Fresno State running back Josh Quezada has a lot on his mind these days.
Marteze Waller hurt a shoulder in the Bulldogs’ previous game and his status is unclear for Fresno State’s Nov. 22 matchup at Nevada — which could thrust Quezada back into the starting role.
Quezada led Fresno State in rushing last season but has seen a decline in his playing time this year, so he’s eager to show he can excel as a featured back again as the Bulldogs compete for a Mountain West title-game appearance.
“Whatever it takes to win,” the senior said this week in one of the rare interviews he’s given during his three years at Fresno State. “All of our goals are still in front of us. I still have my own hopes and goals ahead of me, things we can still accomplish.”
But beyond football, Quezada also is carrying the memory of his brother, Joseph, as the three-year anniversary of his death nears on Wednesday.
Quezada, who prefers to be called Juice, was in the midst of his sophomore season at Brigham Young when he found out Joseph died in a head-on car crash in their Southern California hometown of La Habra. He was 20.
As one of eight children of Jesse and Linda, Quezada was fourth oldest and considered the middle child; close enough in age to all of his siblings to form a strong bond with each one. Joseph was only a year older so the two naturally became closest and a young Juice often found himself tagging along everywhere his brother went.
“We went to the same middle school, same elementary school, same high school -- we always hung out together,” Quezada said.
At the time of the car crash, Joseph was driving a Hyundai Accent when he was hit by an alleged drunk driver who was driving on the wrong side of the road in a rented U-Haul truck. Quezada doesn’t discuss any details of how Joseph died, but only how his brother lived.
“He always had a quote — ‘Live life to its fullest’ — that he loved to promote. He definitely lived that way,” Quezada said. “He was the adventurous one out of all of us. He was the one who rode a motorcycle.
“I think about him daily.”
Quezada has a photo of Joseph that hangs in his apartment that he looks at before leaving each time. He also has a customized sign, the outlining of a motorcycle, stickered on the back of his car window that reads “In loving memory. Joseph Quezada. Live life to Da Fullest.”
“I looked up to Joseph,” Quezada said. “He played football; I wanted to play football. One of my fondest memories was when I got moved to varsity my freshman year (at La Habra High). Joseph was already on varsity. Another older brother, Joel, was a senior. So we were a freshman, a sophomore and a senior all on the same team. And we all played different positions. I thought it was one of the funnest times.”
Those memories have helped Quezada draw strength during a season in which he’s lost his starting spot. Considered a better pass-catching and blocking back, Quezada got the nod over Waller last season and finished with 155 carries for a team-high 807 yards and six touchdowns, along with 51 catches for 290 yards and one touchdown.
But after missing time late in fall camp and sitting out the opener at USC because of a knee injury, Quezada was moved back on the depth chart in favor of Waller.
“It’s been a humbling experience,” Quezada said. “My role has been a bit different this year. But I’m helping the young (running backs), still answer questions for Marteze when he’s got something to ask. Communication is a big part of my role. Marteze has been doing a good job.”
Waller leads the Bulldogs with 1,086 yards and nine touchdowns on 164 carries. Quezada has 283 yards and three touchdowns on 75 carries.
But with Waller still nursing a shoulder that was injured during the first half of Fresno State’s 38-24 win against San Jose State on Nov. 8, Quezada has since been receiving the bulk of the first-team reps. Quezada finished with 24 carries for 112 yards against the Spartans.
“We think very highly of Josh,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “He did a terrific job when he had to come in.”
Fresno State (4-6, 3-3) must win its final two regular-season games to win the West Division and land in the Mountain West title game. Divisional winners are assured of a bowl bid under conference rules.
“We want to finish this season strong,” Quezada said. “That’s all of our goals.”