For such a huge victory, it seemed a rather muted celebration. On
the other hand, what are we to expect from a team whose motto is,
Shut up and hit somebody? After storming from behind to stun No.
23 Wisconsin in Madison last Saturday, a handful of Fresno State
Bulldogs unveiled a new shtick. Instead of wagging their index
fingers in the air, they held them to their lips like librarians.
"Shhh!" they said. "Fresno State football--it's a secret."
Not for long. The Bulldogs' 32-20 win before 78,506 at Camp
Randall Stadium marked their third straight upset of an opponent
from a major conference. It came 13 days after a dramatic 24-22
victory at Colorado and six days after the Bulldogs had extended
their home winning streak to 16 games by knocking off then No. 10
Oregon State 44-24--humbling both the Beavers and a certain sports
weekly that had dubbed them its preseason No. 1.
The surprising start moved Fresno State, unranked in the
preseason, to No. 11. Not one of the 10 unbeaten teams ranked
above the Bulldogs has such an impressive collection of wins,
mainly because none is coached by Pat (Have Playbook, Will
Travel) Hill. Now in his fifth season at Fresno, Hill knows that
wins over Western Athletic Conference opponents won't bring his
program national prominence, so he has made the Bulldogs'
nonconference schedule as tough as possible. "We'll go anywhere
and play anyone," says Hill, 49, who returned to Fresno, where he
was an assistant from 1984 to '89, after working as an assistant
with the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens from 1992 to
'96. To get the game in Boulder, the Bulldogs had to guarantee
the sale of $440,000 worth of tickets. "We don't care," says
Hill, shrugging off the fact that his program netted only
$150,000 of the $600,000 it received for the game. "We just
wanted to play Colorado, and they'll never come here."
If his scheduling philosophy is, No cupcakes, Hill's recruiting
credo could be, Lock up the valley. He wants gifted players in
the San Joaquin Valley to dream of becoming Bulldogs (and, unlike
its Pac-10 counterparts, Fresno State takes more than one player
each year who fails to meet the standards of the NCAA's Prop 48).
It's working. More than half of Hill's starters hail from this
fertile plain between the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific. It is an
area bounded by Bakersfield to the south and Sacramento to the
north and bisected by State Highway 99, where a billboard urges
motorists to DEMAND ILLEGAL ALIENS BE DEPORTED. THE JOB YOU SAVE
MAY BE YOUR OWN.
Saturday's comeback--Fresno State was down 20-10 at the half--was
kick-started by homegrown junior wideout Bernard Berrian, whose
speed, come to think of it, should be illegal. His 96-yard
kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half triggered
a 22-point run that carried the Bulldogs to victory. Berrian
returned six kicks for 182 yards, caught eight passes for 102
yards and rushed twice for another 16. He comes from Winton (pop.
8,560), a speck on the map approximately 60 miles northwest of
Berrian's afternoon notwithstanding, the most valuable recruit
Hill has landed at Fresno State was the first one he visited.
Some 12 hours and two flights after his final game as a Ravens
assistant, Hill knocked on the door of the Carr family in
Bakersfield. "He hadn't gotten a lot of sleep, and the airline
had damaged his suitcase," recalls Sheryl Carr, whose son David
had just completed his senior season as the quarterback at
Stockdale High. "He was holding it together with duct tape and
Hill was in over his head at the Carr house, or so it seemed.
David already had scholarship offers from Washington and UCLA.
Many others, including Purdue and Arizona, were very interested.
What kind of kid would choose Fresno over any of those programs?
The kind of kid who spent most of his elementary and junior high
years living in Fresno (the Carrs moved to Bakersfield when David
was 13), hustling over to campus every weekday afternoon in the
fall to catch the end of Bulldogs practice. The kind of kid who,
along with his father, Rodger, and younger brother Darren, would
scale not one but two barbed-wire fences at dusk to sneak onto
the field at Bulldog Stadium. "Is the stadium open?" Sheryl would
ask as they would leave the house. "Kind of," they'd reply. David
would throw to Rodger, who was covered by Darren (now a promising
defensive tackle at Bakersfield College).
"I'm gonna walk down that ramp someday," Rodger recalls his
11-year-old son saying as he stood near the walkway the players
use to reach the field.
David accepted Fresno State's scholarship offer without visiting
another school. "There's no other place that would've felt like
home," he says. "I'd watched those guys take water breaks. I'd
gotten Trent Dilfer's autograph. Bulldog football was the only
college football I knew."
There was another reason that he wanted to stay close to home.
Shortly after the end of his senior season, he returned from a
three-day church youth camp with his head spinning. Says Rodger,
"The first thing he said when he got home was, 'Oh, Dad, I think
I found her.'"
David had met a beautiful blonde named Melody Tipton. On the
final day of camp he got her phone number, and they went to a
movie the next Friday night. Before the film they walked up a
hill to a Sonic Burger, and on the way down David lost his
footing. Depending on whom you believe, he either slid all the
way down on his backside or popped up immediately.
"It actually kind of broke the ice," says Melody of that
pratfall. "We ended up having a really nice time." In March 1999
they were married, and just over a year later Melody gave birth
to Austin Duke Carr, now 16 months old, who displays his father's
natural throwing motion while chucking the television remote all
over the family's modest Fresno apartment.
