our calls out and being dialed in to what we’re running. By the end of spring ball I hope – I aspire – that we can be that team that gets up to the ball and is a spark to the whole offense.”
▪ Nate Madsen, who has played defensive end, nose guard and last season was back at defensive end, is working inside again as a 3-technique tackle, which might be the best fit of them all.
“I’m still getting used to it, but I really like a 3-tech … not that it really matters what I like. I’m here trying to do what the D-line wants, what the coaches want,” Madsen said. “I’ve played a lot of different spots on the D-line so I kind of have an idea what I like, what I don’t like. But you talk to a lot of guys on my D-line and they’ll say the same thing – I feel comfortable with this stance or that stance.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada