There’s a red wave that I’m noticing, and it’s starting to sweep across the college football landscape in this area.
This wave’s energy is coming from the San Joaquin Valley and washing up here.
That wave is from Fresno State football – and its power has splashed over several people in this Central Coast region, leaving anyone who has a Fresno State alum license plate, a degree from the school or parents/coaches who aim to get their player to the college level in this area feeling energized about the direction the program is now going in.
I took in the sights, sounds and atmosphere of the Las Vegas Bowl between Arizona State and Fresno State this past weekend which the Bulldogs came back to win 31-20 – marking the program’s first win over the Sun Devils, the first L.V Bowl victory for FS and lastly, capped a school record 12-win season.
The final scene I saw was one with red and blue confetti showering the Sam Boyd Stadium field between the 15 and 25-yard line – as players, coaches, parents, fans and past Bulldog players all snapped photos and videos of what just happened…some of them driving for six to eight hours just to get to the game.
And the buildup began the moment I arrived to the Santa Maria Airport. That’s where I discovered I wasn’t going to be the only one in this city heading to this potential history-making game for one school.
One man before boarding the plane told me he’s a proud alumnus of Fresno State and flying to Sin City to watch his former school. Another one jokingly asked me “What’s the betting line on this game? Hope its Fresno State that’s the favorite!”
Once I touched down at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, I looked around, asked, and drew the conclusion that people who landed here were truly here for one of the following: The National Rodeo in L.V, or the bowl game on that same day.
Then, at approximately 4:10 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, the hordes of people who flew with me or took the long trek by vehicle witnessed the crowning moment for a program that was one of the worst in the NCAA at one time.
It was two years ago that Fresno State was a minimal topic not just in the 805, but even in the Bulldogs’ backyard of the San Joaquin Valley. That was a team that sagged to a lowly 1-11 record (the worst season for Bulldogs football in program history) and resulted in wholesale changes among the coaching staff; from Tim DeRuyter getting fired during the year to the rest of the staff not getting retained in the end.
The common stories I heard from parents, players and even prep coaches? How there was radio silence from the previous FS regime when it came to pushing out talent from the Central Section regions, or even in the 805 and Los Angeles realm.
One thing I remember in the aftermath of that one-win season: The Bulldogs’ inability to pilfer a high number of California area talent, including from places like Fresno, Clovis, Tulare, or the 805 – four areas that have long served as the primary pipeline to FS. I learned the DeRuyter regime preferred to go after prospects from Ohio, Texas and the southern states – players who eventually got homesick or were sometimes berated by the last regime…and eventually left.
But times have certainly changed through this new red wave.
Head coach Jeff Tedford and his staff began to revitalize the relationship between Fresno State and the state high schools. This Bulldog team is now primarily led by players hailing from the communities near Bulldog Stadium.
The interest in the Bulldogs has now increased because of that.
Before the L.V Bowl, I’ve talked to several prominent prep football players who now tell me the Bulldogs are becoming a place they’re interested in, something I didn’t hear back in 2015 and ’16. Fresno State has also sent coaches over to places like Lompoc, Cabrillo, Santa Ynez, Righetti, etc. to now check in on the area talent; something we rarely saw under the last regime. I’ve had parents of some prep football players telling me they’ve now started to follow Fresno State because of where the program is heading.
And now, the L.V Bowl win only further expands the enthusiasm for Fresno State football – an excitement that I can tell has members in the community, even inside my workplace, now making Bulldog football a popular topic of discussion.
This red wave is no longer calm and moving slowly. It’s moving at a quicker speed and washing up here.