Often as future athletes grow up, they find themselves rooting for their hometown team.
But not former Edison High standout Rykeem Yates. He never attended a Fresno State football game as a youth; and when it came time for him to pick a college, it was conference rival Nevada that landed the defensive lineman.
I don’t like those guys at all.
Former Edison High star and Nevada DT Rykeem Yates
“I don’t like those guys at all,” Yates said of the Bulldogs, who host the Wolf Pack at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2. “I just never did.”
What’s transpired in his three years at Nevada has only made it worse.
Yates and the Wolf Pack have lost three straight to Fresno State, including last season’s 40-20 victory that allowed the Bulldogs – rather than Nevada – to seize control of the Mountain West Conference’s West Division and eventually earn a spot in the league’s championship game.
“We had our chance to get to the championship if we beat those guys and we didn’t get it done,” Yates said. “I’m excited to see how we’re going to play (on Thursday).”
How invested are Yates and his teammates?
“All games are important,” he said, “but there is something a little special with this one.”
This year, both teams are on the outside looking in at runaway West leader San Diego State. The Bulldogs, 2-6 overall, are just 1-4 in conference play. Nevada is 4-4 and 2-2.
Yates is a 6-2, 280-pound starter at defensive tackle. He has 19 tackles this season, including three for losses totaling 16 yards. He has one sack, a pass deflection and a pass breakup.
Last season, he earned All-Mountain West honorable mention after 10 starts at defensive tackle. He tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 10.5 despite missing two games because of injury. He finished with 37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, three pass breakups and one quarterback hurry.
Nevada and Fresno State are both coming off bye weeks, and Yates said the break helped. “It was a big chance for everybody to take a step back to just let their bodies heal up … get a mental break … a physical break.”
Pack coach wary – Nevada coach Brian Polian knows how effective the Bulldogs can be if the running game is clicking. In the 2014 meeting, Fresno State totaled 238 rushing yards, led by Josh Quezada’s 115.
Marteze Waller, who this season has a team-leading 660 yards, finished with 46 last year against the Wolf Pack.
“They hurt us in the running game last year,” Polian said. “We got to do a better job against that. Obviously they’re trying to keep it easy for (redshirt freshman quarterack Kilton Anderson) on screens and on a lot of quick gains. Not a ton of stuff down the field, but they have athletes on the outside. We got our work cut out for us.”
Nevada runner eyes 2,000 - In 30 career games at Nevada, senior Don Jackson has rushed 436 times for 1,962 yards and 18 touchdowns, leaving him 38 yards from becoming the 15th player in program history with 2,000 for his career.
More on the backs – The Wolf Pack are the only FBS team with two running backs who have rushed for more than 650 yards this season. James Butler has 756 yards and Jackson 673.
Turnovers are rare – Nevada leads the Mountain West in ball security, having committed just six turnovers. The Wolf Pack has thrown four interceptions and lost two fumbles. Their total is tied for seventh best nationally.
Series – Fresno State, with those three consecutive wins, leads the all-time series 27-18-1 and is 15-8 at home.
More rooting interests – Also on the Nevada roster are receivers Brayden Sanchez (Hanford/Fresno City College) and Sheldon White (Golden West), running back Blake Wright (Edison), quarterback Jake Young (Hanford) and starting right tackle Jacob Henry (Lemoore). Sanchez is out for the season because of a torn ACL he suffered in September.
FRESNO STATE VS. NEVADA
- Thursday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (ESPN2)
- Records: Bulldogs 2-6, 1-4 MW; Wolf Pack 4-4, 2-2
- Series: Bulldogs lead 27-18-1