Sunday, August 30, 2009


Returning lettermen: 12

Incoming: 3
Lost: 4 (Bear Pascoe, Jason Crawley, Drew Lubinsky, Adam McDowell)

So who’s going to lead Fresno State in receiving this season?Take your chances guessing and spin the wheel. In the past three seasons, three different active wideouts have led the team Seyi Ajirotutu (6-3, 210), Marlon Moore (6-0, 190) and Chastin West (6-1, 215). Last season, Ajirotutu had a team-high 714 yards and five touchdowns, and has 1,206 career yards receiving. In 2007, Moore led with 694 yards and five touchdowns, and has 1,032 for his career. West was the 2006 leader with 365 yards and three scores, and has 579 in his career in two
years (he lost all of 2007 to injury).

Ajirotutu is the biggest deep threat, and showed it last season averaging 16.9 yards per catch. Only
problem is, he still has to prove he can overcome the dropsies that plague him every now and a
gain. One simple thing he can work on is the timing of his jumps when the ball is up for grabs. Moore is the fastest of the three, and can emerge as a deep threat again. Part of his disappointing line of 258 yards and one touchdown last season is due to the five games he missed with injury. Still, more was expected of Moore after the way he finished 2007. Moore might be the most talented of the three, but needs to push himself to keep improving and learning all the little things about the position. West is unlikely to take back a leading role, as he’s evolved into more of a blocking and possession receiver since returning from the injury that cost him all of 2007. He’s a big, physical receiver who needs to concentrate on getting separation, as do Moore and Ajirotutu. The good news is new receivers coach Keith Williams looks to be a phenomenal hands-on instructor who grabs the kids’ attention and focuses on detail (plus he’s hilarious).

But don’t be so sure one of those three will repeat as team leader in 2009 – there are two more candidates. Junior Devon Wylie (5-9, 170) proved to be the fastest player on the team when he was clocked at 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash in the offseason. Wylie was third on the team with 269 yards and two scores last season in just nine games (four missed with injury). And Pat Hill expects him to really break out this year. Wylie is in superb shape and has added an impressive amount of muscle since his freshman year. Another underclassman, redshirt sophomore Jamel Hamler (6-2, 205) also has the ability to put up the biggest numbers. Hamler has just five catches for 80 yards overall, but missed all of last season due to academics. Now that he’s back on track, the big, built receiver is showing off a pair of the receiving corps’ best hands and demonstrating a winning attitude. He quickly became one of Derek Carr’s favorite targets, as the two worked out together over the summer.

That brings us to the next tier, which presents more danger for opponents. Sophomore Rashad Evans (5-9, 180) broke onto the scene as a true freshman in 2008 with 21 catches for 232 yards, including a clutch first down on the Bulldogs’ game-winning drive at UCLA. Evans sat out all of fall camp’s contact drills with injury though, so his status is up in the air for the season. With the depth at receiver, and four seniors departing after this season, it might not be a bad idea for Evans to redshirt. One of those seniors is former walk-on Darren Newborn (5-11, 185), who recorded his first reception last year en route to finishing with seven catches for 77 yards. Newborn won’t assume a featured role, but is a guy who can get open and make a play when he gets the chance. The other returning letterman at wideout is sophomore J.J. Stallworth (5-11, 185), who looked to be one of the team’s most improved players during camp. His speed and playmaking ability (making the tough catches) had to be pleasing to coaches, but the younger brother of NFL receiver Donte Stallworth has yet to make a catch in a game.

With those eight wideouts setting the tone, there won’t be many more snaps to go around, but watch out for the up-and-comer in redshirt freshman A.J. Johnson (6-0, 180). Hill went so far as to say he’s got breakout player potential. On the practice field, it’s obvious he’s got speed and above-average route-running ability for a young player. At this rate, he’ll be an impact player next season. Last year, it looked like redshirt freshman Matt Lindsey (6-0, 200) was on a similar route. But the great hands and aggressive, go-up-and-get-it mentality he showed in camp last year and in high school seemed less apparent in camp this year. Hands were definitely an issue, but he has bulked up substantially.

Three walk-ons round out the crew in Matthew De Los Santos (5-11, 180), Dondre McDonald (5-8, 160) and Taylor Stewart (6-0, 185), the son of defensive coordinator Randy Stewart. All three took plenty of reps with the newcomers in fall camp and did as well as could be expected.

The next question is who replaces the mighty Bear Pascoe (draftee of the San Francisco 49ers) at tight end? The short answer – a bunch of guys will get a shot. The Bulldogs will use more H-back-type tight ends this season. But the one built for catching passes is sophomore Ryan Skidmore (6-5, 240), who’s almost like a big receiver running downfield. He’s put on weight and gotten himself in good shape, and seems to have the trust of all the quarterbacks. Skidmore had three catches for 17 yards and a score last year.

Two experienced H-backs return in Isaac Kinter (6-1, 240) and junior Vince “Cub” Pascoe (6-1, 250), Bear Pascoe’s cousin. Kinter caught 13 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown last year, as Vince Pascoe finished with four catches for 33 yards and a score. Kinter is deceptively fast for his size, and Pascoe normally has reliable hands (though they were suspect at times during camp). Both are strong blockers in the running game. Expect to see lots more of redshirt freshman Tapa Taumoepeau (6-3, 220) as well. Taumoepeau saw special teams action as a true, before hanging it up and redshirting. He looks to have improved speed, and made a heck of a catch-and-run in stride in the fall scrimmage before lowering the boom on a defender. Redshirt freshman David Gory (6-4, 235) would also have seen an increased role, but is out of the season recovering from injury.

Redshirt freshman Michael Butler (6-3, 240) is a project at tight end. The blocking aspect will come before the pass-catching, but Butler has bulked up plenty for the role. Also getting work is sophomore Austin Raphael (6-2, 225), who was converted from linebacker in the summer. Raphael has a long way to go at the new position.

Rating: 8 of 10
NOTE: Chastin West photo courtesy of Juan Villa/The Collegian

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