The question has been hanging out there for three years now, ever since Fresno State outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine first started to make a strong imprint on games and the opposing quarterbacks, running backs and receivers he spied with football in hand.
Why is that guy so hard to block?
At 230 pounds, he is not an overpowering presence. He is quick, but not blazingly fast coming off the edge. And last season he barely could lift his arms when playing with bad shoulders, both requiring offseason surgery. It’s still a bit of a mystery, even as the senior closes in on the Mountain West Conference record for career tackles for loss, something that was far from expected when he enrolled as a thin freshman with an engaging smile and an enthusiastic work ethic primary in his skill set.
“The first time he walked into the staff room we were all like, ‘Who is this guy?’ and even into that first year, he started playing about Game Five … no,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said.
“It wasn’t until we saw his effort, because his effort is really good. When you have crazy effort like that, you’re going to make plays. If we had known that before, maybe we would have expected something, but we didn’t expect anything. I’d be lying to you if I said otherwise.”
But, with Fresno State playing at Air Force on Saturday, trying to build some momentum in the second half of the season, there he is, and closing fast.
With 11 tackles for loss this season, including 5.5 sacks, Ederaine has 40 in his career. TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes is fifth with 40.5; Horned Frogs end Chase Ortiz is fourth with 41.5; Colorado State linebacker Mychal Sisson is third with 42; BYU defensive end Jan Jorgensen is second with 44; and San Diego State linebacker Miles Burris is the leader with 47.
Eight tackles for loss and five games to go, and make no mistake about it.
“I never would have seen that coming. But now that I’m so close, I told my teammates I have to finish on top,” Ederaine said. “I’m not a big fan of coming close but falling short.”
How he continues to get it done is open to interpretation.
Coach Tim DeRuyter points to Ederaine’s uncanny ability to slip blocks even when fully engaged. If a lineman gets his hands on him, he can bend, twist and wriggle free.
“He’s a guy that is very slippery,” DeRuyter said. “I don’t know, it’s strange. He’s a guy that just understands the game and he has a lot of just bend to him. He can work an edge on people and that enables him to make plays with his length. Normal guys just don’t have that and it has allowed him to be very successful. He doesn’t necessarily have to go right down the middle and shock and shed like traditional football players, and he does work edges very well.”
Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm, who sees Ederaine on film every day, approached it from a different angle, more mental than physical.
“It’s attitude and effort and toughness – and he has all of those things,” Schramm said. “He has a burning desire to make a play. He has a burning desire not to get beat. That’s what it comes down to. He’s a highly competitive guy and he’s relentless in his pursuit of the football, and that’s what makes him a great defensive football player and a great competitor for us right now. Just that relentlessness causes havoc for an offense. In my opinion, as an offensive football coach, that’s what makes him so effective.”
Toth put them all together with smarts acquired over the past two seasons – Ederaine played in only three games as a freshman in 2012, led the Bulldogs with 16.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore and led again with 12.5 as a junior despite playing with the shoulder injuries.
“He has this crazy ability to apply pressure when guys start to block him and then he softens his arms and he works his hips through contact and it’s in pass rush, it’s against run blocks,” Toth said. “We try to coach block reaction and things like that, but some of the things he is doing are just innate; some of them are just football savvy things that are a part of his makeup. Dro is getting TFLs not because of explosiveness – he’s putting his hands on contact and sliding off and using the guy’s own leverage against him and a lot of that is lower-body athleticism.
“The other thing about the guy is he has a really high football IQ. So play diagnosis and presnap recognition … allows him to cheat on some plays. You see some of his biggest plays are because he has cheated. His responsibility might be to set a harder edge, but he is crossing the block because he knows that guy is going to be overaggressive on him and he’s able to make a play.”
Ederaine? He starts to formulate an answer, mentions great teammates, great coaching and then … just smiles. “I don’t even know why,” he said.
But he is well aware of what is out there on Saturday at Air Force and down the stretch of a season that he and his teammates are hoping can end with a bowl.
“If you’re close, you might as well go all the way,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I can get it done. I’m not taking this Bulldogs jersey off without getting it done.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Up next for ’Dogs
FRESNO STATE AT AIR FORCE
- Saturday: 11 a.m. at Falcon Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 2-5, 1-3 Mountain West; Air Force 3-3, 2-1
- Online TV: ESPN3
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)