Fresno State

Bulldogs’ Rivers prepped for a heavier workload this season, and he could get it

Bulldogs’ Rivers prepped for heavy workload

The Fresno State Bulldogs college football team has been hit with some injuries in its running backs group, but 5-foot-8 junior Ronnie Rivers prepared this summer for a heavier workload. He was the only back with a rushing play in opener at USC.
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The Fresno State Bulldogs college football team has been hit with some injuries in its running backs group, but 5-foot-8 junior Ronnie Rivers prepared this summer for a heavier workload. He was the only back with a rushing play in opener at USC.

After losing three running backs to injury, Fresno State figured to have junior Ronnie Rivers on the football field a lot this season.

In the opener at USC, a 31-23 loss, it was 61 of the Bulldogs’ 79 plays (77.2%) including 27 of 31 in the first half. Rivers had 14 carries and caught four passes. He was targeted six more times, including the final Bulldogs offensive play when Jorge Reyna was intercepted in the end zone. Rivers also handled punt return duties.

Coming out of that test, the junior running back has no questions about workload or durability and said he is ready for whatever comes his way this week in the home opener against Minnesota and this season.

Rivers’ durability was a point of emphasis over the summer with questions whether Jordan Mims would be able to return from an ankle injury suffered toward the end of last season and Josh Hokit expected to move over to linebacker and redshirt this season.

Rivers worked to improve his speed and his strength, added some weight to reach a listed 183 pounds on his 5-foot-8 frame.

“I’m ready for anything,” he said.

History of smaller backs excelling

And, while coach Jeff Tedford has expressed a desire to keep backs fresh through games and the season, Fresno State does have a habit of pressing running backs who are on the small side.

Ron Rivers (5-8, 205), Ronnie’s father, carried the football 230 times in his final season at Fresno State in becoming the all-time leading rusher in school history.

Then there was Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185), who in his senior season surpassed Rivers’ career rushing total, finishing with 4,647 yards. In 2011, Rouse ran 328 times in a running backs group that had 352 total rushing plays. In 2012, Rouse had 282 carries in a group that accounted for 360 plays.

Ronnie Rivers said he watched Rouse play as often as he could. “Whenever the Fresno State games were on I was watching him, especially when he was creeping up on my dad’s records.

las vegas bowl
Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers, right, led the Bulldogs in rushing last season with 743 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is expected to carry more of the rushing load this season in a backfield depleted by injuries to Jordan Mims, Romello Harris and Peyton Dixon. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

“He’s a really good player, real shifty, good in open space. You always watch guys of similar stature, regardless if it’s college or the NFL, to see what they’re doing, what you can improve on. Anytime I’m watching a guy my same stature I always try to learn some stuff.”

Rivers was limited to rehab work at the start of fall camp due to a hamstring injury, but his workload became a more pressing issue when Mims had surgery and Romello Harris and freshman Peyton Dixon went out for the season with injuries.

Fresno State (0-1) had five running backs on the trip to USC – Rivers, Hokit, Saevion Johnson, Zion Echols and Khai Williams.

Only Rivers and Hokit played. Hokit caught three passes, but his one attempt at a rushing play went awry on a fumbled exchange with Reyna in the red zone.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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