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By Casey Christie / The Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
Bakersfield Christian graduate Derek Carr was the main attraction Wednesday when the Bulldog Express came through Bakersfield to promote Fresno State football, but as usual, Bakersfield isn't a one-Bulldog town.
"We've had a ton of players from Bakersfield," Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. "You know, our starting quarterback is a pretty good player, but we've got lots of guys from Bakersfield."
In fact, Carr's backup could be another local product -- Brian Burrell, who played at Bakersfield High and Bakersfield College before signing with Fresno State this past winter. He'll compete with highly touted incoming freshman Zack Greenlee to be Carr's backup this coming fall after leading BC to a (vacated) state championship last year.
"We wouldn't have signed Brian if we didn't believe that," DeRuyter said. "He's competing for the back-up job and to have a leg up for the starting job (in 2014)."
Burrell missed some time with injury in spring practice but is expected to be back in time for preseason fall camp.
Several other Bakersfield natives could push for starting spots. Two Ridgeview graduates, sophomore defensive back Shannon Edwards and sophomore linebacker Kyrie Wilson both played in 12 of Fresno State's 13 games as freshmen, with Wilson recording 20 tackles and blocking a punt and Edwards making 11 stops and forcing a fumble.
Two seniors, linebacker Patrick Su'a and wide receiver A.J. Johnson, are Highland products. Su'a started the first seven games last year before missing the rest of the season with a knee injury; Johnson did not play last season after catching eight passes for 152 yards as a sophomore in 2011.
"We have guys from this area who are top-notch players," DeRuyter said. "Believe me, we're going to continue mining this area."
Carr, who also joined the caravan, showed off the jumbo-sized ring players received for sharing the Mountain West Conference title as part of a 9-4 season last year. Expectations are greater in 2013.
"We like to have those expectations," DeRuyter said. "When you go 4-9 nobody puts expectations on you, so when you have them, you're doing something right. We're looking forward to the challenge."
One Bakersfield product who won't be there is Phillip Thomas, a Bakersfield High graduate whom the Washington Redskins drafted out of Fresno State in the fourth round of the NFL Draft in April.
While the Mountain West named Carr its Offensive Player of the Year, Thomas was defensive MVP -- a sweep for the Bulldogs and for Bakersfield.
DeRuyter said he was surprised Thomas, a safety, fell that far in the draft.
"I think they're getting a player in Phillip Thomas, I mean, he was a steal," DeRuyter said. "I personally thought he was worthy of a second-round pick. He could be a long-term starter."
Fresno State also shepherded the previous Bakersfield player who was drafted, West High's Ryan Mathews. The San Diego Chargers took the running back in the first round in 2009, and he's since become a Pro Bowler.
The next link in that Bakersfield-to-Fresno State-to-NFL pipeline figures to be Carr, who could transcend from the top quarterback in his conference to one of the best in the country. At least one publication has named him to its preseason Heisman Trophy watch list.
"Media and fans have raised expectations for him after the year he had, but we've had huge expectations for Derek every year," De&dcTwo;Ruyter said. "And if he leads us to another championship, we expect him to be very high on the Heisman list and those sorts of things at the end of the year.
"... He has all the physical tools, the live arm, everything. The thing that separates him is how he manages the game. He's in our coaches offices as much as the coaches are."
That, in turn, could lead to yet another big year for the Bulldogs from Bakersfield.
"We're going throughout the Valley this week, getting people excited about Bulldog football," DeRutyer said, "and Bakersfield is a big part of that."