Monday, August 18, 2008


Players returning: 5
Incoming: 3
Lost: 1 (Clifton Smith)

Pat Hill has never been one to use many true freshmen. But Ryan Mathews (5-11, 215) was different. After leading the nation in rushing at West High (Bakersfield), Mathews played his way into the rotation at Fresno State right away. The results – 866 yards and 14 touchdowns (most in the nation by a freshman) while averaging 6 yards a carry. And get this, he missed part or all of four games with injury and was only responsible for learning a small package within the Bulldogs’ playbook last season. Fresno State even un-retired jersey No. 21 for the phenom, after former star tailback Dale Messer met Mathews and granted him permission. Mathews, now a sophomore, is an explosive back with Iron Man legs who hits the hole and makes his cut before the defense realizes what’s happening (which is why he had three carries for more than 50 yards last season). Most amazing though, is the way he can turn his hips sideways to evade tacklers while maintaining top speed. The only question mark is that he didn’t catch a single pass last season, but that is sure to change now that Clifton Smith is off to the NFL. No WAC back is more talented.

The crazy thing is, Mathews didn’t even start last season. That job belonged (and may still belong) to junior Lonyae Miller (5-11, 215), who entered fall camp looking faster, bigger and stronger than last season, when he rushed for 609 yards and 7 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry. Though the two are listed at the same weight, Miller has a larger upper body more conducive to the prototypical every down back. And with Smith gone, Miller will become an even bigger part of the offense this season in the passing game (which has already been seen in fall scrimmage situations). Miller led the team with a long of 72 yards last season, and has, arguably, an even quicker first step than Mathews.

While Miller and Mathews earn most of the reps at tailback, another junior deserves his own share – Anthony Harding (6-0, 215). With injuries nagging Miller and Mathews down the stretch in 2007, Harding took over and rushed for 231 yards against New Mexico State and Kansas State in the final two regular season games. Then, he lowered a shoulder so hard into a Georgia Tech defender in the Humanitarian Bowl, he knocked the guy out cold. Heading into the season, Harding is listed first on the depth chart at fullback, but will get carries in shotgun formations and short-yardage situations. He’s also the best pass-blocking back. In 2007, he rushed for 449 yards and 4 score, and also had a receiving touchdown.

Don’t be surprised to see junior Jamaal Rashad (5-11, 200) carve out a niche of his own in the offense. Carries will be hard to come by, but Rashad is good enough to start for a handful of WAC teams and flat out makes plays in pretty much every situation he’s put in. His biggest challenge after the past two years since walking on from Glendale College will be staying healthy.

The only true fullback on the roster is junior Reynard Camp (5-11, 270). His nickname “Camper” is fitting, as he’s like a camper shell driving through the defense and leading the way. He’s vastly improved his quickness and agility since last season, and should start to see reps outside of his normal special teams duty.

The rest of the unit will likely have to wait another year or two to see significant carries. True freshman A.J. Ellis (5-11, 175) was thought to have the best shot at immediate playing time after being recruited to help replace Smith, but Ellis has a big learning curve to overcome. Plus, he just might be too small right now to be effective catching passes out of the backfield and cutting across the middle. Whether he redshirts will depend on how he performs the final two weeks of fall camp.

Sophomore Kyle Duffy (5-8, 175) has shown growth since his days at Clovis West High, and has had some eye-opening performances in scrimmages (such as this year’s Spring Game). Still, his biggest contribution will be on special teams, where he’s been an absolute stud in kickoff coverage.

True freshman Michael Harris (5-11, 195) has shown some promise early on in fall camp, but it almost a surefire prospect to redshirt for the future. The same holds true for walk-on Justin Webber, who is coming off a devastating knee injury at Sanger High that likely prevented him from being a scholarship player. Webber will eventually find his way onto the field at this position or another.

Rating: 9 of 10

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1 comment:

  1. Hey, is there an email address contact for this blog? I'd like to get started on our Q&As soon, and hopefully publish them next week if possible.


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