Coach DeRuyter throws out an academic challenge

FRESNO, Calif.

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"We're going to have the highest academic achievement and our plan is to graduate 100 percent of our football players in our football program."

Those words caught the attention of educational officials at Fresno State Wednesday.

"Well, there's no higher priority."

William Covino is the university's provost. He's in charge of all academics, and says Coach DeRuyter's strong message is encouraging.

Covino, Fresno State's Provost said, "His comments at the press conference today are very very heartening for all of us cause he came right out of the gate with that as a priority which shows our students have a lot to look forward to."

According to Fresno State, under former head football coach Pat Hill, the team's graduation rate grew from 22-percent when he arrived 15 years ago to 89-percent last season. And while making the 100-percent goal is do-able, some student athletes say it's also very challenging.

Sofia Garcia said, "it takes up most of your time. you have to go to practice, you have to work out. You dedicate yourself to school and being a student athlete."

Garcia is a thrower on the track and field team. She says coaches are instrumental in making sure student-athletes do well in class.

"Well, they want you to put school first, and then your athletics, so during finals, they want you to get all your work done and see you do the best you can."

That's exactly what Coach DeRuyter plans to do.

In a statement to Action News, University president, John Welty, said in part, "I'm confident he can build a winning bulldog football team, keep student-athletes on track in the classroom, re-energize our longtime fans and attract new ones."

While the NCAA has its own gpa standards for student athletes, so does Fresno State. Officials say, if they see an athlete doing poorly, they speak to them directly and see how they can help.

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Coach Tim DeRuyter met with his players on Wednesday, though none of them were on hand at the news conference.

This is a time of uncertainty for Bulldog football players. They're just now getting to know their enthusiastic new head coach, but he's a guy who didn't recruit them to play at Fresno State.

NFL safety Cory Hall went through the last coaching transition at Fresno State having played for Jim Sweeney in 1995 and 1996, and then Pat Hill in 1997 and 1998. He said it's tough from a player's standpoint.

"It's a scary feeling," said Hall, "you're brought into a program by one coach, a coach you learn to respect and grow to love."

But now everyone must prove their worth. Hall said players who quickly buy into coach DeRuyter's philosophy will have the most success. He learned to take the best from both coaches. "I think when you look at the tenacity of how I played, the heart and soul of football, that's the Sweeney side. When you look at the business side of it that was the Hill side."

On his first day on the job Coach DeRuyter wasn't just reaching out to his new team, he reached out to the community and everyone who has ever been involved in building the Bulldog Football program. "We're going to honor and recognize the history and tradition of Fresno State Football. I want to invite all the former players and alumni to come back and be a part of this thing. Those are the guys who built this thing. Coach Sweeney, Coach Hill -- the guys who played for them -- I want them to know, I want them to be part of this."

At the end of his introductory news conference, Coach DeRuyter actually quoted Jim Sweeney saying he's Bulldog-born, Bulldog-bred and he's going to be a Bulldog til the day's he's dead.

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