After a shocking turnaround that brought Fresno State from the brink of irrelevance at 1-11 all the way to 10 wins and the precipice of a conference championship, they were able to turn it into a strong recruiting class. Now that we’re getting to game time, let’s see what the future looks like for all of the Fresno State newcomers. After the NCAA changed the rules around redshirting this year, players are allowed to participate in 4 games without losing a year of eligibility. This will massively change how coaches strategize for new players. Play them in the tune-up games at the beginning of the year, and then shut them down? Or save them for the end of the year in case of injuries, and given them more chance to absorb the system? I think we’ll see a mix of both from coaches this season depending on depth and need/injuries.
We’ll start with the offensive newcomers, then hit the defense and special teams
The star of the 2018 signing class, at least ratings-wise, was Tyrone Sampson, center out of Michigan. He was a late add to the class after Signing Day, but was a rare blue-chip recruit for a G5 program like Fresno State. Now, center is a position where Fresno State has decent depth and experience, given that both Marcus Boyer and Micah St. Andrew have been repping there since Spring. Sampson is also dealing with a very slight foot injury and being a bit overweight in camp, which will probably delay his development in the system. I think he’ll be a good candidate for the new redshirt rule, potentially getting some spot action down the stretch if his foot heals well.
Local star Emoryie Edwards looked like the top offensive player in the class, and the wide-out made his presence known by joining the team for Spring Practice. Unfortunately, he has suffered a broken foot during Fall Scrimmage, which seems to have slammed the brakes on his development. Hopefully he’ll heal up as the season progresses, and he doesn’t try to rush back. The team has 17 WRs on the roster, so his contribution isn’t required right now. There are 7 seniors though, so maintaining that extra year may be more important to the team in the future than playing time as a freshman.
The second WR the Dogs picked up was another local boy, this time from Clovis West, just up Cedar Avenue from Bulldog Stadium. Ricardo Arias bounced around between a 3* and 2* recruit, with 247 eventually placing him at 2*. Where he has impressed coaches is with his hands. Reports show him as an incredibly sure-handed, and a great possession receiver. He looks to slot into the Z receiver spot behind Jamire Jordan, who is a senior this year. I think we’ll see Arias get a lot more time in 2019, but a full year with Kirby Moore and Jeff Tedford should do wonders for him.
The third WR to be signed was Rodney Wright III, a legacy recruit also out of Clovis West. If the name sounds familiar to Bulldog fans, it’s because his dad was a legend at Fresno State. He set the career reception record, and single season yards record with 1,630. His son looks like he’ll provide depth, and have abilities as a slot guy in the vein of Da’Mari Scott. He is on the small size, but that could be useful for slot work in the future.
On the line, the Bulldogs bring in Nick Abbs from Fresno City College, and he’s already jumped into the 2-deep. He brings impressive size and footwork to the line, and quickly got into the playing rotation. As of now, he’s the backup to Christian Cronk on the left side of the line, and will probably see the field in various rotations and schemes this season.
For QB, the Bulldogs brought in two on Signing Day, and added a third QB during Fall Camp. All three are definitely in the future plans, since Marcus McMaryion is a senior this year, and backup Jorge Reyna will be a senior next year. That means the competition will be open for 2020, and all three will be fighting hard for it. First up is Stephen Comstock out of Glendora, CA. What sets Comstock apart is that he is a tough player. Could be in part becuase he is a wrestler as well, similar to RB Josh Hokit. Definitely a brawler, and a threat with his legs as well as his arm.
QB Ben Woolridge jumped on a Fresno State offer, and never wavered last year. He is definitely more of a prototypical Tedford QB, using a powerful arm and height to lead the team down the field. He’s coming out of Foothill HS in Pleasanton, but both Woolridge and Comstock look destined for redshirts at this point.
The last addition was QB Hunter Racquet, who joined during Fall Camp. The JuCo QB was supposed to be a 2019 recruit, but was able to finish his classes and reclassify to 2018, surprising pretty much everybody by showing up to camp ready to go. The junior-to-be looks to be the 3rd string QB right now, behind McMaryion and Reyna. What is interesting is that both QB 2 and 3 are JuCo recruits, owing to the lack of depth left after Tim DeRuyter’s disastrous tenure. Racquet comes from Monterey Peninsula College, while Reyna comes from West LA College.
A late addition to the TE room was Cam Sutton, a huge JuCo receiver from Riverside Community College. He came in at 6’6” and 220, which is what got him moved over to TE. He’s also suffering from some sort of lower leg injury, but he appears to be back to practice soon. Having a size advantage like that could be huge on passing downs, and he has shown an ability to go up and over any defender to get the ball down.
After completing perhaps the biggest turnaround in college football, the Fresno State defense jumped from 82nd to 13th in total defense, and all the way to 10th in scoring defense. But 5 contributors along the D-Line graduated, leaving gaps that newcomers can fill going into 2018.
