Senior Day at Fresno State hasn’t been a big sell lately, Bulldog Stadium filling only twice going back to 2000.
Derek Carr, Isaiah Burse, Austin Wentworth – they got to play their final home game in a full Bulldog Stadium in 2013. But Robbie Rouse and Phillip Thomas, the school’s all-time rushing leader and first unanimous All-American, didn’t go out in front of a packed house in 2012 – and that was for a game the home team was playing to clinch a share of its first conference championship in 14 years.
And on Saturday, when Fresno State tries to end a difficult season with a win and a smile against Colorado State, when senior Ejiro Ederaine makes a run at a Mountain West record for tackles for loss and when senior Marteze Waller tries to become the fifth Bulldogs back to gain 3,000 career rushing yards, a large crowd is not expected at Bulldog Stadium.
The 2015 senior class has posted a 19-5 record at home over the past four years, helping Fresno State win Mountain West championships in 2012 and 2013 along with a West Division title in 2014.
But there is an appreciation for a diverse group of 18 seniors, some recruited by Pat Hill and some recruited by Tim DeRuyter, some who have played a lot and some who have played little, some who will leave with surgical scars on knees, elbows and shoulders and some who will have made it through four or five years with only bumps and bruises, and most who will take away one or two conference championship rings.
“The guys that decided to stay from Pat’s staff – guys that had some doubt and didn’t know but said, ‘You know what, we’re going to buy in’ – you remember those guys. And then the first guys that we recruited in that first month, those guys are the first ones that believed in our message and took advantage of it and really helped us out,” DeRuyter said. “It’s going to very memorable.”
That is what DeRuyter, defensive coordinator Nick Toth and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm want for all of them no matter how much football they played the past four or five years.
Ederaine, Charles Washington and Kyrie Wilson, Justin Northern and Alex Fifita all have started at least 35 games for the Bulldogs. Bo Bonnheim, a former walk-on, has started 32. Todd Hunt, who came back from a major knee surgery, has started 25 games.
But in the 18 there are players who have not played a ton, but, like the others, bought in.
Fresno State has won all three of its Senior Day games under coach Tim DeRuyter – by an average margin of victory of 25 points.
Kyrian Obidiegwu came to Fresno State as a non-scholarship walk-on at safety and worked his way onto the field on special teams, blew out a knee, came back and Saturday will, because of injuries, get reps at inside linebacker. Suli Faletuipapai, a defensive end, is another Hill recruit who has spent much of his time on scout teams, making his teammates better.
Malique Micenheimer played as a freshman for Hill in 2011, switching from linebacker to fullback. He busted up his shoulder in the third game last season and came back for a second shot at a senior year. Jaamal Rose, a linebacker, had season-ending surgery on his knees, the right and then the left. Punter Garrett Swanson and long snapper Dylan Detwiler started their careers as walk-ons and earned scholarships. Justin Johnson and Shannon Edwards were in the first DeRuyter recruiting class and played in 48 and 47 games, both coming back from surgeries to continue playing.
There is a community college transfer in Claudell Louis, who came in with little experience having grown up in Haiti playing soccer, got better with his techniques and the schemes and this season has started all 11 games at defensive end. There is a graduate transfer in Dustin Garrison, a backup at running back. And there is a common thread through all of them.
They lay it on the line. They come out of here and they have surgeries and they have things that are going to affect them for the rest of their lives just so they get a chance to play in Bulldog Stadium. People lose sight of that sometimes.
Dave Schramm, Fresno State offensive coordinator
“You have great appreciation for them,” Schramm said. “A lot of these guys are never going to play football after Saturday night. Hopefully they get a chance to look back and they feel like they’ve accomplished something as well because these guys, they lay it on the line. They come out of here and they have surgeries and they have things that are going to affect them for the rest of their lives just so they get a chance to play in Bulldog Stadium. People lose sight of that sometimes.”
Said Toth: “A lot of great young men are going to be leaving here this year that I think are going to continue to do special things. I wish we could have done a little better for them. I wish we could have finished it the right way. Four championships would have been really cool for them. There is a whole bunch of people who are disgruntled with us not winning enough and I’m one of them. But there are a lot of kids leaving us that witnessed three championships in four years and that’s special for them. There are a lot of people in this league that can’t say that.
“Our kids have witnessed doing it really well, not doing it well last year and scratching and clawing our way back into that game. This year we underperformed, there’s no doubt about it, but there’s a lot of positives with these guys. These guys have been every-day dudes.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. COLORADO STATE
- Saturday: 6 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 3-8 overall, 2-5 MW; Rams 6-5, 4-3
- TV: CBS Sports Network
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
Last time down the ramp
Eighteen Fresno State football players will appear in their final game Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium.
C Bo Bonheim: Appeared in 50 career games, including 32 straight starts
LS Dylan Detwiler: 2015 captain and four-year long snapper
LB Ejiro Ederaine: Needs 2.5 TFLs to equal MW career record of 47.0
S Shannon Edwards: 103 tackles, one interception over 47 career games
DE Suli Faletuipapai: Two tackles in seven career games
T Alex Fifita: Has made 35 starts in 46 career games
RB Dustin Garrison: Graduate transfer has 231 rushing yards, one TD
DE Todd Hunt: Made 130 career tackles in 46 games (25 starts)
WR Justin Johnson: Appeared in 42 games with four starts
DE Claudell Louis: Made 55 tackles and 25 appearances over two-year career
RB Malique Micenheimer: 2015 captain has played in 46 career games at RB/LB
T Justin Northern: 3-time Academic All-District pick has made 38 consecutive starts
LB Kyrian Obidiegwu: Eight tackles, blocked punt in 34 career games
LB Jaamal Rose: Eleven games, two season-ending knee injuries
P Garrett Swanson: Averaging 42.0 yards on 194 career punts
RB Marteze Waller: Fifth on Bulldogs’ all-time rushing list (2,996 yards)
SS Charles Washington: Has made 37 career starts, 199 tackles
LB Kyrie Wilson: Eleven tackles shy of school’s career top-10 list