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Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007 | If you’re wondering why San Diego State can’t keep up with Fresno State as a mid-major football program in the West — where have you gone Don Coryell and Claude Gilbert? — a good place to seek answers is at quarterback.
So let’s ask Chargers backup quarterback Billy Volek, a Fresno State alumnus that has had a year to settle into the San Diego football scene since arriving here in a trade, if he has any theories.
The eighth-year veteran, who threw a touchdown pass in the Chargers’ preseason opener Sunday night in a 16-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, is as surprised as anyone that SDSU hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1998.
“I don’t know much about the university, but I know it’s a great school,” Volek said. “They had Marshall Faulk here running around for all kinds of yards. I think it’s harder for San Diego State recruiting against UCLA and USC (than it is for Fresno State), and now Jeff Tedford is taking Cal’s program to new levels. But this is San Diego; why would you not want to live here?”
One reason, in the case of both Volek and his former backup at Fresno State, David Carr, is they were future NFL quarterbacks that grew up as members of the Red Wave, the Bulldogs’ rabid fan base. Volek played at suburban Clovis West, and, as a San Joaquin Valley kid, Pac-10 prestige wasn’t enough lure him away.
“The Red Wave is awesome,” Volek said. “Going to those games as a little kid, I remember thinking, ‘I hope I get the privilege and honor to play here one day.’ It worked out for me.”
Carr tells a similar story of growing up a Fresno State fan and remaining one even after his family moved from Fresno to Bakersfield and attending games meant a drive up the freeway.
At Fresno State, Carr, now with the Carolina Panthers, led the Bulldogs to a road upset of Wisconsin that landed him on the cover of “Sports Illustrated.” He was the first pick of the draft in 2002 by the Houston Texans and Fresno State continues to draw national attention under head coach Pat Hill’s philosophy of playing anybody, anywhere, anytime.
Another important factor to wanting to stay home, Volek said, was being recruited by an established Fresno State coach, Jim Sweeney.
“I enjoyed watching Sweeney coach; I liked how he treated his players and thought he was a players’ coach,” Volek said. “I think that was common for a lot of guys on the team; Fresno State was where they wanted to be.”
Volek was considered a Pac-10 talent and kept a box of letters he didn’t open stuffed away until after his senior year was finished (SDSU was among the schools that sent letters). When he turned his attention to college, he made plans for recruiting trips to Fresno State, Oregon, Purdue, Georgia and Texas Christian University.
“Those were my five trips,” he said of the NCAA limit, “but I made sure Fresno State was first. When I came home from the trip, I said, ‘Dad, we’ve got to cancel all my other trips. Fresno State is where I want to play.’ I committed as soon as I could.”
It was that easy for Fresno State to land a hometown kid that was a future NFL quarterback.
Volek’s advice for San Diego State is to be patient with second-year coach Chuck Long. The school fired Tom Craft after four years before bringing in Long, a former NFL quarterback and Oklahoma offensive coordinator.
“I think they need to stick with the head football coach and see what he can do for five or six years,” Volek said. “If he loses his first two years, you can’t give up on the guy. Let his recruiting classes come through. Be patient. The fans need to come out and support the program. The program can very easily take off when they start winning.”
Craft increased local recruiting efforts during his tenure and landed several highly recruited San Diego players, among them quarterback Kevin O’Connell (La Costa Canyon), running back Brandon Bornes (Rancho Buena Vista), linebacker Russell Allen (Vista) and wide receivers Brett Swain (Carlsbad), DeMarco Sampson (Castle Park) and Marcus Montgomery (Oceanside).
Long’s local recruiting efforts have included quarterback Ryan Lindley (El Capitan), lineman Tommie Draheim (El Capitan) and safety Vince Camarda (Cathedral Catholic) from his second class and running back Brandon Sullivan (Poway) and wide receiver/defensive back Raymond Patterson (Crawford) from his first class.
In the 2008 class, Long’s early commitments include a local recruit ranked among the nation’s top punters, Brian Stahovich (Cathedral Catholic).
“They need some local San Diego recruits to get together and be patient with the program,” Volek said. “They need some guys that say, ‘Let’s commit to San Diego State and not go to USC, UCLA or a Florida or a Florida State.”
Volek, without knowing it, had offered a strategy that was taken up last fall by Lindley when he was an early commitment for the Aztecs.
“You take a guy like Reggie Bush,” Volek said of the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner at USC from Helix High in suburban San Diego. “If they could have gotten a guy like him, he would have been the next Marshall Faulk here. He would have turned this university around.”
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.