The top-rated defensive recruit is Isiah Johnson, the UCLA commit that jumped to Fresno State before the Early Signing Day. He came in as an early enrollee, and is already in the D-end rotation. The freakish athlete has a great chance at playing time, since the Fresno State defense is built around rotation to keep bodies fresh. Right now, Johnson is the backup to fellow newcomer Mykal Walker, the former D2 and scout team player of the year.
The also got LOIs from 3 D-Line players, two which look to be DT candidates, and one that looks to slot in at D-end. Matt Lawson and Matt Kjeldgaard both come in as interior linemen, although will probably need to spend their first season in the weight room and learning technique before lobbying for a spot in 2019.
The recruit that really flew under the radar will be Leonard Payne, who looks to be either a D-end or maybe an OLD candidate. The reason he was so under the radar was because his school had just started their football team, so he was really only on recruiting eyes as a senior. He definitely has the length to play the position, coming in during Fall Camp though may slow down his chances at 2018 playing time.
In the back 7, there really wasn’t a need to sign a lot of players because of the depth and experience there. While Fresno State needs to replace 5 contributors across the defensive line, they retain all of their starters in the back 7. That will be great for the players coming in, because there isn’t as much need to rush onto the field, giving them time to develop and grow as D1 football players. They did still bring in 1 LB recruit and 1 DB recruit.
Sherwin King held strong to Tedford’s local recruiting mantra by being out of Sunnyside High School in Fresno. For a player that wasn’t an early entrant, he’s flown up the depth charts to be on the 2-deep as a true freshman at OLB. He definitely will see playing time, although being behind captain George Helmuth. It is impressive enough to see a true freshman land on the 2-deep that quickly, and with Helmuth as a senior, expect King to be a starter in 2019 and beyond
On the defensive backfield, there was really only the need for one recruit for depth purposes, and Shawn Dorseau filled that spot. They have all 4 starters back this year, and a strong class of sophomores and redshirt freshmen behind them. There are positions where you want to take one in every class, and DB is one of those spots. I’d expect Dorseau to redshirt the entire year, and not see the field until 2019 as a rotation player at CB.
The rest of this will touch on newly eligible transfers/walk-ons/guys that came in earlier than expected.
The biggest transfer getting eligible has to be Michiah Quick. I’ve written about him elsewhere, but he’s the former 4* recruit that’s back in the Central Valley for his final season, and will be a starter out of the slot receiver spot.
Next up is Romello Harris, another local boy coming back home after spending his freshman season with Washington State. The RB faces a really strong RB corps with all four starters returning, but Ronnie Rivers’ foot injury may give Harris a chance to contribute this year in the rotation.
If there’s been a theme to Tedford’s time in Fresno, it’s P5 players transferring back to Fresno after being ignored by the prior staff. We’ve seen Marcus McMaryion come from Oregon State, Johnny Johnson from UCLA, Michiah Quick from Oklahoma, Romello Harris from Washington State, Derrion Grim from Nebraska, and now Rickey McCoy from Washington. The DT just received word last week that his waiver was approved, and he is eligible for 2018. He came back to Fresno in the winter, and thought he’d have to sit out the season. But, his family waiver was approved by the NCAA, and he provides great depth along the D-Line with a few question marks there.
McCoy isn’t the only Defensive player to transfer back home to Fresno. Both Leveel Tatum III and David Tate Jr. transferred back home from UNLV after leaving Edison High in Fresno. Tatum will be eligible this year after coming home last year, but Tate will have to wait until 2019 after just joining the team in camp. Seeing so many Valley players come back home shows the impact that Tedford and Co have had on high school programs and players here. Fresno State needs to be the Central Valley’s team, they can’t neglect the players that call this Valley home.
The physically biggest names that the Bulldogs are looking forward to this year are the two Canadian monsters in Dontae Bull and Marc-David Bien-Aime. Both were recruited during Tedford’s 2017 class, but due to discrepancies between Canadian high schools and the NCAA, neither arrived in time to play during the first season. Both are ready and set to go this year, and both have made their names heard by breaking into the 2-deep. Donate comes in at 6’6” and 325, while Bien-Aime comes in at a massive 6’5” 350. Marc-David is suffering from an ankle injury right now, but should be healed up as the season goes on. Look for Bull to be a rotational contributor this year, while Bien-Aime will probably have to wait until later in the year to play. Although that could give him that redshirt eligibility if his ankle takes longer than expected to heal.
The Dogs are replacing both kickers going into 2018, and the roster has all walk-ons there. The three kickers on the roster will be competing for a scholarship, but it looks like redshirt freshman Asa Fuller has the edge at this point. Mateo Thompson and Shane Cuicci both came in from JuCos, but seem to have questions about accuracy. If there’s one area of concern for the Bulldogs through the season, it’s going to be at kicker. Last year, Jimmy Camacho was asked to make the most FG tries of anyone in the conference. Hopefully the offense this year will be better in the red zone so FG kicking isn’t needed.
There’s a few players that I missed along the way here, but this should cover all of the newcomers that look to be factors for the Bulldogs in 2018 and beyond