The Fresno State Bulldogs received their Mountain West Conference championship rings on Friday at their annual awards banquet; big, bright numbers with a Bulldog logo prominently featured in the middle. ‘’They’re blingy,’’ Coach Tim DeRuyter said, with a smile.
Running back Robbie Rouse, who set the all-time school record for rushing yards, was honored as the team’s most valuable player, and linebackers Tristan Okpalaugo, Shawn Plummer and Jeremiah Toma, punter Andrew Shapiro, quarterback Derek Carr, strong safety Phillip Thomas, running back Josh Quezada and defensive end Matt Akers also won individual awards.
Akers, a senior who had started all 13 games in 2011 as an undersized defensive end, lost his chance to play much less start when the Bulldogs switched to a 3-4 from the 4-3, spent the last half of the season preparing true freshman Alex Fifita to start week to week at right tackle and was honored as the defensive scout team player of the year. ‘’He had as big a role in us winning those last five of the regular season as anyone did,’’ offensive line coach Cameron Norcross said.
Akers in practice went at Fifita on every rep – he was working with the first and second teams to get as much work as possible – using his quickness to get the freshman used to the speed of the game.
‘’I think it’s quite a testament to his character,’’ DeRuyter said. ‘’A senior who was a former starter … scheme switches, coaches change, a lot of times those guys go south and become problems in the locker room. He was a guy that really pushed Alex Fifita to get better and I don’t know that Alex would have been good enough to start for us a year ago if it weren’t for Matt Akers.
‘’To me, he’s the essence of what a team guy is – ‘I may not get the glory of playing on Saturday, but I’m going to make our team as good as possible.’ For him to earn that award, I think it speaks volumes.’’
Quezada, sitting out last season after transferring from Brigham Young, did the same for the defense and was the Bulldogs’ offensive scout team player of the year.
Okpalaugo, who had joined the team through an open tryout his freshman year, was honored with the Don Duncan Overachiever Award. Plummer won the Directors Academic Award, Shapiro the special team’s team captain award, Carr and Rouse were the offensive team captains and Thomas and Toma the defensive team captain award winners.