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August 8, 2013
Fresno State defensive coordinator Nick Toth has been everywhere this off-season. Aside from the fact that just about every recruit mentions Toth's name, he's also been in charge of rebuilding the Bulldogs defense during the DeRuyter era. Toth didn't just rebuild this defense under the new 3-4 scheme, he's turned the Bulldogs' defense into one of the nation's best. The Bulldogs were ranked fifth nationally in takeaways with 35, and Toth's defense was in the top-25 in six other categories.
It's not hard to see why Toth is such an integral part of the Bulldogs' staff. So how has this relatively young coach launched himself into a known commodity? FSBulldogs.com caught up with Toth during the first weekend of fall camp to discuss what makes him tick. Surprisingly - or maybe unsurprisingly, depending on your point of view - Toth isn't out to change the culture as much as he is make the players better.
"We're trying to coach the football part of it more than worrying about changing culture, worrying about effort, and things like that," Toth said. "I think that's the biggest thing you notice is that there's a heck of a lot more technique correction, teaching, and getting guys aggressive on some different types of plays. We weren't able to coach that initially last year. We were still trying to get fast, physical, and fanatical. One thing I think you saw today is that they were pretty fast and fanatical out there. So, a lot of focus is one some things that, maybe fundamentally, are more important."
Fanatical is an appropriate term to describe a defense that had 35 total take-aways, 22 of those interceptions, and was ninth in the nation in sacks. Toth feels like that's a great starting point, but really believes that the Bulldogs are just getting started.
"There's five guys," Toth said of defensive standouts. "Karl Mickelsen has been phenomenal for the last ten months. He's just been, since the season ended, he's been unbelievable, and even the second half of last season. I'm excited about him. Kyrie Wilson is great, and Jeremiah Toma. Those three are the elite. Su'a is still recovering from that injury a little bit, but he's gonna be okay. The guy that is really a surprise right now is Camilli. We knew he was going to have a chance to play, but you can tell that he worked in the summer. He looks really good."
Of course, part of building a great defense is recruiting the right defensive players. Only Toth seems to be recruiting everyone for the Bulldogs - offense, defense, or otherwise. While Toth continues to get Fresno State in the door with these recruits, he believes it's the Bulldogs' philosophy that seals the deal.
"You know, here's the thing," Toth said. "Personality-wise, on our defensive side of the ball especially, we're a pretty aggressive, fun-loving group. We're not seasoned veterans. We have not been around the block too many times. So I think there's a little bit of ability for the young guys to relate to us. Shoot, we're still playing PlayStation and video games. That's the type of staff we are.
"The other things is that we're pretty blatantly honest with them. When we're talking to them it's, 'hey, this is why we like you,' 'we're gonna make this part of you better,' and, 'this is where you're at on our board.' We're pretty honest with them. I think that honesty's huge. I think it's about if they can relate to you and if they think that you're being honest with them. Beyond that, I think that's the gig."
Ultimately, Toth believes that the honesty of the Bulldogs will give them an advantage in recruiting. For Toth, honesty is the policy that's going to bring these kids through the door. As a matter of fact, Toth not only believes it gets them in the door, but can actually keep them in the house after they've arrived.
"I think it does two things for us," Toth said. "It, maybe, gives us instant credibility over some other people we're recruiting against. If they feel that we have that and they don't, you have a leg up. Number two, it saves us some headaches when they get here because we're recruiting great players, right? They can't all come in and play. So, if they understand the process you have for them and the plan you have for them and you're up front with them, you're not going to have as many dejected freshmen thinking about going and playing other places. I think that's going to help you."
One of the keys for the Bulldogs in recruiting is to make sure they're signing the right guys. While the coaching staff aims high, there are realistic expectations for Fresno State within recruiting. They are aware that BCS schools will get first crack at the best athletes and that they will have to make their selections count.
When asked if the Bulldogs were looking for a certain type of player, Toth played it as cool as the other side of the pillow.
"I gotta tell you, Coach Sweeney and Coach Hill have done a great job recruiting," Toth said of previous regimes. "We won last year and very few of those guys were ones we brought in. Coach hill had some guys here that we could coach. I think everybody wants great academic kids, high character, and stuff like that. If we're gonna get in a grey area, we're using that academic side of it as a determining factor for us. If two kids are the same and one's better academically than the other one, then we're gonna take the kid with the academics.
"We're probably gonna - if their 40 times are close and a guy has a 10th faster here or there, we'll probably take an academic guy. Now I gotta tell you, you're giving us a little too much credit for the academics. I mean, they're not all valedictorians that we took, but we're certainly trying to do that. Fresno State is a place that - we gotta keep doing better with that side of things."
While Fresno State has a solid corps returning, Toth is keeping an eye on some guys that might be flying a bit under the radar right now. Toth feels pretty confident that one or two of those guys won't be flying quite so undetected by the time the season is over.
"I keep talking about Nat Harrison as a senior who's kinda lived under the radar the last couple years," Toth said. "I think Nat's one of those guys, like Tristan was for us. Tristan didn't play our first spring we got here. We didn't know what to expect. He had been a hand-on-the-ground guy, Tristan Okpalaugo. And then he kinda excelled at the outside linebacker position. Nat can be one of those guys. The freshman Robert Stanley out of Bishop Gorman, there's something to him. He could give us something that we're not aware of.
"Curtis Riley, the guy that nobody knows about at corner right now. He rushed them out there, picked off the ball today, knocked it out And he's a 6-foot-1 corner, legitimately 6-foot-1. You look across our league, who else is lining up with a 6-foot-1 corner? Boise's gonna have a good guy here or there, maybe San Diego State, but there ain't many 6-foot-1 corners. And then, the defensive line's littered with guys you don't know about right now. There are probably five really, really good players and there's probably four other guys that are sitting there fighting their butt off and could be those guys. Probably in a week I'll have some better names for you."
He'll probably have even more names the week after that. It appears this coaching staff knows how to get the most out of their guys, regardless of what the name on the back of the jersey says.
Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on Fresno State fall camp and home opener against Rutgers.
Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.
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