Fresno State obviously had a rough season, going 3-9. But it didn’t have much impact on recruiting, the Bulldogs holding onto a number of players in its 21-player class including 16 who signed on Wednesday despite high recruiting pressure.
Tight end Donte Coleman from West Mesquite High in Mesquite, Texas, is a perfect example. Coleman, a high school teammate of Bulldogs’ quarterback Chason Virgil, made a commitment to Fresno State in October and stuck to it while getting scholarship offers from a number of Big 12, Pac-12 and Mountain West programs.
“I think what people looked at, you know, we’ve been here four years and we’ve won three championships, two conference and one division title,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “Obviously, last year wasn’t anywhere close to the standard, but we had to make some tough changes and a bunch of young guys played last year that are going to be back and while it was ugly at times that experience is going to do nothing but help.
“What was encouraging to me as the head coach, when I met with these kids on Sundays (at the end official visits) every one of them talked about how positive our guys were and how fired up they there were about the program. I’ve been at other places where if you have a 3-9 year, they don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s reflected with the recruits. It was the exact opposite and that’s one of the reasons a lot of these recruits were excited about coming here. They saw the optimism that this was going to be flipped back to competing for championships and getting back to normal Fresno State football.”
10:54 a.m. – Fresno State was in on two additional offensive linemen, but both went elsewhere late.
The Bulldogs filled their immediate needs on the line in the mid-year JC signing period, adding Christian Cronk from Riverside City College, Shane Gama from Southwestern College and Ryan Popolizio from San Mateo College.
But additional offensive linemen to go along with Quireo Woodley would have helped restore balance between the classes, which has been a question for DeRuyter and his staff.
“We would have loved to have one or two more high school offensive linemen, but we’re not going to take a guy just to take a guy,” DeRuyter said. “We’ll have to address it again next year, but I think the fact that we were able to redshirt all of our guys last year mitigates that. We’ll have an emphasis on it next year and coach (Mark) Weber will be on top of it and have a whole year to get that corrected.”
Fresno State, which signed 16 players on Wednesday and has a class of 21 including its mid-year signees, again held back scholarships to use in the spring.
One or two of those spots, DeRuyter said, could go to a JC or perhaps a transfer offensive lineman this spring or summer.
“We’re still looking at that because on our blueprint right now we’re still a man or two light on the offensive line and part of that is in the older classes because we’ve had some attrition there. But you always want to be refilling the young guys as well.”
10:35 – Inside linebackers coach Nick Toth on the class of linebackers: Tainoa Foster, Jeffrey Allison, Lukas McKenzie and Andrew Wright.
“I feel good about them. Losing Kyrie is going to be a big loss. I think he has NFL ability, I really do. We have Tainoa. We get Jeffrey Allison. We get Lukas McKenzie, who is also a multi-tool guy. We get Andrew Wright. We get Trent Soechting, who was a mid-year guy. Those guys all, there’s unique skill sets in all of them.
“Jeffrey kind of fits as a potential Mike or a Will, but definitely a Will first. He’s a hitter. Great with his hips, great on contact. Smart kid. I think we’re filling a void there.
“Trent, the junior college guys that we’ve been successful with have had not just two years, they’ve had more time and he fits that mold. He has a really high ceiling. I don’t think we have any idea what his potential even is yet because he’s really raw. Nutrition and strength and things like that are going to have a huge impact on him. I think he’s a Mike and he’s like a Travis Brown-type guy. Crazy football smart. Great communicator. Just a rock, doesn’t get shaken. Travis, shoot we’d be in the fire and things would be going awry and that dude was a calming force for us. That’s what Trent brings us.
“Lukas, he runs as well as any linebacker that we’ve had here. He did everything for his team. I think he might have played wildcat quarterback. He’s somewhere between a James Bailey and a Karl Mickelsen, in that type of mold. He runs really well, really athletic, slasher. He’s definitely good enough to play outside, but could easily play inside against the spread teams that we’re playing. He’s one of the best players in Nevada and I think for the second year in a row we’ve got one of the best defensive players in Nevada – and I think that’s saying something when there are two schools in our league there. To go in there and get the one that we want, that says something about Fresno State.