Carr rode the bench for three years behind Billy Volek, now a
backup quarterback with the Tennessee Titans. Realizing that he
wasn't likely to play much, Carr decided to redshirt as a junior.
During the week he ran the scout team, earning raves as "the best
quarterback we saw all season" from Kevin Coyle, the defensive
coordinator at the time. On game days he sat in the press box
alongside offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, charting coverages,
keeping his head in the game and even suggesting plays on
occasion. Watching highlights of the games with his family, he
would pipe up and say, "I called that play!"
Last season, on the long-awaited day of Carr's first start, the
ramp he walked down happened to be at the Horseshoe in Columbus,
where Ohio State administered a 43-10 beating to Fresno State in
general and to Carr in particular. (He completed 26 of 44 passes
for 238 yards, threw four interceptions and, by the tally of the
coaching staff, took 34 hard shots.) Watching at home, his wife
and mother cried for him. "That was one of the toughest days of
my life," says Carr. "But I learned a lot, too. I learned that if
I could battle through that, I could withstand anything."
The Bulldogs finished the season 7-5 despite many injuries.
Though he looked like a walking, talking welt at the season's
end, the 6'3", 225-pound Carr was the team's only offensive
starter not to miss a game, a testament to his great strength.
(He bench-presses 390 pounds, squats 500 and power-cleans 300.)
Ludwig, who is also Carr's position coach, is loath to discuss
his pupil's NFL prospects, believing that it can only distract
from the business at hand. "I will say this," Ludwig says. "It's
hard to imagine a guy being more physically prepared."
Hill is less reticent. "He can throw, he can throw with touch, he
can move in the pocket and manufacture a play," he says. "I don't
think there's any doubt about his pro prospects."
Hill made this assessment in his office last Thursday, while
several NFL scouts studied film of Carr in an adjacent room. Carr
has been told that in a preseason report released by Blesto, an
NFL scouting service, he was among the top three quarterbacks
listed. To which Dilfer, a Fresno State star who is now the
Seattle Seahawks backup, might respond, "Duh!"
"I work out with him," says Dilfer, "and he's making throws right
now that only a handful of people in the NFL can make. He's an
absolute stud." Both Dilfer and Wisconsin defensive coordinator
Kevin Cosgrove have noted that Carr's motion comes in slightly
sidearm, "about three quarters," says Dilfer. Neither thinks it
will be a problem in the NFL. "Jeff George had a little of that,"
says Cosgrove, "and he's done O.K."
Carr completed 22 of his 38 throws against the Badgers, with two
touchdown passes and one interception. On the season he has
thrown for 778 yards, seven touchdowns and that one interception,
and he will now, presumably, make his way onto various Heisman
Watch lists. For their part, the Bulldogs hope to make their way
through the rest of their eight conference and two nonconference
games, including a trip to Colorado State--and on to one of the
four BCS bowls. However, even if Fresno State goes undefeated, a
distinct possibility given the caliber of those 10 opponents, one
of the eight major bowl spots isn't a certainty because the BCS
guarantees berths to the champions of the six power conferences
(ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC) but not the WAC.
Having determined that 30 minutes after Saturday's game was not
too soon to continue campaigning for postseason recognition, Hill
stood among reporters, venting preemptive outrage. "Why should a
school from the WAC get shut out," he said, "if we've beaten some
of the best teams in the country on the road?"
Hill has come a long way since that morning five years ago when
he showed up at Carr's front door. In addition to Hill's ugly
suitcase, the family still remembers his vow to David before
leaving: "We will play big-time football."
That he's kept that promise is not really a secret.
COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER COVER Fresno? Yep. Unheralded Fresno State is knocking off college football's big boys Quarterback David Carr
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Off and Running Led by quarterback David Carr, here with son Austin and wife Melody, unheralded Fresno State has knocked off three college football powers [T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Breaking away Berrian's 96-yard kickoff return sparked the Bulldogs' comeback in Madison
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Model of efficiency Carr was in high gear against Wisconsin, throwing for 240 yards and two touchdowns.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Wrapped up Nick Burley (90) put the clamps on Anthony Davis as the Bulldogs held Wisconsin scoreless in the second half.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Going places Fresno State and Paris Gaines (1) stayed one step ahead of Big Ten power Wisconsin.
Since Pat Hill took over as Fresno State's coach in 1997, the
Bulldogs have taken their licks against schools from major
conferences--frequently on the road. This season Fresno State is
the one doing the beating.
Lost 35-0 at Oklahoma State
Lost 43-40 (OT) at Oregon
Lost 29-21 at Colorado
Lost 34-28 at Texas Tech
Lost 46-23 at Oregon State
Lost 35-21 at UCLA
Lost 43-10 at Ohio State
Lost 24-21 at UCLA
Won 17-3 against Cal
Won 24-22 at Colorado
Won 44-24 against Oregon State
Won 32-20 at Wisconsin
"There's no other place that would've felt like home," says Carr.
"Bulldog football was the only college football I knew."
Fresno could go 13-0 and get shut out of a major bowl because it
plays in the WAC.