Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Lots of Talent from the Inland Empire

Fresno State does have a lot of talent from the Inland Empire, including head coach Pat Hill, a UC Riverside graduate. This article I copied and pasted because it requires subscription.

Fresno rich in area talent

11:49 PM PST on Monday, November 14, 2005


The glow from USC's bright light certainly extends into the Inland area, a region that, presumably, has glommed on to the Trojans' football success story as much as anywhere in the Southland.

But when USC tries to extend its impressive win streak to 33 Saturday night, it will be against a Fresno State team unusually rich with local talent. No less than 10 Riverside County and San Bernardino County athletes underpin the roster of the No. 16 Bulldogs.

They are Us.

"It's one of our favorite areas to recruit," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said of our backyard. "The brand of football there is outstanding. The teams are well coached. And we've found out that the further we get from the major airports, the more success we have."

It sounds funny, but there's a scientific method involved.

"We don't have a big-city atmosphere, which is similar to what your athletes are used to," said Hill, in his ninth season running the under-publicized but perennially strong program in the Central Valley. "We don't do well in Orange County or San Diego. Fresno is more of a blue-collar place, similar to Riverside-San Bernardino.

"And (Inland) athletes are used to playing in the heat. It's hot in Fresno."

He would know. His roots run deep here.

Hill played his college football at UC Riverside, before the school gave up the sport. The 1973 graduate was an All-America center and has a spot in the UCR sports Hall of Fame.

Also, Fresno's defensive coordinator, Dan Brown, is a Norco High School graduate.

"We've got a lot of great relationships there," said Hill, who said he has been trolling the region for talent since he started his major college coaching career as an assistant at Utah in 1977. He even recalled getting Rialto Eisenhower High product Ronnie Lott -- who would go on to star at USC and build an NFL Hall of Fame career -- to come to Utah for a visit.

"We had to send him home early after a skiing accident," remembered Hill. "He got a ski pole stuck in his leg. His father was furious. That was about it for our shot at him."

No chance for a ski-slope mishap in Fresno. It may not be a glamour spot, but the Bulldogs have quietly built a respectable program. Even before Hill arrived, Fresno State had its moments. Notably, it knocked off USC in the 1992 Freedom Bowl in Anaheim.

Hill has compiled a 72-39 record at the Western Athletic Conference school, including a numbing 17-9 blow to Karl Dorrell's first UCLA team two years ago in the Silicon Valley Bowl.

This year, the Bulldogs are 8-1, losing only to No. 10 Oregon by three points two months ago.

Among the more prominent area athletes at Fresno State are all-conference tackle Dartangon Shack from Riverside North, sophomore nose tackle Jason Shirley from Fontana Kaiser and freshman linebacker Quaadir Brown from Lake Elsinore. The roster includes a pair of ex-Norco players -- Adam McDowell and Cameron Harris; two from Moreno Valley Canyon Springs -- Andrew Jones and Richard Pacheco; Shannon Dorsey of San Bernardino San Gorgonio; Nick Neal of Riverside North; and Rich Owens from Ontario Christian.

The 10 area athletes are more than there are at USC and UCLA combined.

Hill knows blue-chip guys tend to favor USC, UCLA and other Pac-10 schools, but he doesn't begrudge those schools' success. In fact, he said, he's enjoying USC's streak as much as anyone -- at least until Saturday.

"I'm a big promoter of West Coast football, so I'm proud of USC," he said. "It's great that we've got three highly ranked teams in California."

Hill doesn't think Saturday's game in the national spotlight against the No. 1 team, by itself, will earn the Bulldogs any residual glitter in the recruiting process. But he knows there is value in matching up well against major conference teams.

"Beating a Pac-10 team doesn't make guys jump ship from them to us, but it does help us keep our own guys," he said, noting that late in the recruiting process, more heralded programs do woo some top athletes away from mid-majors -- a fact of college football life.

"Sometimes the Pac-10 will cherry-pick on our guys," Hill said. "It's hard going head-on against the tradition and the frills of those programs. Beating Pac-10 schools gives you credibility to keep kids."

Over the years, Hill's teams also have beaten Cal, Washington, Oregon State twice (once when it was No. 1), Kansas State, Colorado, Georgia Tech and Virginia.

An improbable win over 24-point favorite USC, though, would be more than just for "credibility." It would be an upset for the ages.

Hill just calls it "an opportunity. That's the best program in the country, a school we'd like to build toward."

And as long as Hill is there, the building materials figure to look familiar -- in this part of Trojans-Bruins country.

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