“Andrew Wright, he’s more of an outside backer type, a Joker. He’s along the lines of a Tobenna Okeke, but longer. Speed rusher. What you’re seeing on film is him playing a lot of pass rush and playing a lot of one-on-one versus a tackle. But we think that translates into maybe being a Sam, a field outside backer. When we got here we had Tristan Okpalaugo – who was a big long 4-3 defensive end that you never would have believed we were going to stand out over a No. 2 receiver to the field and we did it and won a bunch of games – and we think this kid is real similar to that. He’s not quite as long, but a lot more burst.”
10:30 – Burl Toler III, a former wide out at Cal who is from a well-known Bay Area football family, has been hired as the Bulldogs’ receivers coach.
Burl Toler, his grandfather, was a member of the 1951 San Francisco football team that was undefeated and thought to be headed to the first bowl game in school history. The Dons ended up declining an invitation to the Orange Bowl, which was extended on the condition they leave at home their two African-American players, Ollie Matson and Toler. Toler later became the first African-American official in the NFL and worked games for 25 years as a field judge and head linesman.
Burl Toler Jr., his father, was a four-year letterman and three-year starter at linebacker at Cal from 1974-77.
Toler has spent the past three seasons on the football staff at his alma mater, working in quality control for the Golden Bears special teams.
10:00 – The Bulldogs coaching staff made several trips to Hawaii to recruit Tainoa Foster and a number of other players who they offered scholarships. Those trips ... not a vacation.
The last in-home visit that Toth had with Foster and his family, the Fresno State inside linebackers coach was on the ground there for all of 18 hours in the middle of a full week of recruiting.
“The last (trip) was busy,” Toth said. “I left and drove out of Fresno on a Sunday night and went to Sacramento, recruited the heck out of Sacramento all day and all night on that Monday. I drove from there to San Francisco, recruited there until about 11 and hustled off to the San Francisco Airport and fought that whole rental car/train/airplane deal and sat on a plane for 5 1/2 hours and worked on football and wrote letters to recruits. I got off the plane and drove across the island and got to hang out with him and his family a while that night, stopped at our favorite local place over there. I’m a huge Hawaiian barbeque fan. I’d eat it everyday. I’d be 280 in a heartbeat. So we got to enjoy that.
“We probably walked out of that house and drove the hour and a half back to the hotel and by that time it was 1:30 a.m. California time. I woke up early and headed to the airport and got back to L.A. and recruited L.A. for two days and drove back to Fresno on Friday. But you know what, this is the fun part of the job.”
9:45 – Toth on Tainoa Foster from Hawaii: “Tainoa size-wise fits the prototype of what we want here. The thing about him, he’s a Sam, Mike or a Will. He probably could come off the edge as a blitzer, but not quite a pass-rusher so he’s not really a Joker. But he could be a three-tool guy. His football IQ is really high and I bring that up as being an important trait because often times we’ve found guys that can run really well but need to work on that one thing or are really strong guys that don’t quite have the burst that we want. He has the football IQ that’s really off the charts and he’s a phenomenal athlete. He has great speed, is physical. He reminds me a lot of Jeff Camilli, when we felt we stole Jeff Camilli that year. I think we’ve stolen this guy. We’ve gotten a guy that probably should be playing at a higher level. His ceiling is through the roof. He has a NFL frame.
“The intangible side of it, his family is phenomenal. They really fit the Valley and the Red Wave. Football is really to them as a family. They rally around it. That’s where they’d be on Friday nights, their whole family, There’d be 60, 70 of his family at games and that kind of fits what we do here. I’m really excited about that guy. He graduates early in May, so he’s going to be here as early as he can in June. He’ll have the whole summer to put himself into a position to be able to be a factor in August – and the last two guys we’ve said that about, Nela (Otukolo) and Jeff, have really produced well for us.”
9:35 – Fresno State has a NLI from linebacker Tainoa Foster (6-2, 190) from Kamehameha High in Honolulu.
9:11 – Fresno State has finalized a hire of Dave Ungerer to be special teams coordinator and running backs coach.
