Jeff Camilli played the Will linebacker spot at 268 pounds a year ago and when Fresno State went through spring practices he still was around that size, a tad large.
Large enough that whenever coach Tim DeRuyter ran into the junior during the offseason he jokingly would tell him that he better get to know defensive line coach Pete Germano.
One more pound or two, and he would be playing from a three-point stance.
But a change in diet and a solid run through the Bulldogs’ summer strength and conditioning program has Camilli down to 253, which has increased his speed, quickness and mobility and could put an end to nagging hamstring injuries that have set him back throughout his career.
That first part was clear Thursday at the opening fall practice, when he was out there making plays and breaking up passes while working with the No. 1 defense.
“I hope it means that he’s changing direction better. I hope it means that I can do a few more things with him getting downhill at the ball, attacking gaps,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said.
“He wasn’t a great blitzer because that weight probably made him a step slower than he should have been, so I’m hoping it increases those things, and you saw him (Thursday) he should have had picks twice and it’s because he was out of those hips, his hips were open faster. I’m attributing that to the increase of athleticism because of the lack of weight.”
Camilli on the first day of camp looked like a different player.
It felt that way, too, in those 7-on-7 periods.
“You notice,” he said. “Being quicker, my legs not being as heavy when I’m running, now I know I may not be as fast or as quick as the receivers, but I feel now I have that extra step that I didn’t that I can at least get there and get in the right position instead of having to worry about it and be a little antsy to it. I feel a lot more comfortable, really. It’s amazing how much it has changed my game and hopefully I can keep progressing through camp like this.”
And all of that work has come over the past month — Camilli and strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese did not start working on the weight and diet until the second of two summer sessions.
“I sat down with Coach Boese and we really just made that our focus,” Camilli said. “I really wanted to lose the weight — I felt that was messing up my hamstring, too, just too much weight.
“I mean, it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be, just dedicating myself, because the more and more you think about it, I came here and I’ve hurt my hamstrings every single year. Losing weight was the No. 1 priority for me over everything and now I feel better. I feel quicker. I’m much leaner now. My recovery is a lot faster. I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”
Hardaway continues rehab from ACL injury
Fresno State wideout Delvon Hardaway, coming back from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, was able to do some straight-ahead running and showed some unexpected burst reeling in a deep ball in a drill.
23 receptions for then-redshirt freshman wideout Delvon Hardaway in 2014
“I’m definitely feeling good. It’s just a process, being able to do that consistently,” said Hardaway, who caught 23 passes for 279 yards last season as a redshirt freshman including a 9-yard touchdown against Nebraska and a 7-yard score against Southern Utah.
“I know I have it, short-reaction times and things like that. But it’s the long-term effect. Right now, it feels great. It feels like my own ACL. But I just want to make sure long term. I don’t want to be able to do that right now and then tomorrow come out and tweak it or tear it again.”
Hardaway spent most of the Bulldogs’ first practice of fall camp doing conditioning work along with strong safety DeShawn Potts (foot) and inside linebacker Xavier Ulutu (foot).
The next step is to start making cuts, running routes and by the time the Bulldogs start game prep for their Sept. 3 opener against Abilene Christian he could be cleared to fully practice.
The Bulldogs before fall camp added former Washington State cornerback Daquawn Brown, who had been involved in off-field incidents and was removed from the Cougars roster last spring.
Brown reported to camp as a walk-on and will have to sit out this season, but he is expected to be put on scholarship within the next week and DeRuyter said he is confident in offering a second chance. Fresno State last season brought in former Oregon linebacker Tyrell Robinson, who eventually was dismissed from the university due to violations of athletic department policies.
“I have some good friends who I have coached with up there and we asked some hard questions about him,” DeRuyter said. “One of the things that made me feel better was he is a high school teammate of Delvon Hardaway, so we felt that we had enough information to say, yes, he is worth taking a bit of a risk, and anytime you bring somebody in from the outside there is a bit of a risk.
“But I feel that we did our homework in trying to minimize that risk. There were other guys that we were approached by during the year and quite frankly we didn’t know enough about them.”
I have some good friends who I have coached with up there and we asked some hard questions about him.
Coach Tim DeRuyter on adding cornerback Daquawn Brown, who dealt with off-field incidents at Washington State
A large part of the vetting process was a chat with Brown, who last season led the Cougars with 82 total tackles and 56 solo tackles.
“You want to find out the issue,” DeRuyter said. “What are we going to do to address that and move forward? Are you committed to getting a degree? Are you committed to be a team guy? Are you committed to be a scout team player for a year, which is difficult to do?
“Having Delvon here, Coach (Marcus) Woodson has a good relationship with him. He had multiple conversations with him, and though that process you either feel good or you feel, ‘No, we need to run away.’ The more we got to know him, the better we felt about it.”
The junior cornereback was not available — DeRuyter does not allow players to meet with the media until after they have played in a game.
▪ Cornerback Charles Washington, coming off surgery to repair a core muscle injury, went through the full practice.
▪ Defensive end Nick Kristofors, a transfer from Santa Rosa College signed during the spring, got reps with the No. 2 defense and continued to make an impression, as he has since arriving on campus over the summer. “Kristofors is a guy that has played college football,” Germano said. “He has a great motor. He had a great summer. So he has caught everybody’s eye. He’s just has a motor. It’s going to be interesting throwing him in the mix to make people like Gabe Newman and Kyle Hendrickson, even Todd (Hunt) and Claudell Louis work.”
The defense was sporting new practice jerseys, replacing some that had been around since their days in the Western Athletic Conference. Obviously, those were a few years old.
▪ DeRuyter on the first day: “It’s always fun the first day. You’re undefeated, untied, unscored upon. I thought our guys had great energy out here. We’ve got about 30, 35 guys that weren’t out here in the spring. Those guys along with the gains that our guys made from the spring until now, we have a different looking football team and I like how they competed today.”
▪ The No. 1 and No. 2 offensive lines started camp close to the way they ended the spring. From the left tackle across, it was Alex Fifita, Aaron Mitchell, Bo Bonnheim, Micah St. Andrew and Justin Northern with the ones and Bobby Johnson, Jacob Hicks, Ben Simonds, Jacob Vazquez and David Patterson with the twos.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada