So the Fresno State football caravan — for the record, it's called the Bulldog Express and features a gigantic black RV with the Bulldogs logo on the side — made a stop at The Marketplace on Wednesday, and I went out there to check it out.
Now the RV says "Tim DeRuyter's Bulldog Express" in deference to the team's head coach. Usually that's a pretty safe bet in college football, where the head coach of a program is kind of like president, king and dictator all rolled up into one. But it's not the case in 2013 for Fresno State, where another guest got more attention that DeRuyter.
That would be Bakersfield Christian graduate Derek Carr, who is along for the RV ride and who has become the face of Fresno State for the next year or so. That started with a stop in his hometown Wednesday, when he reiterated the high expectations he has for his senior year, and will likely end with his selection in next spring's NFL Draft.
In between, there will be plenty of football and plenty of attention — he's already been named to the Heisman Pundit's watch list of the 30 players most likely to win the storied Heisman Trophy. Last year, Derek was the Mountain West Conference's Offensive Player of the Year and led the Bulldogs to a share of the league title with a 4,101-yard, 37-touchdown season.
Derek's older brother David, you'll remember, was taken No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans in 2002 after a big senior year at Fresno State. But David, now a backup for the New York Giants, didn't have this kind of publicity until well after his senior season started.
In the hour and a half I was at The Marketplace today, Derek did at least four interviews, signed countless autographs and shook countless hands and found some time to hang out with his parents and nieces and nephews who stopped by. He'll have his own child, by the way, by the time the season starts; his wife, Heather, is due with the couple's first baby in August.
Then Carr will begin work on the football field, where all this attention will fade quickly if he doesn't perform.
Here's a sampling of what Carr and DeRuyter had to say today:
On Derek Carr, Heisman Trophy candidate... It sounds great. I've been very blessed seeing my name up there. It's great for Fresno State, and it's great for Bakersfield, my hometown. Anything to bring other people around me praise is a great thing.
On how he deals with all the attention... It's just about being mentally strong. I had a great big brother who taught me a lot. All of that stuff is going to be out there, talking about you. You just have to learn not to listen to those things.
On Fresno State's high expectations... If we don't play well this year, people are going to stop looking at us. I'm excited about our talent. I think it's one of the most talented teams I've been around, and I've been here for a while now. It's fun to think about, but we've got to take care of business.
Comparing David's draft experience with what his might be like... It's crazy. It's come a long way even since David. When he was drafted, the (NFL) Combine was like a secretive thing. Now it's on TV, so everybody can watch you run around in your shorts and T-shirt. But it's fun. I love being on TV and competing.
On how he deals with being the face of Fresno State... I'm comfortable with who I am. I'm Derek Carr the person before anything else. I'm a Christian and a family man first. All of that comes before football. If they want to put my face on posters, so be it. I thank God for that . But I'm not worried about it.
On expectations for the season (Carr previously has said he hoped to lead Fresno State to a BCS game)... I don't just want to be in one, I want to win one. You see these teams all the time, they say they're BCS busters, and then they get blown out. We want to win the game and prove to the nation that it was a smart choice.
On his YouTube-sensation trick shot, taken at David's house in Bakersfield... It was insane. I think their (brothers Darren and David) enthusiasm is what made the video.
On expectations for Carr... The media and fans have raised expectations, but we've had huge expectations for him every year. And if he can lead us to another championship, I expect him to be very high on the Heisman list and those things at the end of the year.
On Fresno State players from Bakersfield (besides Carr, there's quarterback Brian Burrell (BHS, BC), linebackers Kyrie Wilson (Ridgeview) and Patrick Su'a (Highland), defensive back Shannon Edwards (Ridgeview) and receiver A.J. Johnson (Highland)... We've got a ton of players from Bakersfield. You know, our starting quarterback is a pretty good player, but we've got Brian Burrell, Shannon Edwards, Patrick Su'a, Kyrie Wilson. Those are some top-notch players, and we're going to continue mining this area.
On what makes Carr special... He has all the physical tools, the live arm, all of that. But the thing that separates him is how he manages the game. He's in our coaches' offices as much as the coaches are.
On BHS graduate Phillip Thomas, a Fresno State safety taken by the Redskins in the fourth round of the NFL Draft... They're getting a player in Phillip Thomas. He's a steal. I personally thought he was worthy of a second-round pick. He could be a long-term starter for them.
On why Carr's rapidly growing national profile is good for Fresno State... Any time you can get Fresno State known on a national basis, it's huge. He emulates everything we want in a player. He gets it done in the classroom, he's great in the community. I think he's logged more community-service hours than any player we have. He's the whole package. That's why I think he'll be great in the NFL, too: You want somebody to be the face of your franchise? He's it.