Derron Smith (6-0, 195) has a huge opportunity in front of him.
Fresno State has only four scholarship safeties on the roster, but only three are competing in spring practice with sophomore Terrence Dennis sitting out with a pectoral muscle injury. Moreover, the Bulldogs have few cover safeties. Sophomore Phillip Thomas is the only safety on the roster with game experience and the ability to cover.
The ‘Dogs often struggle against spread teams using their base defense because their safeties were a liability against the pass. Departing seniors Moses Harris and Marvin Haynes were stout against the run but struggled in pass coverage.
Returning starting free safety Lorne Bell is a heat-seeking missile in run support but his inability to run with faster receivers hinders the Bulldog pass defense.
Defensively, Fresno State has done well against the big, powering Big Ten offenses, but the spread teams in WAC play often shred it. The 2009 recruiting class targeted athletic linebackers to help shore up the defense. In 2010, a new breed of safety was the goal.
Head coach Pat Hill stated on signing day he recruited cover safeties in the 2010 class, which brings us back to Smith.
The three-star prospect spent Friday and Saturday watching his future team practice. Moreover, the Fresno State coaches have been very upfront with him about the opportunity in 2010.
“If I come prepared and do my job, I can see playing time as a freshman,” said Smith.
He hasn’t been told whether he will play strong or free safety. “I can see myself at both,” said Smith. “Their strong safety covers the slot more, it’s just up to the coaches where they put me.”
This visit to Fresno is just Smith’s second, the first coming on his official visit in January.
“Coming up for the second time, makes feel real good about my decision,” said Smith, who chose the ‘Dogs over an offer from Nebraska among others. “Most of the players remembered me [from my official visit] and came up to me.
“I had a good time watching the DB drills,” he added. “I learned a little bit, liked the tempo and I can see myself growing in the system.”
Smith is a three-sport star at Banning. After having a stellar season on the gridiron, he led his basketball team to the CIF playoffs, where they lost to eventual state champion Los Angeles Price. He is now competing in his final year of track.
“I run the 100 [meters] and do long jump,” said Smith.
His best time in the 100m is 11 seconds flat, but he is one the Golden State’s top long jumpers. “I lead the state in long jump, well, I know I’m one of the tops in the state.”
His 23’6” jump is the top “wind aided” mark in California this year. Those numbers likely will lead him back to the Fresno area for a third time in June for the state track finals June 4 and 5 at Clovis' Buchanan Memorial Stadium. “That’s the plan,” added Smith.
Meantime, he is working on improving his 100m time. “In the 100, I want to get in the 10s,” said Smith. “But we don’t have a track, we run on dirt at my school. So, it’s kind of hard to run on a track at meets.”
Smith is unsure if he will compete in track while at Fresno State. He is just focused on finishing school and getting up to the Valley in the summer. And he won’t be spoiled by the 70 degree whether he saw this weekend. “The weather isn’t really a factor, in Banning we see everything, 110 degrees, even snow.”
Another factor making him anxious is the new digs the incoming freshmen will be living in the fall. “We are going to be living at the Palazzo at Campus Pointe,” Smith exclaimed about the new student apartments near the Save Mart Center. “I saw the model room, the game room, fitness center, and pool, everything there is open to all of us.”
Compared to most programs, Fresno State places its footballs student athletes in apartments as opposed to dorms. “I never lived in dorms,” said Smith. “But I liked the idea of having my own room in an apartment.”
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