In order to succeed in college football, every coach knows that you have to recruit the kind of men who can sustain your program over the long haul. Recruiting is as much about the coaches finding the right fits as it is the kid finding the right school. Taking a chance or two on the wrong kids can leave your program short-handed at the worst possible times. For Coach Cameron Norcross, the right fit is a guy who is going to work his butt off in the weight room and come to hit somebody at practice.
Norcross likes his lines to play with an edge and an attitude. It’s important for his players to realize that they can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the nation and he recruits guys who share that mentality. This past recruiting class saw the additions of workout warriors like Ben Simonds and Aaron Mitchell. According to Norcross, these are exactly the types of players Fresno State wants to add to the fold. Their work with strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese has caught the attention of the staff and there’s even a chance that one or two of these guys could earn some playing time in 2014.
”I talk to Coach Boese,” Norcross said. “He sees them every day and from what I’ve seen in the weight room and stuff, and obviously it’s different when you put the gear on, but there’s a couple of them that have a chance. There’s a couple of them that you know they’re going to red shirt right away based on what they’ve done in the weight room. But those guys might be different when you put the pads on. One thing they all have is athleticism and ability. I don’t think that any of those kids that we brought in are scared to work at all. That’s the big thing. You’ve got Aaron Mitchell, who is a national rugby player. The lights aren’t going to affect him. He’s played on some big stages in the rugby field. I know that’s different, but just the mentality of he won’t back down from anything. He’s one of those guys you lock them in a room and you know who’s going to come out, just because he’s a tough kid. Now, does that mean he’s going to play this year? I don’t know. We’ll have to see. I’m confident in the five guys we got up front. After that, anything is possible. I’m not scared to play those true freshmen. A guy like Aaron Mitchell. Ben’s coming along. You got Jacob Hicks, who competes his tail off in everything he does. Those are the kind of guys you want to go to war with, that you know they might not get the job done but they’re going to die trying. Every single time that ball snaps, that’s what you want.”
As has been mentioned many times, the Bulldogs had their problems running the ball when everyone knew they had to. Bringing in guys like Jacob Hicks, Simonds, and Mitchell was a response to the lack of physicality the Bulldogs had last year. Norcross and the staff know that a physical brand of football starts on the line and sets the tone for everything else you try to do. Given Fresno’s non-conference slate of games and their tough conference schedules, Norcross doesn’t have time to recruit guys who have doubts about whether or not they can beat the guy in front of them. If you’re coming to Fresno State to play on Norcross’ line, then you’d better have a willingness to work harder than the guy next to you and play through the whistle on every down. When asked if Simonds was a physical freak or the norm, Norcross said it is a bit of both.
”He is a freak,” Norcross said. “That’s one of the things we looked at when we were recruiting those guys. If I just signed Mitchell, you’d say, ‘okay, he’s and okay sized guy.’ But him and Ben, you watch their tape and those guys are just plain nasty. That’s the kind of attitude we wanted to bring in in this class is for guys that stand shoulder to shoulder and they’ll never back down. They’ll die trying. Whether they’re better than the guy across from them or not, they’ll never concede to that. They’ll just continue to play hard. That’s what this game is all about. You can make up for a lot of physical deficiencies by playing harder than the man across from you.”
The Bulldogs brought in five offensive linemen in the past recruiting class and already have a handful committed for the 2015 season. The latest addition is Upland (CA) offensive guard Donnie Green. While coaches aren’t specifically able to comment on recruits who haven’t signed, the staff feels optimistic about the guys they brought in, but Norcross would be slightly happier if he had more bodies. The depth isn’t quite where Norcross wants it, but he does think that they have the leadership and talent to get the job done and it all starts with the veterans on the line. That being said, some of these newer guys may need to be ready to have their number called this season and Norcross doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing.
”I’m never happy about depth,” Norcross said. “It’s something that it doesn’t matter if you have ten guys or six guys, it never seems enough. You look at a guy like Sean Rubalcava, who last year didn’t really have a clue. You see him start in the spring and he’s kind of the same way. Then he went through spring. To me, for the guys that you bring in and the guys that haven’t played a lot, the biggest thing is the game has to slow down. And I think for some of these guys, it really is. Sean. Josh Tremblay. The game is really slowing down. It’s not as fast for them. I thought, after our first practice when we got here in the spring, Coach DeRuyter made a great comment that kind of resonates with some of those guys, ‘it’s like trying to drink out of a fire hose.’ It’s coming at you so fast that you’re just trying to gulp anything down that you can get. That’s what they were doing. I think some of them have had a chance to take a ton of reps in the spring and take a ton of reps in the fall. The game has really slowed down for them. It’s not like they’re drowning anymore. They’re actually able to drink out of that hose now. I’m pretty excited about those guys. Justin Northern was the same way. One thing we still need to create is a little more depth and we’re working on that. Guys may have to play before they’re ready, some of these young guys. It’ll be beneficial in the long run.”
One of the younger guys playing this year won’t be Coach Norcross’ son, Jacob, however. Despite the fact that recruiting seems to be getting younger and younger, Coach Norcross has no intentions of offering his son or pitching him on Fresno State at this time. Actually, Norcross said he’s gonna have to earn his offer just like everyone else; through hard work and dedication.
”No,” said Norcross of recruiting his son to Fresno. “He put the pads on for the first time today, ever. He’s got a long way to go before any of that. He’s not good enough to get that. Not saying he won’t be, but right now, no. We just got to get him pointed in the right direction.”
One thing we do know about Norcross’ kid is that we may see him on the receiving end of a hook and ladder if coach gets his way. Despite the fact that Austin Wentworth’s hook and ladder against Cal Poly was one of 2013’s premiere plays, Norcross did his best to make sure that play never happened. In retrospect, he’s obviously had a ton of fun with it, but he wasn’t trying to lose one of his best players to an accident involving a gimmick play. Now Norcross enjoys it enough to be calling for fat-guy hook and laterals in the pee-wee game.
”Well, to be honest, I didn’t have much of a part in it,” Norcross said. “If anything, I maybe, kind of tried to squash it a little bit. We were on the road recruiting. It was for the bowl game in Hawaii two years ago. I came back and Coach Schramm said, ‘hey, this is what we’re going to do. We’ve been working it.’ And I said, ‘you gotta be kidding me. To Austin?’ ‘Yeah, yeah.’ Then we worked on it. It looked good, it looked good, then he dropped one. I told Dave, ‘we can’t do that.’ To be honest, the moment we called it in that game, everything bad that could happen was running through my head. I’m going, ‘he’s going to step out of bounds. He’s going to drop the ball.’ Then he caught the pitch and I said, ‘oh, shoot! He stepped out of bounds.’ Then you look at the big screen and see that he wasn’t even close. We’d worked it so much that it was just another play in our arsenal. It was a lot of fun. Now, I’m trying to get my son’s youth football coach to put it in to him, but I don’t know if my son has good enough hands. He’s a lineman, through and through.”
A physical team starts up front and Coach Norcross has his squad aimed and pointed in the right direction. Norcross tries to give a purpose behind everything, but taking young players and turning them into successful young men is something that gives him purpose. Fresno State hired Tim DeRuyter to turn around a program and turn them into champions once again. Men like Cameron Norcross make those goals possible and Fresno State is lucky to have him.
Stay tuned to BulldogPlaybook.com for more updates on the 2014 Fresno State season.
Josh Webb is a Staff Writer for BulldogPlaybook. You can follow him on Twitter at @FightOnTwist.