Ideally, Fresno State would have no need for Zach Kline. The Bulldogs would have a full stable of quarterbacks, so bringing in a well-traveled graduate transfer with limited experience at this late juncture would be the furthest thing from the coaching staff’s mind.
But Kline is here regardless – expected to be in uniform for the start of training camp. And Fresno State needs him.
On the surface, Bulldogs fans might wonder why. Aren’t there already five quarterbacks on the roster, once incoming freshman Quentin Davis and hometown JC transfer Christian Rossi join the mix? Do they really need a six-pack?
Fans might wonder why the Bulldogs need Zach Kline. Aren’t there five quarterbacks on the roster?
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Well, yes and no.
The first sticking point is the status of sophomore Kilton Anderson, who made five starts in 2015 equaling Zack Greenlee (now at Texas-El Paso) for the team lead. (The Bulldogs started four QBs during last season’s 3-9 disaster, lest anyone forget.)
Anderson recently underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder and is expected to be sidelined for an extended period. When I ran into Anderson this week outside the Duncan Building, he was cheerful and sounded optimistic that he would return. Inside the building, however, are murmurs he could miss the entire season.
Then there’s the uncertain status of senior Ford Childress, who by the end of spring football had pulled into a dead heat with redshirt freshman Chason Virgil for the starting job.
Chason has done a great job. I think he has progressed really well through the spring, but he hasn’t separated himself enough yet.
Eric Kiesau, at the conclusion of spring practice
While some of us spend our afternoons seeking refuge from the blistering temperatures, the Bulldogs are in the middle of player-organized summer workouts. Just the guys out there in shorts and compression shirts running drills and a few plays.
Virgil is participating, serving as one of the main leaders. Davis is participating, having enrolled in summer school. Even Anderson is assisting the workouts with his right shoulder in a sling. Childress, however, has been absent for personal reasons – and from what I gather there’s a growing concern his absence could linger.
So instead of having five quarterbacks, there’s a very real possibility Fresno State is down to three: Virgil, Davis and Rossi.
That’s a redshirt freshman who played in parts of three games a year ago before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury (Virgil); an incoming freshman who started one season at Southern California powerhouse St. John Bosco-Bellflower after being a year behind UCLA’s Josh Rosen (Davis); and a former Fresno City College and Clovis North standout who is walking on in August (Rossi).
Which explains why coach Tim DeRuyter and first-year offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau were so eager to lay out the welcome mat for Kline: They could by no means head into the season with only a true freshman and JC transfer backing up Virgil.
4 Quarterbacks who started games for Fresno State during 2015 season, most since 1979
For Kiesau and Kline, it’ll be like a reunion of two passing ships. Kiesau recruited Kline out of San Ramon Valley-Danville, where the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder was among the top-rated pro-style quarterbacks in the class of 2012. But by the time Kline actually got to Strawberry Canyon, Kiesau already had left for a two-year stint at Washington.
After redshirting his freshman year, Kline lost the Bears’ starting job to a true freshman named Jared Goff. (NFL fans – Los Angeles Rams fans, specifically – may have heard of him.) Kline then played a year at Butte College – once home to ex-Cal great Aaron Rodgers – before spending the 2015 season as a backup at FCS-level Indiana State.
Kline returned to Cal last semester to finish his degree. He also completed 15 of 16 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns during the Bears’ spring game. However, that wasn’t enough to get Kline a shot at the starting job. So he left, diploma in hand.
The No. 1 goal for any graduate transfer (which is becoming more prevalent throughout college football) is to find a place where they have the best chance to play.
Fresno State, given the circumstances, must’ve seemed like a great landing spot: only a few hours from home, a familiar coach and no established starter.
“I want to be a starting quarterback at a university,” Kline said during his 2014 season at Butte. “I want to play big-time college football.”
I want to be a starting quarterback at a university. I want to play big-time college football.
Zach Kline, during his 2014 season at Butte College
In the two years since Derek Carr started wearing a Raiders eye patch, the Bulldogs’ quarterback picture has been like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that constantly move and change shape.
Greenlee wasn’t the answer. Brian Burrell wasn’t the answer. Brandon Connette wasn’t the answer. Anderson, for all his heart and running ability, hasn’t been. Virgil might be the answer but hasn’t done enough for anyone to be certain.
Only time will tell where Kline fits in the preceding paragraph.
With Childress potentially out of the picture, the starting job obviously becomes Virgil’s to lose. I suspect, though, that Kiesau will hold off a bit before anointing him. Have yet to meet a football coach who didn’t want to foster competition.
If the past two years are any indication, it’s a story line we’ll be following all the way up until kickoff in Lincoln, Neb.
Passing statistics for Fresno State quarterbacks during the 2015 season.
Source: Fresno State Athletics