Fresno State Football

Fresno State quick hits: Kesomi Mafi is back – and better – after knee injury

Fresno State linebacker Kesomi Mafi is back in fall camp, healthy and again making an impression after suffering a season-ending knee injury a year ago at No. 1 Alabama.
Fresno State linebacker Kesomi Mafi is back in fall camp, healthy and again making an impression after suffering a season-ending knee injury a year ago at No. 1 Alabama. Fresno Bee file

Fresno State linebacker Kesomi Mafi looks to be taking full advantage of his second chance.

Last year, Mafi was signed late, after the start of camp, but burst into the Bulldogs’ plans. By the opener, he was in the two-deep at Sam, played in a rout over Incarnate Word and was visible in the second game of the season at No. 1 Alabama.

Then, disaster.

Third quarter, Alabama ball inside the 10-yard line with three-and-change to go, Mafi planted his foot awkwardly when running back Najee Harris made a cut inside of him. Mafi crumbled to the turf and that was it for the year.

He’s had surgery and rehab, a summer in the Bulldogs’ strength and conditioning program and time to learn the defense, and now Mafi is looking good through the early August practices.

“He’s playing really well,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “He’s healthy, moving fast. Obviously last year he was doing a great job and got hurt at Alabama, but he’s back and a lot more comfortable with what he’s doing.”

Fresno State defensive backs coach J.D. Williams discusses the development of redshirt freshman cornerbacks Chris Gaston and Wylan Free, who have played well at the start of fall camp and could challenge for starting jobs this season.

Added edge – The Bulldogs’ defensive staff talked last season about moving linebacker Alex Cruz to defensive end. That move has been made, as they work through their options in developing a deep playing rotation.

“He has a really good feel for playing that position off the edge, is a tough guy, and plays hard,” Tedford said. “It’s a good fit for him there.”

That was quick – Wideout Michiah Quick, the Central High product and Oklahoma transfer, was a full-go in practice on Wednesday when the Bulldogs were in full pads for the first time in fall camp.

Fresno TE
Fresno State tight end Jared Rice heads down field for a 36-yard gain in the Bulldogs’ victory over Boise State last season. The junior from Modesto has caught 26 passes on 33 targets for 349 yards and two touchdowns headed into the Bulldogs’ game at New Mexico Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. Gary Kazanjian AP

Fresno State has moved carefully with Quick, who missed time last season and again in the spring with a foot injury. He is expected to start at the inside receiver spot, where last season Da’Mari Scott caught 57 passes for 566 yards, second on the team in both statistical categories.

Quick in camp also has been getting work on punt return and on kickoff return.

12 personnel – the Bulldogs have had their tight ends rotating through the 1s and 2s so they get reps with Marcus McMaryion and Jorge Reyna in the pass game and get a chance to work with different tackles when attached in the run game.

But the pass-catching ability of that group has gone up with redshirt freshman Daniel Moraga and senior Gunner Javernick getting more run, junior Cam Sutton joining the group at the start of camp and Jared Rice, Kyle Riddering and David Tangipa back. Rice is on the watch list for the Mackey Award this season.

Fresno State can put any combination on the field in a two-tight end formation and give an opposing defense a headache, but that rotation had Rice and Sutton there for one play. Rice is 6-foot-5, Sutton is 6-6, both have a wide catch radius, and are among the best receivers in the group.

“There are some tough matchups and both of those guys are going to stick their noses in there in the run game,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said.

“It doesn’t make me one bit nervous having those guys with a hand down or standing up split out. They can do it all.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada