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Fresno State recruiting recap: ‘Dogs make good in a tough situation

No time to recruit? Not a problem in Jeff Tedford’s first big test as the Bulldogs’ head coach.

NCAA Football: San Diego State at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Fresno State football’s recruiting class by the numbers

Total recruits (via 27 (19 offense/8 defense; 17 high school/10 junior college)

Three-star recruits: 14 (3rd in the Mountain West)

Average recruit star rating: 2.52 (4th)

Recruits in the top 100 at their position (via Scout): 5

To say that I was a skeptic of Jeff Tedford’s hiring at Fresno State might have been the understatement of last year. He came in with a salary that suggested the administration expected him to lead the Bulldogs back to prominence sooner rather than later, but he also came in without a lot of margin for error with regards to recruiting.

When he scattered Tim DeRuyter’s recruits to the four winds — some of which were three-star athletes (Cameron Burston, for one) who eventually landed elsewhere in the Mountain West — he gave himself a blank slate, but without any staff to speak of and not much time to reload.

But the coaching staff came together quickly, bringing a couple of highly-regarded recruiters into the mix. Then the offers came like they were going out of style and, all things considered, Fresno State turned lemons into lemonade.

So what we did learn from Tedford’s first recruiting class?

Valley products matter again

It didn’t escape the notice of careful listeners when, at Tedford’s introductory press conference in November, athletic director Jim Bartko took a slight dig at departed coach Tim DeRuyter. To paraphrase, Tedford would know that a place like Firebaugh, the sleepy town roughly 45 minutes from Fresno that produced star Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, actually exists. It’s the reason for photo ops like this:

But they backed up their promise and then some, criss-crossing the Central Valley and re-establishing fraught connections from Bakersfield to Stockton. And while they didn’t win every recruiting battle in their own backyard — Liberty (Bakersfield)’s Johnny Banderas signed with San Jose State, while a late push for four-star Central (Fresno) product Jaylon Johnson couldn’t convince him to bail on Utah — the long-term message is undoubtedly important.

The JuCo gambit is a big one

The Bulldogs signed ten junior college athletes today. According to Scout, there are only four other FBS teams that signed as many or more: UAB, Arkansas State, New Mexico, New Mexico State. That might look like an eclectic bunch, but the difference with Fresno is in the message this push sends.

The Bulldogs want to re-open the competitive window sooner rather than later.

Of the ten JuCo recruits, four are rated as three-star pickups by Scout and all are likely to get every opportunity to work themselves into the mix when spring ball arrives. Quarterback Jorge Reyna and former Nebraska receiver Derrion Grim might be the headliners, but defensive back Matthew Boateng could be a veteran presence to a unit that will lose three starters from 2016.

If you’re looking to recent history as a guide for whether this will work out, Colorado State receiver Michael Gallup emerged from the Rams’ eight JuCo signees last year, but the rest have been non-factors. New Mexico found a few contributors in their 2014 and 2015 hauls, which might be the best-case scenario. If one can become a starter, it’ll be a win. If not, the scrutiny may come fairly quickly.

Offense comes first

This is perhaps more true if one takes a long view, but the Bulldogs did spend an inordinate amount of scholarship capital at the offensive skill positions. In bringing on three running backs and three wide receivers, Fresno State’s official roster now lists 11 and 13 players at those two respective positions.

The emphasis does make sense for a couple of reasons. First, no returning running back covered themselves in glory in 2016 so, rightly or wrongly, the race to carve out roles probably should be wide open. Ronnie Rivers, a three-star legacy signing, will receive a healthy amount of buzz for his name, but he’s actually not the only new three-star back in town. Jordan Mims, an Atherton product, is headed to Fresno, too.

At wide receiver, however, the logjam will probably take another six months to sort out. Besides Jamire Jordan, Keesean Johnson and Grim, three-star Patrick Jeune might get a chance to shine or he might get stuck behind veterans like Da’Mari Scott and Delvon Hardaway. Who knows?

If that weren’t enough, Scout has three tight ends listed among the class, too. For the moment, the only one listed as a tight end on the official roster is Gunner Javernick, though Danny Moraga (yet another three-star athlete) might also end up there eventually.

Reyna, however, might be the linchpin of the whole class. Three-star JuCo QBs don’t just grow on trees — Scout lists just fourteen in the 2017 class — and, despite early suggestions that a #sexterback could duke it out in the spring, it wouldn’t surprise me much if Reyna was given the most room to push Chason Virgil in a new offensive system.

Three other recruits of note

Zelan Tupuola, 3-star OL, Junipero Serra Catholic HS (San Juan Capistrano)

Richard Cage Jr., 3-star OLB, Eleanor Roosevelt HS (Corona)

Wylan Free, 3-star DB, Lynwood HS