On a cool Friday evening at Bulldog Stadium, with his team down 10-7 to UNLV in the second quarter, Fresno State freshman standout Jalen Cropper was destined to make a big play.
After all, Cropper had done it before on countless Friday nights throughout the prior four years.
Jalen Cropper was a high school phenom who started his career as a multi-threat quarterback/athlete for Sanger High, but fully blossomed into a local prep star when he transferred to Buchanan before his senior year.
Not only would he transfer schools but he would also transfer positions on offense, from being primarily a quarterback to playing wide receiver full-time.
Cropper never felt he belonged to any single position though, and that mindset dated back to his time in Sanger.
“Playing in Sanger boosted my athleticism, because I was able to play multiple positions on the field,” said Cropper. “Transitioning to wide receiver was challenging at first, but as I progressed and practiced, I saw results.”
The results at Buchanan were immediate: Cropper scored on Buchanan’s very first drive of the 2018 season with a 77-yard touchdown catch against Paso Robles. Two weeks later, against Edison on August 31st, Cropper flashed his athleticism once again with a 70-yard touchdown run.
Cropper was not limited to one side of the ball with the Bears; he played in the secondary on defense and came away with two interceptions on the season – including one in Buchanan’s 31-24 loss to nationally ranked De La Salle.
Cropper was a vital piece to the 10-win Bears season in 2018 and recruiters from nearby Fresno State took notice.
The Bulldogs jumped in the race for Jalen Cropper with a scholarship offer, but competition was stiff with Nebraska, Utah, Boise State and Cal also vying for Cropper. Ultimately, on November 28th, 2018, Cropper chose Fresno State in front of friends and family in Parlier.
Ahead of him would be a tough grind to earn respect and playing time on the team – but when fall camp came around in August, Cropper was improving every day with his new coaches.
“The transition to college was initially hard, but I got lots of coaching from Coach [Kirby] Moore and Coach [Jeff] Tedford,” said Cropper. “They’re both offensive-minded coaches, so they put me in the best position to showcase my talents on the field and get the ball into my hands.”
Moore – the wide receivers coach for Fresno State responsible for grooming KeeSean Johnson to become an NFL draft pick – and Head Coach Jeff Tedford fully indoctrinated Cropper as a wide receiver, providing lessons on how to play the position at the Division I collegiate level.
Cropper proved to be a fast learner and earned a role in the Fresno State offense from the very first snap. Literally.
The first offensive snap of the 2019 Fresno State season went to Jalen Cropper, who ran the ball for 12 yards and a first down.
It was a clear message from the coaching staff: Coming straight from high school, Cropper was ready to contribute.
He had his biggest contribution during the Bulldogs’ 30-17 win over New Mexico State on Sept. 28. The young local product shined bright on the road, scorching the Aggies defense for a 79-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that doubled the Fresno State lead.
He would lead the team in rushing for that game with 118 yards on only 5 carries, and would be honored as the team’s offensive player of the game.
Beyond the stats and honors, Jalen Cropper has been given a chance to perform in front of Bulldog fans in his first season. Being from the Central Valley makes it extra special for him.
“The Clovis community does a good job in boosting my confidence and what I do. There’s a lot of Fresno State fans from all over the Valley that come out to support me and the team,” Cropper said.
Not only does Cropper receive support from Central Valley fans who watched him in high school, but Jalen has reciprocated by reaching out to his old team this season.
“I keep in contact with my old Buchanan teammates and we talk about their games on Friday nights,” said Cropper. “I feel a brotherhood with a lot of the players there. I can go back and talk to them about stuff they’re going through or things I’m going through. It’s a mutual friendship.”
While his former teammates were playing across town at Lamonica Stadium, Cropper was playing at Bulldog Stadium, getting another taste of Friday Night Lights but with a new team and in a more difficult environment.
With his team down 10-7 to UNLV in the second quarter, Cropper provided one more Friday night highlight: an 82-yard run that electrified the Fresno State crowd. This long run would not be a touchdown; a Rebel safety caught up to Cropper and tackled him at the one-yard line.
Yet although Cropper fell short of the touchdown on that play, he stands tall in Clovis as one of the most spectacular athletes to pass through town in a long time.