The Fresno State football team is used to playing on Saturdays in front of the Red Wave. Recently, the ‘Dogs have been spending that time giving back to the community that rallies behind them.
The Bulldogs have partnered with Beautify Fresno — a city-wide effort started by Mayor Jerry Dyer to clean up Fresno’s neighborhoods, streets and highways. It was one of Dyer’s priorities when he took office in January.
“We want to focus on a number of things,” said Mark Standriff, director of Beautify Fresno. “We want to engage the community in projects to show that we’re willing to make an investment in our community.”
The partnership between Fresno State football and Beautify Fresno, according to Standriff, originated from an interaction with running back coach Lee Marks. Marks was looking for ways the Bulldogs could show their appreciation to the community.
Standriff said that when Marks heard about Beautify Fresno, the team was fully on board with the vision.
“This community supports Fresno State football,” Standriff said. “Now, Fresno State football is showing their support for the community.”
Each week, different members of the team participate in projects by positions. The goal is to have every single player on the team give back to the community before spring ball gets started in mid-March.
Standriff said that many of the neighborhoods the Bulldogs have been working in are some of the most underserved and neglected areas in the community.
“Beautify Fresno is concentrating on those areas,” Standriff said. “These are the areas that are unfortunately dealing with the homeless or there are people that come into the area and just dump stuff because they don’t have respect for the community.”
In the first week, members of the team spent two hours picking up trash on Shaw Avenue. In the second week, defensive linemen, linebackers and specialists spent time repainting faded curb address numbers. Several coaches came to help out as well, including defensive line and special teams coach Eric Schmidt and defensive coordinator William Inge.
Wide receivers and running backs spent the third week picking up trash in west Fresno on North Island Waterpark Drive.
Offensive line and run coordinator Roman Sapolu is the team liaison for community service and said that despite not being able to see the Red Wave at Bulldog Stadium, the team wants to make sure to still show their appreciation for the support.
“It teaches team unity but also gives us the chance to give back to the community that supports us every single day,” Sapolu said. “With the COVID-19 situation this year we weren’t able to see them but this is to let them know that we still appreciate everything they do for us.”
Sapolu — the son of former NFL player Jesse Sapolu — has been on staff with the Bulldogs since 2018. Since then, he’s learned a lot about the people from the Central Valley.
“Everyone in this university, city and the valley in general is all passionate about getting better every day,” Sapolu said. “That’s big. And the passion for Bulldog football is unmatched. We love it because we’re playing for something more than just us.”
Junior defensive end David Perales said he understands what the people here are all about. Being able to give back to the community and being a role model is important to him, especially with his valley ties.
The Merced native entered the transfer portal in 2019 hoping to find a new home after playing a season at Sacramento State. That’s when he got a phone call from former Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford.
It was a call that moved the 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound defensive end to tears. It turned out, his new home was going to be somewhere he was familiar with.
Being valley grown, Perales said he always wanted to play football at Fresno State. But as his football career grew, that path got more complicated. Out of high school, Perales didn’t get any offers to play Division I college football.
Instead, he chose to take the community college route and played at Merced College. It was a move that paid off. Perales landed an offer to play at Sacramento State. He committed and played all 10 games in his only season for the Hornets.
So when Tedford called him and extended a scholarship offer to play for the Bulldogs, it was a dream come true for Perales.
“I know how hard I worked and how happy it would make me and my family,” Perales said.
Even walking through Bulldog Stadium and suiting up for Fresno State still feels surreal for Perales. But if there is one feeling that is real for him, it’s his love for the valley, Perales said. A love strong enough that Perales got Fresno State’s signature green V tattooed in his arm.
Perales wanted to show that he had the pride of the valley forever.
“This place has really changed my life,” Perales said. “I’m very happy I came back to the valley and having all these people support our program is a blessing.”
And Perales takes pride in being able to give back to these underfunded communities.
“I know what it is like growing up in areas like those,” Perales said. “Being in the position to be able to spread positivity and appreciation to communities like that is huge! The people in those communities are hard-working people and it was good for us as a football team to show that we care about them just like [they] care for us. Also, it was a good opportunity to be role models for the children in those communities.”