Another Fresno State freshman has gone down with an injury, the Bulldogs losing running back Justin Rice with a broken bone in a foot.
Rice went down midway through the first practice of fall football camp in a non-contact drill and it was not thought at the time to be a serious injury – but coach Tim DeRuyter confirmed Friday that Rice would be out for six to eight weeks, which could make him a candidate to redshirt this season.
“You can’t predict the future and if we get some injuries down the road maybe we’ll have to (bring him back), but right now that’s probably the likely scenario for him,” DeRuyter said.
Rice had a stellar career at Central Catholic High-Modesto, rushing for 2,698 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior and earning CIF Division III Player of the Year honors. He was expected to play a significant role for the Bulldogs this season in a position group that lacks experience.
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Dontel James is back after spending last season at Riverside City College and the Bulldogs are repping Dejonte O’Neal with the running backs – the Bullard High grad played there last season but was moved to a slot receiver position in the spring before moving back due to injuries in the running back group.
With Rice sidelined, there is more pressure on freshmen Saevion Johnson and Deonte Perry to pick up the offense quickly. Both have flashed to this point in camp, albeit with the Bulldogs practicing in helmets and shorts. Full pads go on for the first time Monday.
“Saevion and Deonte, they’ve jumped right in,” DeRuyter said. “They’re good backs and they have some speed.”
The Bulldogs have only 24 career carries in the position group, 16 by Dejonte O’Neal and eight by Dontel James.
And, though there are only 24 career rushing plays in the group (James has eight career rushes and O’Neal 16), the Bulldogs like the potential there even with the lack of experience. Fresno State lost two backs in the spring with knee injuries in Bryson Oglesby and Wesley Hill; Oglesby is expected back sometime in October, but Hill is out for the year.
“They’re all a little different in their body types and it’s a little tough right now in shorts,” running backs coach Dave Ungerer said. “But I think they’re all really athletic and really talented.
“Our first two guys had really good springs and really came on as the spring went on. Dontel, he did an exceptional job that last week of spring. He’s pretty on point with everything. He has had a really good summer – he has lost some weight, lost some body fat. He’s not quite as big as he was in the spring, so I think he feels better moving around and I think that will help his top-end speed.”
Rice was not available to comment – DeRuyter does not allow incoming freshmen and transfers to speak to the media until they have played in a game. But Rice is the fourth incoming freshman to go down since many reported for the first summer school session the first week in July.
Offensive lineman Netane Muti and linebacker Tainoa Foster, who also were expected to compete for playing time this season, are both out for the year with lower leg injuries. Outside linebacker Lukas McKenzie also is sidelined with a lower leg injury. All three were hurt in non-contact conditioning drills this summer.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada