Coach Tim DeRuyter and his Fresno State staff continued to put together the most star-studded of their four recruiting classes with the Bulldogs on Wednesday, adding 14 players who signed letters of intent on National Signing Day to three already enrolled in school.
Ten of the prep players are rated as three-star prospects by various recruiting services, one is a junior college All-American, and together the group accentuates a Fresno State brand that is gaining traction across the country through its success on the football field, national television appearances and social media presence, which DeRuyter said bodes well for the future.
“Our national brand has really risen and we’re able to get on guys that have multiple Power Five (conference) offers that maybe in the past we weren’t able to get in on because we were very much more a localized product,” he said. “I think it’s very exciting. We want to get the majority of our players right here in the Valley, but just like we can look at everyone else, our guys see other schools and have an opportunity to go other places. It’s not exactly the globalization of the economy, but it’s a similar focus just nationally. Everyone is starting to recruit nationally.
“With us being on national TV and having the success that we’ve had, people are very interested and it gives you a chance with those guys that we hope can be difference-makers down the road. We’re looking, putting guys on our board, seeing if there’s sincere interest, and if there is we’re going to take our cuts with guys no matter where they’re at.”
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In addressing needs in the secondary and on the offensive line, Fresno State signed three players from Central Valley high schools in cornerback A.J. Greeley from Edison, offensive lineman Isaiah Trevino from Kingsburg and tight end Jared Rice from Central Catholic-Modesto.
The Bulldogs also signed one player from Nevada, one from Washington and seven from Texas — including quarterback Chason Virgil, who had scholarship offers from Oklahoma and Louisville, among other Power Five programs, and graduated early from West Mesquite High to enroll in the spring semester at Fresno State.
Fresno State also was in the running during the recruiting process with a junior college defensive lineman in Mississippi, a nose guard in Florida, a cornerback in Georgia and a defensive lineman in Kansas, reaching areas of the country that the Bulldogs program had not often or ever recruited.
California and the Valley is Fresno State’s primary recruiting ground, but when DeRuyter was hired from Texas A&M, where he was the defensive coordinator, he wanted to use his ties and those of his assistant coaches in the state to expand the recruiting pool and develop a presence.
Four years later, they have.
“I think kids in this area certainly have seen the success that Fresno State has had,” said Gene Johnson, who coached Fresno State signee Zack Kinninger at Cypress Ranch High outside of Houston. “It has been a program that kind of has a national face to it, so I don’t think it was a stretch for these kids to be able to relate to Fresno State and the football program there.”
Outside receivers coach Ron Antoine, who is the Bulldogs’ recruiting coordinator, said it’s all part of growing the Fresno State brand.
“Some of the kids and their coaches are able to watch us play on TV and over the past couple of years we’ve been in that Mountain West (championship) game, the last game of the night, that the kids and the people all over the country see and they’re able to watch us play,” Antoine said. “And it helps that we have guys that are playing on Sunday, like (Ryan Wendell) in the Super Bowl, a starting offensive lineman, and he’s from Fresno State. All that stuff helps quite a bit to expand that brand. If a kid sees you play, they see Fresno State and they know they can get there from here.”
The staff will try to ride that momentum in the spring. Fresno State has 17 players in its 2015 recruiting class, including offensive lineman Jacob Vazquez, a junior college player who walked on last season and was awarded a scholarship. But the Bulldogs still have scholarships available if the coaches find — and need — a transfer or JC player to add in the spring.
The Bulldogs filled a hole at quarterback with Virgil. They improved the balance between classes and overall numbers on the offensive line by signing Trevino, Kinninger (6-5, 295), Donnie Greene (6-3, 280) from Upland and Ben Northup (6-6, 330) from Glendora.
They bolstered the depth and competition in the secondary with the additions of Greeley (5-11, 180), Mike Bell (6-3, 190) from Citrus Hill-Moreno Valley, Jalen Smith from St. Pius X High in Missouri City, Texas, and JC transfer Alan Wright (Blinn College in Texas), who is enrolled in classes this spring.
They got a three-star running back in Bryson Oglesby (6-0, 190) from Fort Bend Austin High in Sugar Land, Texas; two defensive linemen in Mason Bradley (6-4, 240) from Archbishop Murphy High in Everett, Wash., and Jaleel Carter (6-2, 290) from Alief Elsik High in Houston; two well-regarded linebackers in James Bailey from Lake Travis High in Austin and Nela Otukolo (5-11, 240) from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas and kicker Jimmy Camacho from Riverside Community College.
Potential additions could come along the lines, where the Bulldogs are one to two scholarship players short of their roster blueprint. But on National Signing Day, DeRuyter was happy with the Bulldogs’ recruiting efforts. The class was ranked between second and fourth in the Mountain West Conference by recruiting websites.
“I think we hit a lot of areas,” DeRuyter said. “I think we have a fairly well-rounded class. We hit a lot of need areas — offensive line and secondary in particular, where we’ve had some losses. But the fact is that we’ve got a couple of playmaking linebackers that we feel good about. We’ve got a tight end that is going to add to the package we feel good about. Bryson Oglesby we think is going to be a tremendous back, a guy who has size, he can run powerfully, make guys miss, a guy with a lot of (recruiting) attention in Texas and we were able to pull him out of there.
“This year, for whatever reason, we probably signed more guys that had more attention on them and bigger offers and they decided that Fresno State felt like the right place for them and their future.”