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After 3 Years, Skipper Finally Runs in Spotlight for Fresno State

Times Staff Writer

Fresno State running back Kelly Skipper took the handoff and sprinted into the glory that had eluded him for so long, though the respect never had.

Lowering his shoulder, hugging the ball, pumping his legs, Skipper shot past the linebackers on a draw play in the third quarter of Fresno’s game against Cal State Fullerton Saturday. A defensive back grabbed his jersey and tried to bring him down, but the power of Skipper’s legs carried him forward as the cornerback fell and watched Skipper shift into overdrive.

With the goal line in sight but Fullerton defensive end A.J. Jenkins in reach, Skipper reached deep within for the 4.55 speed that he rarely got to use. He sprinted into the end zone to complete a 70-yard touchdown run, and accomplished some unfinished business in the process.

The touchdown broke a 10-10 tie and proved to be the decisive play in Fresno’s 23-10 Big West Conference victory over Fullerton at Santa Ana Stadium.

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“I knew it was just a matter of time until I broke one like that,” said Skipper, a senior from Eugene, Ore. “I got a good block at the line of scrimmage, broke one tackle, and this one guy held onto my jersey for several yards.

“He had my jersey, but he couldn’t stop my legs. I broke away from him and I was able to outrun the last guy to the goal line. I was really happy. It’s got to be the highlight of my career.”

It’s not that the run surprised anyone. For three years, Skipper has carried the ball for Fresno with a yeoman’s diligence but little flamboyance. Last year--his best so far--Skipper gained 588 yards on 141 carries. His was a decoy’s mission, a runner in a passing offense.

But this year, Fresno has changed its offensive priorities and now leads the Big West in rushing. His 86 yards on 16 carries Saturday tied a career best.

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It was the other shoe Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy hoped would fall into someone else’s lap.

“We’ve known for four or five years that you’d better get a good shot at that son of a gun,” Murphy said. “He’s as good a runner east-west as he is north-south.”

Jenkins, the leader of a Fullerton defense that’s among the conference’s best against the run, learned the geographic dimensions of Skipper’s talents. After the secondary tried and failed to run down Skipper, Jenkins pursued him down the sideline, closing within inches before Skipper scored.

“I just ran out of field,” Jenkins said.

Skipper, taking note of his longest run since his prep All-American days at Eugene’s Churchill High School, said he didn’t know what he’d have left at the end.

“I had to reach for something to make it in,” he said. “I don’t get much of a chance to run that long these days.”

When he arrived at Fresno four years ago, Skipper dreamed of such runs. But those dreams faded when the Bulldogs passed on showcasing his talents in favor of an air game.

All the while, though, he would spin off guard for three yards here, four yards there, while the receivers caught their breath.

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“This was a good game for Skipper, and that’s the best run of his career, no doubt about it,” Fresno Coach Jim Sweeney said. “But he’s never had a bad fame. He’s been doing it all along for us. The only difference is this one’s stamped with an exclamation point instead of a period.”


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