The attitude adjustment starts now.
Winds of change blew through Bulldog Stadium on Monday, and I’m not talking about actual wind that greeted Fresno State players and coaches as they opened spring practice on a cool, blustery morning.
This switch is more about mentality. Bringing back a physical mindset to a program once known for smash-mouth football that took a five-year detour into the world of finesse – with diminishing returns.
The spread offense, along with its “we take what the defense gives us” mentality, has been scrapped and replaced by a more rugged “we take what we want” approach. That isn’t to say the Bulldogs won’t utilize spread concepts under first-year coach Jeff Tedford. It’s just that the spread won’t be the only meat on the sandwich.
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“He wants a fast-paced offense still, but there’s more emphasis on banging people up front,” junior Kyle Hendrickson said. “Hard-nosed football is what Fresno State used to be known for, and we really needed to get back to that.”
Whenever you have a season like we did last year, you know there’s going to be change coming. It’s all about how guys embrace that change and I think the guys have embraced it really well.
Bulldogs tight end Kyle Hendrickson
Hendrickson is one of a handful of Bulldogs playing different positions this spring, changes that reflect the new philosophy.
During his first three years in the program, Hendrickson was a defensive end. He’s now at tight end, a better fit for both the new scheme and for his No. 86 jersey number.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to be a tight end, and when they told me I was switching it felt good,” Hendrickson said. “It felt right. It was where I wanted to be. So the number just happened to be the perfect number for the perfect spot.”
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 259 pounds, Hendrickson is under no illusions why he was moved to offense.
Hint: It wasn’t because of his stellar hands.
“The hands aren’t terrible,” Hendrickson said with a laugh.
With his size and toughness, Hendrickson will be counted on to set the edge on running plays. In other words, he’ll be primarily used as a blocker.
“I understand I’m a bigger, heavier tight end, and I’m here to do whatever the team needs of me,” he said. “We all have a job, and if my job is to push people up front I’m all ready for it. I’m excited.”
Want another example? After spending most of last season at linebacker (and making savage hits on kickoff returns), sophomore Josh Hokit is now a full-time running back.
When he does carry the ball, the 6-2, 220-pound Josh Hokit runs with all the subtlety of a steamroller.
Like Hendrickson, the 6-2, 220-pound Hokit will be asked to do a lot of blocking. When he does carry the ball, the former Clovis High standout runs with all the subtlety of a steamroller.
“It says we need to be physical about those positions,” Tedford said of Hendrickson and Hokit switching to offense. “That we need bigger bodies at those positions, more physical guys who bring more size and strength that allow us to run downhill.”
Boy, it’s been awhile since a Fresno State coach uttered that phrase.
Even though most of the new staff has been in place since Christmas, Monday morning was the first chance for coaches and players to mingle on the practice field. (Fresno State, along with Nevada, was the last team in the Mountain West to begin spring football, a delayed start that gave the players more time in the weight room and the coaches more time to plan and evaluate.)
As mandated by NCAA rules, teams must go through three practices before they’re allowed to wear pads. Meaning it’ll be a week until the Bulldogs can really get after it and display the more physical, hard-nosed style Tedford wants to implement.
“It’ll start when we put the pads on,” Tedford said. “It’s really hard to preach being physical when you have no pads on and you’re not tackling anybody. … We’ve got to practice it. At certain times, you’re going to have to knock somebody off the ball.”
But even running around in helmets and shorts, the players could discern the change in tone.
It’s not all buddy buddy and friendly. It’s more hands-on. It feels like a big program.
Bulldogs receiver Delvon Hardaway
“The atmosphere is totally different, more businesslike,” said senior Delvon Hardaway, part of a talented and accomplished receiving corps.
“It’s not all buddy buddy and friendly,” Hardaway replied. “It’s more hands-on. It feels like a big program. You’re expected to get all the details right on every snap.”
Fresno State didn’t get many details right during last season’s 1-11 collapse that led to Tim DeRuyter’s midseason firing.
Players I spoke to haven’t completely flushed last season out of their systems. Instead, they’re using it as motivation while at the same time embracing all the changes.
“We’re all ready for the next step, and whatever it takes to never go through that again we’re willing to do,” Hendrickson said.
Even if that means a full plate of blocking?
Sure sounds that way.
“I’m excited to see us keep pounding the ball off tackle,” Hendrickson said, “and if I can be there to help push people outside and get six (points), that’s where I want to be.”
Meet the new Bulldogs. Same as the ones you used to know.