Fresno State has 105 players in fall camp and few if any have had a better time of it on the practice field than Aaron Peck, who has made tough catches, blocked with abandon, competed hard and headed into his senior season setting a strong example for a young group of outside receivers.
Now, it is over.
The Bulldogs’ leading returning receiver was ruled out for the season Monday because of a left foot injury that will require surgery.
“It’s a little heartbreaking to put all that work in and then lose the season,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “Malique Micenheimer was in a similar position last year, and he’s doing great now. I’m sure Aaron will take it as a challenge and do a great job with his rehab.
“That’s the saving grace: He has not had a redshirt year. We’ll get him back, and knowing Aaron, he’ll work extremely hard to get back out here and have an even better year next year.”
Last season, Peck caught 32 passes for 419 yards (13.1 ypc) and three touchdowns, and his absence on the field leaves a large hole in a position group where there is a wealth of talent, though the majority is young and untested.
27 Number of receptions last year for running back Marteze Waller, who is now Fresno State’s top returning receiver with Aaron Peck out
Third-year sophomore Delvon Hardaway, who caught 23 passes last season, is coming back from a knee injury suffered in spring practice. He is expected to be cleared to resume training the first week of September and be on the field in the middle to late part of the the month.
Redshirt freshman KeeSean Johnson has proven able to make plays during camp, but his blocking on the perimeter has been inconsistent and he can be stronger in his routes.
Junior college transfer Josiah Blandin is a long target at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. He was back at practice Monday after sitting out a few days with a minor injury.
Freshman L.J. Reed is another big target at 6-3 and has flashed in camp. Third-year sophomore Darrell Fuery also could become part of the mix.
KeeSean Johnson, Josiah Blandin, L.J. Reed and Darrell Fuery are expected to get more reps in camp at outside receiver, along with Delvon Hardaway and Da’Mari Scott.
But Johnson, Blandin, Reed and Fuery have yet to play in an FBS game. And with Peck sidelined, the Bulldogs’ leading returning receiver would be running back Marteze Waller, who caught 27 passes last season for 120 yards, just 4.4 yards per play. Among Mountain West Conference running backs, Jay Ajayi from Boise State led last season with 10.7 yards per reception and the Bulldogs’ Josh Quezada was second with 6.8 yards per reception.
Da’Mari Scott, who returned to the team this summer after seeking a transfer for family reasons following the 2014 season, also could be an option. His return was based on taking a redshirt this season, and DeRuyter said at this point that still is the plan.
Scott caught eight passes for 214 yards last season, including one for an 81-yard touchdown against Southern Utah.
“We like our young talent, but they’re new and they’re young,” DeRuyter said. “We have to have some guys step up. That’s why you have to have good quality, competitive depth. We think we have it, it just happens to be young. A year from now we’ll have experienced, good quality depth, but right now we just have young, good quality depth.
“(Fuery) obviously has an opportunity now with Aaron down. He has always had the tools to do it. There’s a reason we recruited him. He’s one of the fastest players on the team, but he has to be more consistent. It opens the door for a guy like Josiah. We expect KeeSean to continue to step up, and the good news is we’ll get Delvon in probably a month or so.”