Arellanes and Tedford
Q: What’s your reaction to the Tedford hire?
A: Just extremely excited, extremely happy for Jeff and his family. He’s a great man, a great teacher and a great leader. I obviously value my experience playing for him and working with him. The friendship that we’ve had since I left there. It’s been a long time, but extremely excited and looking forward to the future of Fresno State football.
Q: Did Jeff personally recruit you to Fresno State?
A: I was a junior college transfer, I was actually a bounceback from Northern Arizona University. Jeff, Coach Sweeney and I remember Jethro Franklin recruited me. Coming to my house. It’s interesting because Coach Tedford and I actually grew up probably within 10 minutes of each other. He’s from Downey and I grew up in Pico Rivera.
He came down and me with my family. My recruiting visit was a great experience. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity as a quarterback, and for what he’s done with quarterbacks, to work with him and gain valuable experience to move on as a player and later on as a high school coach when my playing career was over.
Q: And what was the relationship like between yourself as a quarterback and Jeff as the offensive coordinator?
A: He was the offensive coordinator and my quarterbacks coach. He’s a genuine, genuine man, an extremely focused and detail-oriented. I learned a lot, not just about the X’s and O’s, but trying to manage the team as the leader. Just a great amount of experience being able to work with him for two years.
Q: Do you have a memory or story about Jeff that stands out?
A: There’s a couple. It’s funny, I was thinking about it earlier. First of all, I think the week I got to Fresno State, I was a mid-year transfer and it was the week of my 21st birthday. I was still brand new and I didn’t really know any of the guys. So Coach and his family had me over to his house. That Sunday we watched the Superbowl and my 21st birthday was the next day. He had a little something and invited me over and wanted me to not be alone I guess on my birthday. I spent my 21st there watching the Superbowl with him and his family.
It was my very first experience in dealing with him, just seeing what a genuine coach and person he is. How he obviously cared more about you than just as a player, but as a person as well. It was a great experience right off the bat.
Q: Have you kept in touch with him since moving on from Fresno State?
A: Oh absolutely. We text and talk every now and again. I actually sent him a message about a month ago, when there was starting to be rumors about Coach DeRuyter being let go. We have a Facebook Fresno State football players page and guys were talking about how bad they wanted him back. I sent him a screenshot of the text. He said, ‘Obviously I’d be extremely excited and fired up for that opportunity.’ It’s been good and exciting and I know us guys are really excited and can’t wait to get up there and watch him coach at Bulldog Stadium.
Q: What was the biggest thing you learned from Jeff that helped in you development as a QB?
A: I arrived a little after Trent Dilfer left. I remember talking to Jeff about how Trent was moving on in the NFL and one of the conversations they had that Jeff shared with us was that Trent felt like he didn’t have the detail of the coaching for the NFL level. He stressed that the mechanics have to be there, the footwork has to be there, those details. It’s not just about scheme and X’s and O’s, but the whole package. That stuck with me.
I had a brief career, a little practice squad in the NFL and then played in the NFL Europe. That was something I always kept with me, not only there as a player but I did coach 15 years of high school football down here in Southern California and I kept that and I wanted to be very detail-oriented like he was. I learned from him, especially with coaching quarterbacks, but those are the kinds of things that really stood out from just being around him as a player.
Arellanes’s time at Fresno State
Q: Can you go more in-depth about what sold you on Fresno State during the recruiting process?
A: Out of high school, I started at Northern Arizona. I wasn’t highly recruited at all actually - I only had the one scholarship offer. I bounced back because I was going to have to sit behind a guy that was a year ahead of me and was going to start pretty much all four years. I transferred out here to LA Valley College and from there we threw the ball all over the place so I was being recruited a lot more heavier recruited than I was out of high school and I had quite a few offers. For whatever reason, Memphis at the time was really high on me early, early in the year.
