Five true freshmen have played for the Fresno State Bulldogs this year, one of whom arrived on campus with an unprecedented combination of size and skill.
Since the Bulldogs lost talented defensive linemen like Tyeler Davison, Nikko Motta, Anthony Williams and Andy Jennings, the Fresno State coaching staff has had trouble reloading. Several undersized recruits have been brought in to be developed into a quality 3-4 lineman, other players have had to move positions to fill gaps.
But at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, Elijah Piper reported to camp and immediately earned a spot in the two-deep during his first fall camp. The impressive true freshman leaves spectators wondering how the Fresno State program landed a prospect like Piper when they have not in the past.
Piper hails from Curtis Senior High School in Tacoma, Washington. There he had season tickets to watch the Seattle Seahawks, but the big colleges the could become a pathway to the NFL weren’t calling. He held offers from Hawaii, Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Montana State. Then Fresno State jumped into the picture.
“This was a program that offered me that was head and shoulders above the rest,” Piper said. “What really drew me was that they get to play in those big games and they’ve always been known as the original giant killers. It’s a great conference to play in outside of those Power-5 conferences. I’m just glad to be here.”
Nebraska was his first look at “the big boys.” Piper reflects the type of attitude that so many Bulldogs had during the giant killer days.
“I’ve definitely got a little chip on my shoulder,” Piper said. “I feel like I was passed up on a little bit. I just want to prove that I can play at this level and I can compete with the best.”
Fresno State Defensive Line Coach Pete Germano didn’t need much time to see that Piper was college-ready.
“He has really, really good body control,” Germano told BarkBoard.com during fall camp. “He’s very explosive, 300-pound kid that can move that body. He reminds me of some other kids we’ve had here in the past that have played. I don’t want to throw out those names yet and start having Piper associated with those guys. But big guys that can move their bodies like that, that’s a start in the right direction for sure.”
Piper has played in both of the Bulldogs’ first two games as a reserve defensive end, and a bigger role is in the works for him this week. On his experience at the next level so far, Piper said “It is a little bit faster. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s definitely faster than anything you’ve played before. Everyone is bigger and better, everyone is coordinated, and you have to focus on your technique… Guys are just as good as or better than you at this level.”
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