Last month’s National Signing Day (NSD) marks the first time in three years that someone other than former head coach Jeff Tedford ushered in a new recruiting class, as first-year head coach Kalen DeBoer has begun gathering the building blocks of his program for years to come.
For any first-year head coach the first recruiting class is crucial.
“Every guy you recruit is hopefully going to be a guy who makes a difference in your program,” DeBoer said. “In the end you just want to find guys who are tough-nosed, gritty football players who have the ability to make big plays for you.”
DeBoer was introduced as the Bulldogs’ head coach less than 24 hours before the Dec. 18 early signing period and despite the quick turnaround, he was able to retain and sign 12 recruits that had committed to the Bulldogs during Tedford’s tenure.
Fresno State’s effectiveness on the recruiting trail without a head coach was maintained due in large part to the effort of current Bulldog offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who handled a lot of the Bulldogs recruiting this past season. Grubb’s effort as the Bulldog’s interim head coach made the transition for DeBoer a lot less challenging.
“We had all our spots, but one, secured. I can’t say that it was overly challenging,” DeBoer said. “The staff had done a really good job of building some relationships and selling Fresno State and Bulldog football in a very special way. The guys who are here are coming here because they can’t wait to be a part of Bulldog football.”
Other coaches who were on the recruiting trail during the transition from Tedford to DeBoer included cornerbacks coach J.D. Williams, offensive line coach Roman Sapolu and former tight ends coach Scott Thompson.
With the sudden resignation of Tedford due to health complications on Dec. 6, it would have been reasonable for the Bulldogs recruiting to suffer but recruiting expert Jackson Moore of 247Sports believes that the interim coaches were key to keeping the effort afloat.
“This class was significant for Fresno State to maintain the type of talent level accumulated in the Jeff Tedford recruiting classes,” Moore said. “Fresno State, as is the case with most schools, typically sees a significant dip in recruiting rankings during a coaching change. That did not happen this time thanks to the interim coaches.”
According to 247Sports, the Fresno State recruiting class ranked No.11 overall in the Mountain West, but clocked in at No. 3 when it came to the average rating per recruit. The Bulldog’s low position overall has to do with the size of their signing class, had they signed a class larger than 14, they would have finished higher.
One key that the Bulldog coaching staff continued during this past recruiting period was continuing the trend of securing letters of intent from players within and just beyond the outskirts of Fresno. After years of missing out on talented recruits in the Fresno area, Tedford made it a priority to secure homegrown talent and DeBoer looks to continue the trend during his time as head coach.
“There is so much talent in Fresno, Clovis and in the Valley,” DeBoer said. “There is no question we need to start right around our home base and grow from there.”
The list of players from the Fresno area that signed LOIs include wide receiver Mac Dalena of San Joaquin Memorial, Kosi Agina of Sanger, wide receiver CJ Jones of Buchanan and linebacker Tyler Mello of Hanford.
Moore believes the aforementioned hometown signees could ultimately be the gems of the Bulldogs’ recruiting class.
“I’m really excited by a few of the local prospects in this class. Myself and several analysts at 247Sports have loved Hanford linebacker Tyler Mello’s film,” Moore said. “Mac Dalena was also overshadowed by other teammates who were recruited to the Pac-12 and MW. He is an impact player in my mind.”
Along with Mello and Dalena, Moore believes that Jones and Agina also have the ability to make Power-5 schools kicking themselves for missing out on the three-star talents.
“Buchanan High’s CJ Jones and Sanger High’s Kosi Agina are also solid three-star recruits,” Moore said. “They could make Power-5 schools sorry they did not offer [them].”
With the local talent secured, the Bulldogs were able to add depth on the offensive line, a position that was plagued with injuries last season. The ‘dogs a great deal of size with LOIs from 6-foot-5, 335 tackle Julian Polendo of Palm Springs, 6-foot-5, 285 tackle Joseph Church of Upland and 6-foot-2, 313-pound guard Moses Vavao of St. Francis in Mountain View.
“We got to have athleticism, but it really starts with having some big guys that are people movers. And we feel we have done that,” DeBoer said. “Ryan Grubb and Roman Sapolu did a great job on the offensive side of the ball and building an offensive line…Having the guys in this recruiting class with a lot of size and more importantly they are tough football players.”
Vavao was the only recruit to sign a LOI at the Feb. 5 NSD deadline.
Moore believes that the offensive line additions are the standouts of the recruiting class. He also includes 6-foot-5 Serrano tight end Matt Lowe in that conversation, as the three-star recruit held offers from Boise State, San Diego State and Arizona State.
“Offensive linemen Joseph Church and Julian Polendo are far and away the top-ranked recruits in the class,” Moore said. “Three-star interior lineman Mose Vavao also deserves to be in that discussion.
“Lowe might be the Bulldogs’ biggest recruiting win of the class. The 6-foot-5 athlete can play tight end or linebacker. He looks to be a tight end for the ‘Dogs.”
Polendo is currently one of three Bulldog early enrollees on campus, taking part in spring practices, along with junior college transfers 6-foot-4 defensive end Da’Marcus Johnson and 6-foot-5 tight end Rory Hanson.
DeBoer said all three are getting acclimated.
“I’ve been really impressed how quickly they have just felt comfortable here… Da’Marcus is putting on weight everyday and his work ethic is superior,” DeBoer said. “And Julian more so, because he is coming straight from high school. That transition is really hard and his effort level is extremely high and those two guys were great pick-ups.”