Because [Fresno State] recruited me so heavily and I was seriously considering going there and it was pretty close and I got the visit and the recruiting trip up to Fresno State - meeting Coach Tedford, Coach Sweeney, the staff and what they had done in previous years developing players and young men, [Tedford] was really key in me making that switch from Memphis. Obviously it was not close to being able to stay here locally in California. Being able to play for him as a quarterback and a coach like that who was becoming well-known for developing young quarterbacks. He was a big, big part of the reason why I ended up at Fresno State.
Q: What was it like getting to Fresno State and your reaction to the experience?
A: It was extremely positive - the red wave, the stories I heard about the fan base and support, being there on campus. I still vividly remember the very first time I took a snap in Bulldog Stadium. It was our very first game of the year. We were actually platooning at the beginning of the year, me and Rich Donati. He started that game and I knew going in that I was going to get a chance to play, I just didn’t know when. We were going to go either series or quarters.
I remember jogging onto the field for the first time and hearing the roar of the crowd and thinking ‘wow.’ It was something I hadn’t really noticed before, but for some reason that really stuck with me. I felt like, ‘wow, this is going to be someplace special to play.’ The support, and even now 20+ years later - seeing former Bulldog players, people that know the red wave, the fan base and the community, it is just special to have been a part of.
Q: Is there a game in your Fresno State career that stands out above the rest?
A: Our junior year, we had one of those typical WAC games with BYU. It went back in forth, the crowd was into it, it was toward the end of the year. We were struggling a little bit. It was a day game and the excitement of Bulldog Stadium, even late in the year, was something pretty special. I do remember some of the big hits and the great throws and great plays. Just being around a lot of the guys was a special experience.
Q: Were there any teammates you were especially close with?
A: I keep in touch with so many guys. It’s funny, I just ran into some teammates the other day down here at the USC game. Michael Pittman’s son plays down there for USC. A former tight end O’Shea Nero was there. I was roommates with Lane Kiffin and Rich Donati, us quarterbacks had an apartment together. Now with social media, it’s so easy to keep in touch. I’m pretty excited about getting back up there and seeing the guys again and talking about old times and seeing how everybody is doing.
Q: Do you have a Lane Kiffin story for us?
A: Lane, he knew the direction he was headed. I think we knew that back then. He wasn’t the most talented throwing the ball, but in that meeting room you could already see his knowledge of the game. That’s something that really stood out even back then. We would study our butts off and it was just second nature to him. Being from a coaching family and being around his dad, you could tell very early on that was the direction he was going in. He never really had any big ideas about pursuing a professional career. He knew he was going to be a coach and he knew that was his calling. I think we could all see that back then. We saw Lane pick up everything with such ease… it was just so easy to him.
Q: How about Michael Pittman?
A: Pitt, if you know Pitt… I remember we left for summer one time and we came back and, man, he was huge. His arms were huge, he was yoked and ready to go. He was a guy that would refuse to run out of bounds and always wanted to get extra yards and lower his shoulder. One of the toughest football players I’ve been around. He’s also a jokester, he’s one of those locker room guys that make guys laugh and always clowning around. I remember that about him, him getting after guys and guys getting after him… He had a great NFL career and is one of the Bulldog greats.
Q: What was the toughest environment you played in?
A: We had a chance to play at Auburn. It’s funny, I remember the year before - we (had a meeting) and Coach Sweeney came in and said the University of Florida had called and wanted to play us and if we should do it. For whatever reason, it fell through or we waited too late. So then we went to Auburn and played there and played in a tough, tough environment and just got hammered. Florida actually ended up hammering Auburn, so I don’t know how bad that would have been if we had played in the Swamp that year.
I remember pretty clearly a couple plays at Auburn early on - it was like a third-and-eight on our very first drive and the place was just louder than anything I had seen at that time. We completed a 10 or 12 yard pass and the crowd went silent. I was like, ‘wow that’s a pretty awesome feeling to silence that crowd just by picking up a first down.’ It was a great SEC environment.
We also had a chance to play in the Rose Bowl, up at Cal at Memorial Stadium. Utah actually, one of the smaller stadiums, was really loud and really excited. I had a great opportunity to play in some great stadiums in great places around college football land.
Q: Was there a particular rival school or opponent that you guys hated or were especially excited to play?