Ungerer for the past three seasons had a similar role at Utah State and also has coordinated special teams at Washington State, Oregon State, Alabama, Cal and Maryland.
8:47 – Fresno State, according to athletic department sources, is set to pay new defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward $85,000 in his first season – which obviously is a bargain.
The defensive coordinator at South Carolina the past seven years, Ward was not retained by Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp and under terms of his contract South Carolina must pay him $750,000 this season in the final year of a three-year contract minus what he is paid if hired by another school.
The Gamecocks, then, are on the hook for $665,000 while the Bulldogs get a defensive coordinator who has worked in the SEC at a bargain rate for a season, plus some savings to put toward a multi-year contract.
The $85,000 is about $140,000 less than Fresno State paid Nick Toth last season when he was the defensive coordinator.
When his contract is completed, Ward will make $290,000 in the second year of his deal. New offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau will make $290,000 per year when his two-year deal is finalized.
8:33 – Assistant coach Pete Germano on the defensive line class: “I feel like we have kids that are going to be able to battle and compete for jobs. We’re going to be developing a lot of depth,. I want to be able to play more kids, keep kids fresher and have a better rotation in there and develop a group that you have to go compete every practice and every game to earn your playing time.
“We signed three really good ends. We already have a nose guard here. We moved Nate (Madsen) to end and I think that’s going to help. We’re going to be young; we only have one senior. But at the same time, I feel like we have a really good group of guys that are going to be able to battle. Collectively, more guys will be able to play and keep us healthier during games and I think that ultimately will benefit us.”
8:22 – Juwuane Hughes of Hanford gives the Bulldogs three players in this class from central San Joaquin Valley high schools, along with Johnny Rojas from Clovis West and Justin Rice from Central Catholic-Modesto.
“Locally it was a good year. There was a lot of talent in the area,” said defensive line coach Pete Germano, who recruits the Valley. “But coach (Ruyter) says all the time, ‘We’re not drafting them. They choose us.’ Last year we were able to pick up three kids from the Valley. You’d like to sign more, but at the same time these kids have to make decisions that are best for them and their families. They’re not necessarily the only three kids that we went after; they’re not the only three kids that we offered. There are more of those kids that we went after. But bottom line it’s interesting when you get down to the end how many truly want to be a ’Dog. We want kids who want to be ’Dogs. As much as they want to be wanted, we want to be wanted and it makes it all that much sweeter when a kid says, ‘Man, I want to be a Bulldog.’
“Johnny Rojas was a late addition and that kid grew up wanting to be a ’Dog and you could sense it and it worked out for him. Juju stuck with us and so did Justin. Justin was an early commit to us way back in August and he saw what was happening. His brother (Jared) is on the team. He stayed with us because his dream has always been to be able to play in Bulldog Stadium and put on that uniform. That means a lot. That means when they get here, the transition is going to be easier. They truly wanted to be ’Dogs.”
8:05 – Fresno State has received a NLI from defensive back Juwuane Hughes (5-10, 170) from Hanford.
7:45 – Fresno State got paperwork from defensive end Austin Vaimili (6-5, 265) from El Camino College, adding another big piece to the defensive line.
Vaimili signed with the Bulldogs in the mid-year period but had some classwork to complete and did not enroll for the spring semester. He had to re-sign and will join the program for the first summer school session in June.
7:31 – Fresno State received a NLI from tight end Johnny Rojas (6-6, 215) from Clovis West.
7:28 – Fresno State just received a NLI from Kevin Atkins from Vista Murrieta High, joining Elijah Piper in the defensive line class. Both could make an impact early with the Bulldogs building their front, a process that started in the mid-year signing period for JC players.
“Atkins and Piper are two really good defensive linemen that have huge upsides,” DeRuyter said. “They’re long. Piper is already 300 pounds. Atkins is a 6-3 guy that I think is going to get to 285 and he was the defensive player of the year in the conference that he was in. Really excited about those guys.”
The Bulldogs in December signed nose guard Malik Forrester (6-1, 315) from Los Angeles Pierce College and DeRuyter said he could be the key to the defensive line. With Forrester, the Bulldogs are able to move junior Nate Madsen back out to end, which is a more natural position and bolsters the depth cross the front.
