Marek Warszawski

Warszawski: Fourth-and-long odds no obstacle for Fresno State’s Anderson

Fresno State’s Kilton Anderson looks for a receiver while on the move during the second half of the Bulldogs’ 31-28 victory over UNLV on Oct. 16 that ended a five-game losing streak.
Fresno State’s Kilton Anderson looks for a receiver while on the move during the second half of the Bulldogs’ 31-28 victory over UNLV on Oct. 16 that ended a five-game losing streak. Associated Press file

Kilton Anderson began his first season at Fresno State as the fourth-string quarterback behind Brian Burrell, Brandon Connette and Zack Greenlee.

One year later, Anderson remained fourth on the depth chart. Except he was behind Greenlee, Chason Virgil and Ford Childress.

Anderson’s chances of seeing the playing field, not just this season but in future ones, were dimmer than a row of streetlights near a bar frequented by copper wire thieves.

“It was discouraging, yes, but you can’t let that affect you,” Anderson said after a recent practice. “This is football. People get hurt. People transfer. People make mistakes.

“You’ve just got to be mentally repaired and ready to go. It’s one of those sports where you never know what could happen.”

He was going to keep competing every day, not knowing if he was ever going to get a chance. That’s just his makeup. That’s why he’s starting for us.

Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, on Kilton Anderson

The fact that Anderson will make his third career start Saturday against Air Force at Falcon Stadium is proof enough.

Following a rough indoctrination against Utah State, the redshirt freshman was as big a reason as any for Fresno State’s comeback victory against UNLV. After the Bulldogs trailed by 14 points in the third quarter, Anderson directed three scoring drives of 50 yards or longer and a fourth that resulted in a missed field goal.

“He showed that he’s just a fierce competitor,” tackle Justin Northern said. “He doesn’t give up at all and no matter what’s going on in the game he’s just going to keep fighting.”

Two weeks ago, when Fresno State was losing by six touchdowns on homecoming, I called the decision to start Anderson over Greenlee a desperate move by the staff. And it was. But now you see why the coaches did it.

That was clear from the third play from scrimmage against UNLV, when Anderson dashed 35 yards straight through the defense on a read option. Instead of handing the ball to Marteze Waller, as we’ve seen over and over, the 6-foot-2, 217-pounder showed a willingness to put himself in harm’s way.

Suddenly the Bulldogs had a little toughness to them, a certain grittiness – something that has been sorely missing.

Something they can rally around during the final five games.

Two weeks ago, I called the decision to start Kilton Anderson over Zack Greenlee a desperate move by the coaching staff. And it was. But now you see why they did it.

“He’ll take the hits just like we will to keep the offense moving,” Northern said. “Seeing that from a freshman QB is awesome, and it’s kind of infectious. It fires up the whole offense.”

Anderson says he never considered transferring (“That never crossed my mind”) after learning he had been beaten out by a true freshman (Virgil) and a transfer (Childress).

Coach Tim DeRuyter says Anderson remained “actively engaged” during meetings and “kept competing every day, not knowing if he was ever going to get a chance.”

It’s the sort of spirit and attitude this team desperately needed.

“I had a rough fall camp but realized and understood my mistakes,” Anderson said. “I knew I’d just have to work that much harder to get to the top.”

You can’t ever get down on yourself. You can’t start to think negative, can’t let that happen as a quarterback.

Kilton Anderson

Certainly, the season-ending injuries to Virgil and Childress played a role. As did Greenlee’s ineffectiveness in his two starts. Still, you like seeing a guy with Anderson’s attitude get an opportunity and run with it.

Anderson admits he’s still mastering the nuances of Fresno State’s spread offense. He ran a similar system during his senior year at Skyline High in Washington state but before that in Naples, Fla., played in a split-back veer system that couldn’t be more different.

“I have to understand every play fully, every single person’s job, every route, a little bit better so we can go faster,” he said.

For all of his grittiness, Anderson’s passing accuracy remains a work in progress. Until he shows he can complete the ball downfield, defenses will always stack against the run.

For all of his grittiness, Anderson’s passing accuracy remains a work in progress. Until he shows he can complete the ball downfield, defenses will always stack against the run.

The coaches say it’s not bad mechanics holding him back but a lack of repetition during practices and games.

Fourth-stringers don’t get many of those.

“He’s got to get everything working in unison from the ground up,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “Sometimes his feet are working a little faster than his arm. Sometimes his eyes aren’t working as fast as his feet. He keeps getting better every day, though. We’ve just got to keep working.”

He’s a tough guy who loves to compete. That’s what we’ve got to build on.

Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm

Anderson insists he never lost hope that his time would come, even if he never expected it to come this soon.

“Just got to stay positive the whole time – it’s that simple,” he said. “You can’t ever get down on yourself. You can’t start to think negative, can’t let that happen as a quarterback. You’ve always got to have a great demeanor and great positivity so guys will follow you.”

At 2-5, the Bulldogs must win four of their remaining five games to be bowl eligible. The way they’ve played this season, that seems highly improbable, even unrealistic.

But then, so did the odds of a fourth-string quarterback turned starter sparking a comeback victory.

Up next for ’Dogs

FRESNO STATE AT AIR FORCE

  • Saturday: 11 a.m. at Falcon Stadium
  • Records: Bulldogs 2-5, 1-3 Mountain West; Falcons 3-3, 2-1
  • Online TV: ESPN3
  • Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)

Kilton Anderson passing numbers

Game

Comp-Att-Int

Pct

Yards

TD

Long

Sack-Yds

Effic

San Jose St.

0-1-0

0.0

0

0

0

0-0

0.00

Utah State

10-20-3

50.0

112

1

42

5-25

83.54

UNLV

19-31-0

61.3

193

0

28

0-0

113.59

Totals

29-52-3

55.8

305

1

42

5-25

99.85

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