A: BYU at the time was a pretty big rival and San Jose State was a pretty big rival. That game (vs BYU) junior year and losing a close one there when we were back-and-forth, then playing San Jose State at home and winning. I think that was Sweeney’s 200th victory. It was a big one for us, not anything we were overly anxious or excited to play a rival, but a big game.
Arellanes and Jim Sweeney
Q: And of course we want to know what it was like playing for Jeff Sweeney...
A: Listening to some of Coach Tedford’s press conference… him saying the Sweeney mannerisms and a few of them I can’t say, it’s pretty funny to me. Coach Sweeney would get after you, but he’d put his arm around you as well. You knew you had a tough coach and someone who truly, truly deeply cared about Fresno and Fresno State University and the football program. Obviously over his time there he really put the school on the map and did a lot to gain excitement in the community and at the university.
Q: Do you have some good Sweeney stories to share?
A: I’m not sure which ones I should be sharing, but I remember two very specifically. One of them, it was early in camp and it was so hot. We were stretching early in the morning. There was a marquee in the corner of the practice field that would flash the temperature. Guys when complain, ‘It’s so hot!’ Sure enough (Sweeney) had that thing turned off so guys wouldn’t see it the next day at practice.
One time at practice our kickers were actually up in the stadium. I’m not sure how the setup is now but back then practice fields were right outside of Bulldog Stadium. We were going to get into a special teams kicking situation, but the kickers weren’t there, they were inside the stadium kicking on their own. Coach Sweeney takes off on his golf course, you can tell he’s upset. He speeds over there and we move onto the next phase of practice. A few minutes later we look over and we see the kickers running full speed with Coach Sweeney on his golf cart right behind them yelling and screaming at them. Those guys look terrified as all heck. That was one of the funniest moments out there, it was absolutely hilarious.
Life after Fresno State
Q: Looking at your stats you had a solid Bulldog career, you got a shot in the NFL and played professionally elsewhere. Do you feel like you got don’t get a fair shake in the Fresno State legacy book having followed Trent Dilfer and preceded Billy Volek and David Carr?
A: I joke all the time that I was stuck in between two first-round draft picks. There have been some really fantastic quarterbacks - Obviously Trent, David and Derek, Billy Volek. I was kind of sandwiched between those guys. It is what it is, I’m just seriously extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to play to play there and been a part of that program… I value my time and my experience there and I take it for what it is. My son is 12 years old now and he wants to watch old film and stuff like that. He’s extremely excited and he wants to play the position. I’m thankful and I can’t say that enough.
Q: Please summarize your football career after Fresno State.
A: I signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks, thinking that would be my opportunity. It never quite worked out. I was a practice squad guy for a year and a half. At the time there was NFL Europe. I was sent over there and played over there for a couple years. Then I came back here to the Arena League… My last stop was in the XFL, I played there for a year and all of a sudden we get a call a couple weeks later and I thought, ‘Ah I’m done.’ I didn’t want to bounce around any more.
Then I started my career as a teacher and an educator soon after that. I had about five years and I got to travel and play the game I love and get paid for it. I have no regrets. I made the most of my opportunities and it is what it is. I had experiences that can never be taken away from me and I’m extremely grateful and thankful.
Q: What was your major at Fresno State and how did your experience impact where you are today?
A: I was a criminal justice major at Fresno State. It’s one of those things where, in being extremely honest and looking back now, I wasn’t a great student and I don’t feel that I was going to be this and education was going to lead me somewhere. Football and Fresno State and those places really pushed me through. It’s ironic now that I taught high school for 14 years, I was a coach for 15 years at the high school level. I am now an assistant principal at Burbank High School. I just kept going. I got my bachelor’s degree, I eventually went and got my master’s degree from Whittier College and my administrative credential from Cal Poly Pomona. I’m looking at getting my doctorate next.
It’s funny and interesting how it all worked out because I never felt I was a great student, but it was the direction I was fortunate to take. The sport and for playing all those years really helped mold me and lead me to the direction I’m at now.