“We signed Malik as an immediate nose guard,” DeRuyter said. “He’s a three for two guy and he’s here right now. He was a qualifier out of high school and went to a JC because he thought he could play at a higher level – and he proved that he could. He has to get his weight down a little bit and coach (Joey) Boese will take care of that. But if he gets down closer to 300 I think he has a chance to be a dominant force and we can get back to what we had with Tyeler (Davison). He’s really quick and powerful.
“When you’re running this package, you have to have a presence in the middle, and not that Nate wasn’t, it just wasn’t natural for him. Malik has a chance to get us back closer to what you need in this package. Now, whether he ends up being a Tyeler Davison where he can really dominate and be an NFL guy, that’s a high ceiling for him. But I think he’s a guy that has that kind of potential.”
With the Class of 2016, Fresno State now has much better defensive line depth that it did a year ago and more help could be on the way. At nose there is Forrester, redshirt sophomores Patrick Belony and Tyler Puccio and redshirt freshman Jaleel Carter. At nose there is Madsen, senior Nick Kristofors, redshirt sophomore Kyle Hendrickson, redshirt freshman Mason Bradley and so far Atkins and Piper from this recruiting class.
In the spring, the Bulldogs also could take a look at some of their nose guards at end.
“We have some depth there,” DeRuyter said, “and you have to be able to keep guys fresh and not have just true freshmen coming in like we did, although Elijah Piper is going to be 300 pounds coming in so by sheer size he’s going to have a chance physically to compete and it’s going to be a matter of how quickly he picks things up and how he handles the mental part of it.”
7:26 – Fresno State has received NLIs from three running backs in this recruiting class – Saevion Johnson, Deonte Perry and Justin Rice – which ties in with a different emphasis under new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau.
With Perry, Johnson and Rice joining junior Dontel James and redshirt freshmen Bryson Oglesby and Wesley Hill, the Bulldogs now have six running backs on scholarship and a walk-on in Dejonte O’Neal, who also could work his way into some playing time.
The six backs on scholarship is one more than the Bulldogs’ roster blueprint the past four years.
“Technically, we’re over and we may switch some things,” DeRuyter said. “But we’re also looking to get into more two-back stuff. The other thing we’re looking at is getting guys who can play in the backfield but can also play slot and have the flexibility, and guys like Deonte (Perry) and Dejonte O’Neal, who can be those multi-purpose guys where you can split them out and get the ball to them in space.”
The number of wide outs on the Bulldogs roster also is likely to change.
“We’re going to look at signing more tight ends and running backs,” DeRuyter said. “One of my charges to Kies was we have to be able to run the ball when we want to run the ball and in order to do that we have to build our roster a little differently and have tight ends and have running backs and be able to withstand if you do get some injuries. We’re slightly changing the blueprint that way. Our offensive line number is changing slightly as well, but we still want to get 15 or 16 of those guys.”
Fresno State last season ranked 11th of 12 in the Mountain West in averaging 136.8 rushing yards per game and 3.9 rushing yards per play.
7:19 – Fresno State just received letters of intent from running back Justin Rice (6-2, 200) from Central Catholic-Modesto and defensive back Jaron Bryant (6-1, 175) from Duncanville, Texas.
7:14 – A flurry of NLIs arrived – linebackers Lukas McKenzie from Reno (6-1, 185), linebacker Andrew Wright (6-2, 200) from Buena Park, quarterback Quentin Davis (6-0, 200) from St. John Bosco-Bellflower, running back Deonte Perry (5-11, 170) from Canoga Park, defensive lineman Elijah Piper from University Place, Washington, and offensive lineman Quireo Woodley (6-2, 282) from Murrieta Valley High.
6:14 – Running back Saevion Johnson (6-0, 190) from Pearland, Texas, just sent in his NLI.
Johnson was a two-way player at Dawson High in Pearland, Texas, but will be a running back at Fresno State.
“He’s a very dynamic individual, a hard-nosed kid,” said outside linebackers coach Jordan Peterson, who recruited Johnson. “The coach there describes him as exactly what a Fresno State football player should be – a hard worker that is going to play with a chip on his shoulder and do everything that we ask him to do – so he’s going to be good for us. ...
