Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Returning: 13
Lost: 3 (Kyle Young, Chris Denman, Robin Kezirian)
Incoming: 5

The list of Fresno State linemen who have moved on in the last three years is nearly irreplaceable – Logan Mankins (Patriots), Dartangon Shack, Kyle Young and Chris Denman (Buccaneers) – but the Bulldogs still have two of the WAC’s best in the trenches in former first-team freshman All-Americans Cole Popovich and Ryan Wendell.

Wendell (6-2, 275), a senior, moves to center full-time this year to replace Young, and relies on quickness and athletic ability to match up with opponents who are often bigger. But even as a sophomore, Wendell held his own against a USC team full of NFL talent. Popovich (6-2, 285), a junior, can play either guard position. Since he entered the program, Hill has touted Popovich as the next big-time lineman after Mankins, and if he’s healthy he will leave no doubt.
But after those two, the team will need breakout performances in three other positions. Granted, with five starters returning from a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the WAC last year with 12, they’ve got plenty of experience, but no one other than Popovich and Wendell who has made a name as a dominant lineman.

Junior Bobby Lepori (6-5, 285) has shown a mean streak at left tackle and has the tools to become All-WAC. A couple of converted defensive linemen – tackle Kenny Avon (6-3, 260) and guard Adam McDowell (6-4, 285) – are slated to fill the other two starting spots. Both were eased in last season and should show big progress in 2007.

Bobby Lepori

Don’t count out juniors Richard Pacheco (6-2, 285) and Pierce Masse (6-4, 285) to push for starting jobs. Both have proved capable and have seen spot starts already. Another super talent is redshirt freshman Andrew Jackson (6-5, 260), but one has to question why coaches chose to move him from his original defensive tackle position, where he made huge strides in fall camp in 2006 and looked to be a future star. It’s tough to say how much action he’ll see this season, but will be a serious candidate to start next year.

Vying for the leftover playing time will be redshirt freshman center Joe Bernardi (6-2, 280), senior Chris Piligian (6-6, 265), redshirt freshmen James Meeks (6-5, 310) and Kenny Wiggins (6-7, 260), greyshirt freshman Charley Robbins (6-2, 270) and redshirt freshman walk-on Nick Wright (6-3, 265). Bernardi, a Flaggstaff, Ariz. product and the son of a former UCLA offensive line coach, is expected to take on a much larger role in the coming years with Wendell graduating. Meeks has struggled to move up on the depth chart in recent years, and is likely to stay in a reserve role. Wiggins showed flashes of promise in practice, but despite his natural frame is still a bit raw and needs to work on foot speed.

Oh, and if that’s not enough depth to confuse even the most avid fan, the 2007 signees are amongst the best in school history. Grant Union-Sacramento product Devan Cunningham (6-6, 315) has the talent to start as a true freshman. The problem is finding a spot to play him. He’ll likely be asked to drop a few pounds, but there’s no doubt he’ll be an impact player in the WAC. The same could be true for El Dorado-Yorba Linda’s Eric Sproal (6-4, 280), a late signee who was named first-team all-state is a physical and smart youngster. He’s likely to redshirt this year, along with Tulare’s Bryce Harris (6-6, 240), a phenomenal athlete who also starred on the basketball team, Moorpark’s Kyle Rainer (6-5, 265) and Dominguez-Compton’s Leslie Cooper (6-4, 260). Cooper will likely be the fastest offensive lineman as soon as he steps on the field, making him an interesting prospect to move to the defensive side of the ball.

Rating: 8 of 10

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  1. The guys are bigger than the listed weights on by Andrew Jackson who says he is 6-6 290 but looks like he is at least 310. Incoming freshman Deven Cunningham says he is 342 lbs and looks every bit of it.

    James Meeks is no longer on the team. Bryce Harris has moved to DL. Leslie Cooper is working out at center.

  2. Thanks for the info, I'll be looking forward to seeing 'em in fall camp. I hadn't heard about Meeks, but I guess it makes sense being that he was struggling to move up.

    I've also heard that Cunningham is at 342, hopefully that's not accurate...

    I'm sure Jackson will end up very good wherever he is, but I sure wish he would have stayed on the DL. Wouldn't be surprised if Cooper ends up moving too.


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