Fresno State's former coaching staff led by Tim DeRuyter faced its criticisms for ignoring Central Valley talent, but no one felt its consequences quite like the Bakersfield area.
Ironically, two of the best players that the staff inherited came from Bakersfield - Derek Carr and Phillip Thomas - but little effort was made to find the next big thing from one of Fresno State’s greatest pipelines. The only players signed as scholarship recruits from Bakersfield during the DeRuyter era would be Shannon Edwards (2012) and Brian Burrell (2013).
The roster left for new Fresno State Head Coach Jeff Tedford has only two from the area - two redshirt freshmen walk-ons in defensive lineman Timothy Lele’a of Ridgeview High School and kicker Nathan De Jager of Bakersfield Christian High School.
One of Tedford’s first recruiting moves was to return to the place that delivered the likes of David Carr, Derek Carr and Ryan Mathews to the program, offering three senior standouts for the 2017 class and already adding one mid-year transfer who calls Bakersfield home. The efforts included a trip to Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield, where the head coach, A.J. Gass, is a former Bulldog who was recruited by Tedford to Fresno State in the 90’s.
Gass made an effort to get two of his standout players in touch with the former Fresno State staff, but saw the roles reversed in Tedford’s first month on the job.
“I sent a few players up to a few games,” Gass said. “I tried to keep some guys on the radar for them, but nothing really came of it.
“When Coach Tedford got the job, I started getting contact immediately from some new guys on the staff, who I was familiar with. I put the same guys out in front of them and boom, two offers - one for [Sean] Hatten and one for [Chris] Coleman.”
For Gass, it was a welcomed opportunity to establish a pipeline from his own program to his alma mater.
“I think Fresno State is one of the greatest things about the Valley,” Gass said. “It’s an opportunity for local kids to shine, something that people from Bakersfield all the way up have something to look forward to, be proud of, to rally behind.
“It all starts with our kids, Valley kids are what has made that program great in the past and I think it’s very important they recognize to pull kids from your area and support from the community will follow. I think that’s something Jeff will do a great job at.”
Garces two-way athlete Chris Coleman had followed the Bulldogs from his home in Bakersfield, but did not expect an opportunity to stay locally for college until Fresno State assistant coach Scott Thompson stopped by his school.
As Coleman explained, “Thompson said, ‘I’m looking for football players.’ I said, ‘I’m a football player.’ He said, ‘I know, that’s why I’m here. We’d like to offer you to play at Fresno State.’ I just started smiling, wow, this is huge.
"The first thing he told me was, ‘We want football players, not specialist players. And that’s why we’re going after you, because we know wherever we put you on the field you can perform and excel in that position.’ Fresno State is giving me more option to where I want to play."
When a college recruits an athlete, it can plant the seed to recruit talent down the road, and even more so when it is local. The Bulldogs haven’t carried many from Bakersfield in recent years, but one of the few was a seed-planter in Coleman’s eyes.
“I’ve wanted to go to Fresno State since my freshman year when someone close to my family, Shannon Edwards, went there,” Coleman said.
“It’s huge because Fresno State is known for recruiting in the Valley, so when they didn’t no one knew what was going on. Now Coach Tedford is here and I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations because they are back here now. It’s mind-blowing because they didn’t recruit in the Valley for years and I think their record shows for it honestly.”
His teammate, Sean Hatten, had already committed to Montana State, but was excited when he received a call from Tedford himself.
“Tedford called me personally to tell me I was a full scholarship guy,” Hatten explained. “He called me the other day and said he loved the tenacity I play with, how I play, and that’d he’d love to have me there… I was obviously excited, every kid dreams about that big D-I offer. Fresno State is a great school, growing up watching the Bulldogs play, close to home, Fresno is a great area.”
The Bakersfield connection has extended to Liberty and Bakersfield Christian high schools as well.
At Liberty, Fresno State offered athlete Johnny Balderas who previously committed to UNLV. One of his Rebel recruiters, J.D. Williams, is now on staff with the Bulldogs.
“It makes me feel good knowing that a local school such as Fresno State is offering me because they know what type of talent they have in the Valley,” Balderas told Scout.
At BCHS, their coaching staff embodies the Fresno State to Bakersfield connection. Head Coach Darren Carr and offensive coordinator, and brother, David Carr, led Bakersfield Christian all the way to the California Div. 4AA State Championship game.
“They actually came and met [wide receiver] Jeremiah Foster and I introduced them to [quarterback] Braden Wingle and [running back] Steven Figures,” Darren Carr told BarkBoard.com. “I’m telling you, I don’t have a say in it, but those three guys are Division I players and they would like nothing more than to stay in the Valley. Honestly, you put some beef on them and they’re going to be special.”
Even Derek Carr made a tweet encouraging one of the three to be extended an invite to Fresno State.
However, one former Bakersfield Christian linebacker will be a Bulldog as early as this spring.
Grant Bouma, who juggled being a Bakersfield Christian High School standout with working on the family’s Central Valley dairy farm, had next-level implications in the class of 2014. He and his family had season tickets to watch Derek Carr and the Bulldogs during his high school years, but after being ignored from his hometown team he accepted a preferred walk-on offer to Texas Tech.
“During that time it was the DeRuyter phase and all that,” Bouma said. “From my opinion, he didn’t recruit the Valley as much as Tedford will or is doing. A lot of us recruits at that time felt we got passed over a little. I was always drawn to Fresno State but never felt the love or got the opportunity.”
Bouma’s journey returned him back to California at Ventura College. As he winded down his last season of junior college, he was drawn back to Fresno State after Tedford took over the program. Bouma will join the Fresno State program as a preferred walk-on next semester.
Said Bouma, “From my eyes, growing up, watching Derek when we had season tickets and during my recruiting process also - It used to be they had the V on the back of their heads for a reason. It was the Valley and they recruited your hometown guys for your hometown team. You wanted to play for them because you’ve grown up around them, compared to when I went to Texas Tech and it was different... I felt [DeRuyter] had fallen away from the basis of their team. Hopefully Tedford is going to bring that recruiting back to Bakersfield area and Fresno and everywhere in the Valley.”
Whether or not Tedford’s efforts reap more immediate results, the Bakersfield recruiting community has taken notice, which could lead to more successful recruiting in the area and a widening of the Fresno State footprint back into Bakersfield.
“The future is going to be bright whether I go there or not,” said Coleman of Garces. “They are going after great kids and this is a great valley to get kids from… the coaches have great backgrounds and they have some serious credibility around here.”
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