With the calendar turning to August, college football season is right around the corner, starting with the launch of fall camp for Fresno State on Tuesday.
Head Coach Jeff Tedford began his second stint in charge of the Bulldogs, replacing Kalen DeBoer who left for Washington at the end of last season.
Tedford inherits a team that consists of the upper-classmen that he recruited during his first tenure from 2017-2019 and went 10-3 last year.
He also finds himself in a position that he was unsure he would ever be in again after he stepped down in 2019 because of health concerns surrounding his heart.
“It was awesome,” Tedford said after practice when asked how the first day of fall camp was for him.
“I got out of bed with a little bounce in my step. Just being around here now everyday – not that it wasn’t before – but when you think you’re never going to do it again and you have another opportunity, I really feel blessed and fortunate to be here and be around these coaches, around these players and to represent the university. So Just excited to be out here every single day.”
With practice number one of fall camp in the books, the ‘Dogs will have 20 more such practices before entering the week of Aug. 28 ahead of the season-opener at home against Cal Poly.
Tedford said the goal over the next week before the team puts on pads for the first time next Monday is to evaluate the roster and work on the mental aspect of the game to ensure the players are fundamentally sound.
That is especially relevant for the 35 newcomers on the team – which includes freshmen, junior college transfers and Division 1 transfers – a number that Tedford noted as high.
Coupling that with the mostly new coaching staff, and the Bulldogs are faced with a one-month crash-course on the field to get ready for the season, which brings the importance of leadership into light.
Quarterback Jake Haener returns for his final season, and Tedford credited him for being a player that everyone looks up to.
“He brings experience, brings leadership, obviously he knows it inside and out,” Tedford said. “He’s a mentor to a lot of people. His example out here, the way he goes about his work, the way he focuses even when he’s not in, his attention to detail – everybody can watch him and learn from how he goes about his work.”
On the defensive end, senior safety Evan Williams returns with the most game experience and is effectively the quarterback of the defense with his leadership.
Williams said his message to his younger teammates throughout fall camp is to simply be consistent.
“It’s easy to come out day one and be excited and energetic and have that energy, but it’s a whole different monster coming three weeks when your body’s hurting and it’s early and it’s hot already, and you have a totally different mentality,” Williams said.
“Just trying to preach to the young guys to whenever they wake up just to focus on getting one percent better. We’ve got to be focused on that little much improvement every day, even if it’s not a huge change just focusing on one thing to get better at every day and just improving in our preparation, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Along with Haener and Williams, the Bulldogs have the luxury of returning a wealth of experienced players, in part due to the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Offensively, star wide receivers Jalen Cropper and Josh Kelly return to bring one of the conference’s best pass-catching duos back, and running back Jordan Mims will have the opportunity to be the feature back now that former Bulldog great Ronnie Rivers graduated and has moved on to the NFL.
Fresno State lost star power on the defensive line due to graduation, but defensive end David Perales returns as one of the best pass rushers in the conference last season. Linebacker Levelle Bailey also returns for his fourth season as a Bulldog after finishing third on the team in tackles in 2021.
One major change the defense has to deal with is the new coaching staff, led by new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who was the defensive coordinator for the ‘Dogs from 1997-2000.
“He has so much experience,” Williams said. “He’s been all around the league, all around college football, so he’s soaked up all that information and just dumped it on us. He’s met with me one-on-one from a safety perspective to open up my perspective on the game and just teach me a lot about the little things. His scheme, it’s just so impressive. He’s soaked up all of that. He’s gone through all of the playbooks that he’s dealt with, and finally getting to be a part of that is something that’s pretty unique and awesome for me.”