Fresno State's defensive backfield just got a little deeper. According to a report by Fresno's CBS affiliate, KGPE 47, Donnell Vercher, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior safety, will play for the Bulldogs this season after an academic situation has left him unable to gain admission to Wisconsin.
Vercher had been committed to Fresno State until Wisconsin came along in the eleventh hour and convinced the Fresno City College safety to come to Madison. Vercher was originally recruited by former Bulldog assistant, Tim McDonald. McDonald, the father of St. Louis Rams safety T.J. McDonald, had previously been at Edison High before taking a position with the Bulldogs in 2012 as a safety coach. McDonald has since moved on to the New York Jets. His decision to part for the NFL after the 2012 season was the biggest reason that Vercher decided to commit to the Badgers after such a lengthy commitment to the Bulldogs.
Vercher, a Clovis (Calif.) graduate, was a junior college All-American while playing at Fresno City last year. During his 2012 season, Vercher had eight interceptions and 23 tackles. The Bulldogs will be counting on Vercher to replace some of the production they lost when Phillip Thomas departed for the NFL at the end of last season.
Vercher's recommitment to the Bulldogs couldn't have come at a better time. The Bulldogs recently learned that senior defensive back Sean Alston will likely be out for the season following a failed rehab on his shoulder. Alston will likely have to have surgery to repair the damage caused during spring.
Vercher brings with him an aggressive style of play that the Bulldogs believe can help replace some of the production lost to graduation and the NFL. While in high school, Vercher was named the 2010 Tri-River Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year after recording 112 tackles as a senior. He intercepted three passes that season, forced six fumbles, recovered four fumbles, and blocked three kicks.
Given Vercher's status as a junior college transfer, the Bulldogs will likely be expecting him to immediately step in and help solidify that defense as Fresno State looks to repeat as Mountain West champions.
"It's been a long road," Vercher tweeted. "But it's meant where I'm supposed to be. God is good."
Joining Vercher at Fresno State will be Theodore Chambers. Chambers is a 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back from Cerritos (Calif.) College. Chambers piled up 37 tackles in seven games last year. His freshman season saw him post 27 tackles, three pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Chambers attended Mayfair High School in Lakewood, Calif. where he was a three-time All-Suburban League selection and two-time All-Area pick.
Frank Mazzotta, Chambers' head coach at Cerritos, couldn't have been happier that Chambers will be joining the Bulldogs.
"Theo is a very good cover corner," Mazzotta said in an email to FSBulldogs.com. "He is not the biggest guy in the world, but definitely a player. He's the son of a football coach, which makes his character far better than most players! He has had a little trouble academically, that's why he ended up in a junior college. Otherwise, he would have been recruited out of high school. He did a nice job of starting for us for two years and I think he will make a great contribution to Fresno State."
"I have a long history with Fresno State football going back to the days of Coach Sweeney," Mazzotta continued. "A lot of my ex-players played there going back to the days of Jeff Tedford. Theo will make a nice contribution to what Fresno is doing."
The Bulldogs would probably agree with that statement. After losing such a high profile player in Phillip Thomas, it appears that Tim DeRuyter and staff have done a great job of trying to replace the on-the-field production by committee. It's extremely hard to replace the kind of production that the Bulldogs got from Thomas, but with Chambers and Vercher, the Bulldogs are positioned very nicely to repeat as conference champions.
Regardless of how the season turns out, the Bulldogs have made it perfectly clear that the pace of the defense, set when Thomas was still with the team, is something that is going to be a staple of DeRuyter's Bulldogs. With offensive leaders like Derek Carr and Davante Adams poised to have breakout seasons, it could end up being Fresno's 'rebuilt' defense that steals the show.
Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the Fresno State 2014 recruiting class.
Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.