“He was an early commit for us and throughout the whole process when there were some coaching changes on staff, he stayed in the loop with us. He didn’t come out to visit on an official visit until January. Because of the changes, he wanted to meet the new staff and then we got some of the offensive guys to go out there and visit with him in January during the contact period. He stayed firm with us the whole way through. We were one of his first offers and despite some teams coming in late he stuck with us, so we’re fired up about him.”
6:09 – The NLI from linebacker Jeffrey Allison (6-0, 260) is in and has been validated by the Bulldogs’ complicance staff.
A linebacker from Georgia, Allison was recruited to Fresno State by new defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who has recruited the area around Atlanta his entire career.
Fresno State has expanded its recruiting footprint significantly under coach Tim DeRuyter, particularly in Texas. How productive can the Bulldogs be in the Southeast?
“You sell people,” Ward said. “Coach DeRuyter has done an excellent job here and once guys meet him they’ll see that he’s genuine. I can get him to third base and he has to get home, but I think I can do the first three legs because of the relationships I have with the coaches in that area. ...
“I think any time you have connections in an area and coaches and families in that area believe in you because of what you’ve done in the past and how you’ve treated the gentlemen you sign from there, they’re willing to take a look. That’s what happened with Jeffrey. I recruited Jeffrey at South Carolina. He was on the second tier of players for us, and I told him that. I was always up front with him. As soon as I got this job, I reached out to him. I never stopped recruiting him.”
Hughes is a good start. As a senior, he was in on 121 tackles including 11.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks and forced two fumbles. He also is on the track team at Langston Hughes and runs on the 4x100 relay team.
Said DeRuyter: “He’s not running the anchor leg, but still. ... He’s real physical. He’s a good football player. He had a bunch of offers out that way.”
And Ward: “He’s a big guy, physical. He’s a thumper. That’s what he is. He loves to tackle and he’s athletic for a big guy.”
5:21 – Fresno State just received its first signed national letter of intent from tight end Donte Coleman (6-3, 220) from West Mesquite High in Mesquite, Texas.
Tight ends coach Joe Bernardi on Coleman: “He’s a special player. He has length. He has athleticism. He’s going to get bigger. He’s physical. He can hold up in the run game. He can make plays in the pass game. He’s a great kid, a smart kid. I’m fired up, He’s a wonderful get for us. ... He’s going to help us right away. He’s going to have to come in and compete and earn his keep, but we’re going to give him every opportunity to do that. In a tight end you want someone who can do a lot of different things for you, someone who can move around a lot and play a number of different spots on the field. He does that. His stature makes him have the ability to be physical and help us in the run game and his athleticism and his length and his ability to catch the ball very fluidly gives him the opportunity to really help us in the pass game also.”
Coleman, a former high school teammate of Bulldogs’ quarterback Chason Virgil, is one of the more highly-recruited players in the Bulldogs’ class. He had scholarship offers from Texas Tech, Nebraska, Arizona State, Cal, Boise State, Iowa and Iowa State, among other programs.
Coleman made his commitment to Fresno State in October during what was a rough season, but even with a lot of recruiting pressure hanging onto him wasn’t difficult.
“No, because he’s such a great kid,” Bernardi said. “You’re always a little nnervous this time of year, but the day I got hired the first thing coach (Tim) DeRuyter and coach (Eric) Kiesau said was, ‘Make sure noting happens to Donte.’ He’s a wonderful kid and he comes from a great home. Great mother. Great grandmother. They weren’t going to let him make that decision. He was staying true to his commitment and he wants ot be a ‘Dog and we want guys in this program that are fired up to be Bulldogs.”
Fresno State’s 2016 recruiting class
Langston Hughes High-Fairburn, Georgia
Vista Murrieta High
Duncanville (Texas) High
West Mesquite (Texas) High
St. John Bosco High-Bellflower
Kamehameha Secondary High-Honolulu
Dawson High-Pearland, Texas
Canoga Park High
Curtis Senior High-University Place, Washington
Central Catholic High-Modesto
Clovis West High
El Camino College
Murrieta Valley High
Buena Park High