How many recruits made their way across Jeff Tedford’s computer screen over these past 12 weeks?
Fresno State’s recently hired head football coach leaves me guessing.
“More than 100?” I ask during a recent conversation in Tedford’s office. “Two hundred?”
“Easily more than 100,” he replied.
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Unfortunately for the Bulldogs and their depleted roster, college football teams are allowed to sign only 25 players each year. Fresno State signed 23 Wednesday (including five midyear transfers who came aboard in December), wrapping a tidy red bow around the first significant milepost of the program’s new era.
In less than three months – Tedford’s introductory news conference was Nov. 10 and his first batch of assistants was hired Dec. 6 – the new staff hastily assembled a recruiting class Scout.com ranks fourth in the Mountain West and No. 74 in the country.
Which makes you wonder what might be possible when these coaches have the entire calendar at their disposal.
How did all this come together so quickly?
“It comes down to hard work, it comes down to a lot of hours, it comes down to a lot of questions, it comes down to tapping into our resources,” Tedford said. “There’s no secret method.”
It starts with recruiting the right type of kid.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
The method should be familiar to Fresno State fans, because it’s essentially the same one implemented by predecessors Jim Sweeney and Pat Hill: scour California and especially the San Joaquin Valley for talent; identify blue-collar types with chips on their shoulders from being passed over; and sign community college players to fill immediate needs (of which there are many) and projectable high school seniors with toughness and strong work ethics.
“I think we have a really good class,” Tedford said. “I think they’re all great fits. Of course every coach is going to say they have a good class on signing day. But we feel really good about this group of kids. We really do.”
Tedford uses “we” because any recruiting class is a group effort. But during those initial weeks, while everyone else inside the Fresno State football office played out a dismal season, it was just him, his computer and his phone.
“I watched a lot of tape,” he said. “Then got on the phone and talked to as many people as possible. Talked to a bunch of coaches.
“The other thing that was good is we had a lot of support from people calling us, telling us, ‘Watch this kid. Watch that kid.’ It was kind of a Catch-22 because you’re getting a lot of guys who aren’t necessarily the right fits or can’t play. So you’re watching a lot of tape. But there are some other ones who we went after.”
Tedford begins the scouting process with a recruit’s highlight tape on Hudl – it’s a convenient, time-saving practice. Then he proceeds to the actual game tape, just to make sure if the player he’s scouting gives maximum effort on every down.
“The highlight tape leads to more investigation and more evaluation,” Tedford said. “That’s kind of the opener.”
17 Players signed by Fresno State who played high school or community college football in California
Of course, football ability is only part of the equation. Before a coach offers anyone a scholarship, he’d better know what kind of person he’s getting.
Who does Tedford call to assess character?
“Coaches, people around campus, their teachers, the custodian, the lady at the front office – anybody you can get at the school,” he said. “You also talk to opponents, coaches who have gone against that kid. You’re just trying to gather information.”
Tedford’s first reinforcements were defensive backs coach J.D. Williams and running backs coach Jamie Christian, two former Bulldogs and veteran recruiters snatched from UNLV. Tight ends coach Scott Thompson, another ex-Bulldog who spent six years in USC’s recruiting department, and director of player personnel Spencer Harris were among the next hires.
The recruiting process began with the list Tedford put together. Then when each assistant came aboard, he brought with him names of other potential targets.
“Coach had a list ready, and we either watched tape and confirmed it and went out and visited with them,” Thompson said. “Then there were guys who we knew about through word of mouth, guys we had evaluated at other schools. Then there were some old Bulldogs who called in and said, ‘You need to come check these guys out.’ We landed a couple of them.”
He’s super hands-on and extremely detailed.
Fresno State tight ends coach Scott Thompson, on Jeff Tedford
Two of those old Bulldogs were Steve Mooshagian and A.J. Gass, the head coaches at Ventura College and Garces-Bakersfield, respectively. Fresno State signed one player from each school: tight end Logun Javernick and athlete Chris Coleman.
Connections also were a big reason Fresno State landed Ronnie Rivers, son of former Bulldogs standout Ron Rivers. It didn’t hurt that Christian had already recruited Rivers and fellow three-star tailback Jordan Mims while at UNLV.
“Coach Tedford already liked those two kids when I got here,” Christian said. “And I was like, ‘Yes, I want them,’ and so we started recruiting them hard.”
Not all the connections were local or even regional. Two of Fresno State’s five offensive-line signees, 6-foot-5, 365-pound Marc-David Bien-Aimé and 6-7, 305-pound Dontae Bull, are Canadians who were on the radar of position coach Ryan Grubb. Defensive-line coach Tony Tuioti, who came from Michigan’s recruiting office, lured highly sought end Damien DeGruy from Louisiana.
Football teams that go 1-11 automatically have plenty of needs.
Football teams that go 1-11 automatically have plenty of needs. Offensive line was a major weakness, and the Bulldogs addressed that with five quality additions. Five names were added to a secondary that needed replenishing, plus two potentials (Zane Pope and Coleman) who are listed as “athletes.” Tedford classified three of the four new defensive linemen as “edge rushers,” something that was virtually nonexistent a year ago.
It’s always best to separate signing-day successes from on-the-field results. Just because a kid has three stars beside his name doesn’t mean he’ll automatically star for the Bulldogs. Just because a recruiting class is ranked second in the MW doesn’t guarantee a second-place finish.
But if you wish to draw encouragement from Tedford’s first recruiting class, draw it from here: Fresno State has someone in charge who can both identify the type of players he’s looking for and persuade them to become Bulldogs.
“He has a crystal-clear understanding of what he wants,” Williams said.
And that in itself represents a significant step forward.
Fresno State 2017 recruits
A look at the Bulldogs’ class, including those added Wednesday on national signing day and December midyear signees.
Marc-David Bien-Aimé, OL
Montmorency (Laval, Quebec)
Matt Boateng, DB
Dontae Bull, OL
Belmont Secondary (Victoria, B.C.)
Richard Cage Jr., DL
Earl Chambers, DL
Chris Coleman, ATH
Sherman Coleman, DB
Damien DeGruy, DL
McDonogh High-Harvey, La.
Wylan Free, DB
Derrion Grim, WR
San Joaquin Delta
Gunner Javernick, TE
Patrick Jeune, WR
T.J. Mauga, DL
Churchill County High-Fallon, Nev.
Jordan Mims, RB
Daniel Moraga, ATH
Arron Mosby, DB
Emeka Ndoh, DL
Zane Pope, ATH
Ronnie Rivers, RB
Jorge Reyna, QB
West Los Angeles
Zelan Tupuola, OL
JSerra High-San Juan Capistrano
Syrus Tuitele, OL
Pleasant Valley High-Chico
Quireo Woodley, OL