When Jeff Camilli first put on a Fresno State uniform, the Bulldogs were the best football team in the Mountain West Conference.
Four years later, as Camilli takes off that uniform for the final time, Fresno State has slipped to the rear of the pecking order.
From 11-2 in 2013 to 1-10 entering Saturday’s season finale against San Jose State at Bulldog Stadium. Quite a tumble, indeed, but you’d never know it by watching No. 42.
Win a bunch of games, lose a bunch of games, it didn’t appear to affect Camilli. The senior linebacker played with maximum effort every week.
Win a bunch of games, lose a bunch of games, it didn’t appear to affect Camilli. The senior inside linebacker played with maximum effort every week, regardless of the score or situation.
It’s a quality that will serve the 6-foot-3, 272-pounder well as he tries to extend his football career into the NFL and as he continues in life.
“That’s how I was raised: never giving up, and if you’re going to do something, put your absolute all into it no matter how it’s going,” Camilli said. “I have to thank my parents a lot for that because they’ve always instilled that in me.
“That’s just really all it is. If you’re not playing as hard as you can, what’s the point of even playing?”
Outside of the record, of course it’s been fun. I’m out here every day grinding with some of the best friends I’ll ever have in my life.
Jeff Camilli, Fresno State senior linebacker
Camilli’s parents, Ryan and Deena, will make the drive from their Shingle Springs home to watch Jeff suit up for the 43rd and final game (and 22nd start) of his college career.
While others in his class have played more games and made more career starts, Camilli stands alone in terms of commitment and leadership.
“He’s our undoubtable leader,” said senior safety Stratton Brown, who described Camilli as one of his “best friends.”
“When we voted for captains, everybody put down Jeff Camilli. I promise you. Everybody in (the locker) room put down Jeff Camilli. That’s how much he means. He’s our rock.”
Camilli’s value to the Bulldogs extends far beyond his 96 total tackles (second on the team behind Brown’s 100) or his team-high three sacks and seven tackles for losses.
It’s more about his intensity, work ethic and the example he sets for his teammates.
“He’s meant a lot of different things to our team,” said Nick Toth, Camilli’s position coach all four years. “Number one, he’s exactly what it means to be a Fresno State football player. He’s a hard-nosed tough sucker who worked every day. He’s got some ability, but more than that, he’s fulfilled his potential. …
“The other thing is he worked for it. From Day One till his last day, he was exactly what you want in in terms of effort. You don’t get to coach many guys like that.”
96 total tackles this season by Jeff Camilli, second on the team to Stratton Brown’s 100
Through little fault of his own, Camilli has not been rewarded for those efforts – especially this year.
During the Oct. 8 loss at Nevada, Camilli returned from a fourth-quarter injury to help the Bulldogs’ defense make its biggest stop of the season. (Toth agreed with that assessment.) Not his fault the offense couldn’t punch the ball in four times from the 4-yard line.
During the Oct. 22 loss at Utah State, Camilli had a key third-down tackle that kept Fresno State within striking distance. Again, not his fault the offense settled for field goals instead of touchdowns.
While watching the final minutes of last week’s loss to Hawaii from the sideline, I felt worse for Camilli after the last-second blocked field-goal attempt than anyone else wearing a red uniform.
Which is why, while watching the final minutes of last week’s loss to Hawaii from the sideline, I felt worse for Camilli after the last-second blocked field-goal attempt than anyone else wearing a red uniform.
“I came in here at a real high window,” Camilli said when asked to reflect on the team’s downward trajectory during his career. “I got a ring, and a lot of people who have played here never got one who have been very much deserving.
“So I take it for what it is. As things have gone worse and worse, you can apply that to the rest of your life. Not everything is always going to be going smooth. You’ve just got to keep pushing.”
Camilli plans to do just that, training for pro day soon after the season ends. While not the most athletic of linebackers, especially in coverage, there are more than a few NFL teams that always need someone with a high football IQ who can plug holes in the run game.
Plenty of (NFL) teams have talked to me about him. He’s going to be in a camp. That’s for certain.
Fresno State inside linebackers coach Nick Toth, on Jeff Camilli
And if pro football doesn’t work out, Camilli can always rely on his degree in ag business. He’s on track to graduate next fall.
“I’m a terrible guy to ask about the future because I really have no clue,” Camilli said with a grin. “I’m just taking it as it comes and looking forward to the next chapter.”
First, though, Camilli and the 13 other Bulldog seniors have to close this one.
In his typical understated fashion, Camilli hasn’t gotten too caught up in his last practice, his last trip down the ramp or even what wisdom he may share with his teammates during Friday’s senior tackle, scheduled for 2 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium.
The focus is completely on San Jose State – and capping his college career with a victory.
“That would be the best feeling in the world,” Camilli said. “Not just for my fellow seniors who have played so hard, but for the whole team this whole year even though it hasn’t gone the way we wanted. We’ve had some heartbreak losses. It’s tough the way it went, but if we finish with a win, it would make it all worth it.”
FRESNO STATE VS. SAN JOSE STATE
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-10, 0-7 Mountain West; Spartans 3-8, 2-5
- TV/Radio: CBSSN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Senior day: Fresno State will honor 14 seniors and their families during pregame introductions: Jamal Ellis, Dalen Jones, Aaron Peck, Zach Kline, Stratton Brown, Brandon Hughes, Tyquwan Glass, Alan Wright, Jeff Camilli, Justin Verrell, Jacob Vasquez, Michael Martens, Wyatt McBee and Nick Kristofors.