Sophomore Jeremiah Toma is apart of the youth movement on defense
where the ‘Dogs will be starting seven players who weren’t starters
last year but will be against North Dakota on Saturday.
Andrew Dickinson / The Daily Nebraskan
Coming into this season, Fresno State football was going through a transition from a veteran-laden roster to one scattered with youth.
One of the key positions where the ‘Dogs got younger was at middle linebacker where four-year starter Ben Jacobs ran out of eligibility last May.
Jacobs’ replacement became sophomore Jeremiah Toma, who has learned behind Jacobs since he first came into the program in 2009. Filling the shoes of Jacobs as the man in the middle on the Bulldogs’ defense is more than a challenge for Toma.
Now that Toma has started at middle linebacker in the Bulldogs first two games of the season, he has kept his eye on the prize and his head high as he hopes to meet expectations and fill the void of Ben Jacobs who was a mainstay in the linebacking corps.
“I know I can’t be Ben [Jacobs],” the Sacramento native said after Tuesday’s practice. “When I took this job I knew there we’re going to be a lot of big expectations but I just play my game. I can’t replace a four-year starter. I can’t do everything he did. But I just know I got to do what I have to do to make the defense better.”
And that’s exactly what Toma has done so far this season against some tough competition in California and at Nebraska.
Although the Bulldogs have slumped to a 0-2 start this season, their defensive game has improved in the past two weeks in crucial situations, especially against the Cornhuskers last Saturday where they were a three-and-out away from giving the offense a chance to pull out the upset victory in the fourth quarter. Toma says that the players that play alongside him are the ones he wants to impress.
“It’s only been two games,” Toma said of his defensive efforts this season. “Consistency is the key for this whole season. And I know I got a whole lot of games in front of me. I just want to be there for my teammates. That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Toma is coming off two strong performances during the first two weeks of the season, accumulating nine tackles and one for a loss. In the Nebraska contest he had five tackles and forced quarterback Taylor Martinez to fumble in the second quarter, creating a fourth-and-one situation.
Linebackers coach Tom Skipper agrees with Toma and is proud of how he has developed to meet expectations this season.
“He has paid his dues,” Skipper said. “Now it’s his time and he’s handled the first two games well.”
Toma has been waiting for his chance to show what kind of player he could be for two years while learning behind some veterans since he’s been in the program. But Skipper talked about what he expects from the Grant Union High School graduate.
“I still think there are a couple notches to reach,” Skipper said. “But I think he’s on the right path to be very successful as a Bulldog.”
The reason for the quick development of Toma is the high level of athleticism and speed he brings to the already experienced group of linebackers alongside him. Senior Kyle Knox and junior Travis Brown both are returning starters at the outside linebacker positions for a Bulldogs defense that finished fourth in the Western Athletic Conference in total defense just a season ago.
Skipper said Toma not only brings athleticism and physical prowess to the 4-3 defensive scheme, but is an added component that Fresno State needed.
“He gives his all everyday, understands the game plan and he executes it.” Skipper said.
And with the athleticism and dedication Toma has added to the ‘Dogs’ defense, both of them know there is always room for improvement, especially going into this weekend’s home opener against North Dakota still searching for that first 2011 victory.
“It’s the first day of practice,” Toma said of the 0-2 start. “We’re going to work and we’re hungry for a win.”