When Kyle Riddering first got to Fresno State, he was listed as a tight end, but it was only a guess where he would play.
Defensive end was an option, as was offensive tackle. At 6-foot-5, he had the frame and versatility to go in different directions. He was a bit clunky athletically for tight end, but he had great length, was tough and competitive. For coach Tim DeRuyter and his staff, the goal was to find a home on the field for Riddering by his redshirt sophomore year.
Last November, Riddering was pegged for a move to tackle before a shoulder injury and surgery scuttled those plans. So when DeRuyter changed his offensive coordinator, hiring Eric Kiesau, Riddering apparently had settled into the perfect spot at the perfect time.
Playing the Y tight end, the Clovis North High School grad can be a nasty blocker at the line of scrimmage. With a lot of work over the past two seasons, he also has become much more fluid in his routes and deft catching the ball and can stretch the field vertically as a receiver.
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In one- or two-tight end sets, that makes him a weapon.
“He has found a role and he is creating his own identity, which is huge,” tight ends coach Joe Bernardi said. “He’s establishing himself as a personality player for us and being an important cog in this offense. I really like his progress. I think he’s going to be a big part of the offense this season.”
Riddering, who is in his redshirt sophomore season, isn’t going anywhere, Bernardi added.
“He’s playing for me,” Bernardi said emphatically.
He’s playing for me.
Tight ends coach Joe Bernardi, on Kyle Riddering
How the tight ends stress the defense is a key. The position group has a lot of versatility with junior Chad Olsen returning and redshirt freshman Jared Rice in the mix with sophomore David Tangipa and freshmen Donte Coleman and Johnny Rojas.
“In an ideal world, you’d love those guys to be fairly close,” DeRuyter said. “Your slightly more physical guy is your Y and your slightly more athletic guy is your H. When there’s a big disparity between the two, it makes it a little easier (for the defense) and you want to get as close as you can with those guys.
“That’s the bonus. When you can line up in power sets and still stretch the field vertically, again, you challenge a defense to really stress having to defend both. You have to have big guys to be able to defend the run, and yet you better have a guy that can run with our tight ends.”
Getting there took a change in scheme, but for Riddering, it also took a lot of work. The difference in his ability to get through routes and make plays at the ball is clear.
“Just watching his athleticism, he has changed from certainly last fall and even the spring to now,” DeRuyter said. “He looks more sudden, he’s more fluid, which is great to see.”
Riddering didn’t gain any fluidity through a gauntlet of stretching exercises, though he did tag along to a couple of yoga classes with his mom.
Riddering said that came just through running routes, working on his footwork and getting in and out of breaks. He didn’t gain any fluidity through a gauntlet of stretching exercises, though he said he did tag along to a couple of yoga classes with his mother.
“That’s just has been kind of natural with time, working on running the routes, working on getting in and out of breaks and stuff like that,” Riddering said. “That’s just been part of the natural process.
“Out of high school, at Clovis North I played left tackle and center and more O-line stuff. When I first came in here, I was very much the in-line tight end. My job was just run-blocking. It has been a couple years coming, but we have great coaches and they’ve done a really good job of teaching me how everything is done. They’ve done a really good job of working with me and teaching me the ways.”
2 Receptions for Riddering last season for the Bulldogs
Where it goes from here is an intriguing proposition, as is an offense that through seven practices in fall camp clearly has a much higher ceiling than it did a year ago. Poor quarterback play and much operator error left the Bulldogs eighth in the Mountain West in passing (178.3 yards per game) and 10th in scoring (22.2 points per game).
But the tight end position and Riddering now fit.
“He has put in a lot of work,” said Olsen, who also has an expanded role in the offense after catching 32 passes over the past two seasons. “He has always been kind of the person that I aspire to as far as work ethic. Whenever we’re out there working out, he’s always pushing me to be better. It really just makes me smile to see him doing so well and growing into his potential.
“In my opinion, Kyle has come the furthest of all of us at tight end. He has put on a lot of weight. His numbers in the weight room have gone up astronomically since his freshman year. He is just starting to ball down there whenever we attach him to the line and run some run plays and stuff like that. Even out in pass routes, he’s really starting to take on that dual-threat capability, which is awesome.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada