FRESNO -- For three or four seconds, while the kickoff tumbles in flight, Isaiah Burse can see everything with crystal-clear clarity.
The blocks. The juke. The hole. And paydirt the red-and-white checkerboard end zone of Bulldog Stadium.
"I'm always thinking, 'Get the ball and score.' That's all I care about," said Burse, a Fresno State junior and one of the most dangerous return men in the college game.
"You're not promised a block, so as a runner, as a talented guy, you just got to make a guy miss. If you shake him, hey, that's a highlight."
Quentin Breshears takes a similar approach to kicking footballs. Only his highlights are played out on the ceiling above his bed the night before games.
"In my head, I'll kick 35-yard field goals from the right hash and the left hash. I'll go through all the different scenarios, so by the time I get out there, I've kicked that field goal 100 times," said Breshears, a redshirt freshman from Pitman.
The two have reaped the rewards of this visualize-and-attack method, emerging as principle members in one of the nation's top scoring offenses. Their rise has coincided with that of the Fresno State football program, which has enjoyed an instant rebirth under first-year coach Tim DeRuyter.
The Bulldogs, with an explosive offensive and a fangs-bared fearlessness its fans adore, have raced through the season
and away from a 4-9 campaign in 2011 that saw longtime coach Pat Hill lose his job.
In stepped DeRuyter, though, who kneaded, pounded and shaped that same talent base quarterback Derek Carr, running back Robbie Rouse, and Burse into a team with serious Mountain West Conference title hopes.
"We've always had the talent. Our talent here has been good. (DeRuyter) came in here and put the guys in position to make this team better," Burse said. "He embedded in us trust and love his core values. It was more about team chemistry. It wasn't talent. He knew we had the talent. We just had to trust each other and love each other."
Fresh off its bye, Fresno State (8-3, 5-1 MWC) will play for a share of the Mountain West championship on Saturday night against Air Force (5-5, 4-2).
Kick off is scheduled for 9:30 a late start for a team of late bloomers.
The Bulldogs are tied with San Diego State and a half-game ahead of Boise State. There is a bowl game in their future, too.
"It shows how resilient we are as a team," Breshears said. "We didn't have too good of a season last year, but to play like this is big." To win a title in the first year in a new conference, it would mean a lot to the team, to the school and to the seniors.
It means a lot to this part of the Valley, too.
Fresno State has long championed itself as the Central Valley's football program, but the Stanislaus District a collection of 50 high schools spread throughout the floor and foothills has left an indelible impression of the Bulldogs' 2012 season.
Breshears kicked a career-high four field goals in a 42-25 loss on Sept. 8 to No. 2 Oregon, a performance that earned him the conference's special teams player of the week. On the season, he's converted nine field goals and 50 extra points.
Offensive lineman Cody Wichmann has followed the path blazed by fellow Mariposa High graduate Logan Mankins, now a perennial Pro Bowl guard with the New England Patriots.
Linebacker Andy Jennings (Pitman) and cornerback Beau Fryer (Manteca) have contributed defensively. Jennings, DeRuyter says, has a chance to make the all-conference team, despite missing time with an ankle injury.
And of course, there is Burse, that 6-foot ball of energy of whom DuRuyter and his staff simply can't get enough.
"It makes me feel good. They can recruit in other places, but if the Stanislaus District is doing its job, why do you need to do all of that?" Burse said. "I hope it stays that way. It makes us all look good."
He's done a fine job of that on his own, setting NCAA Division I records for kickoff returns (75) and return yards (1,606) in a season in 2011.
Burse was recently added to the Paul Hornung Award watch list, recognizing the former Modesto Christian hero as one of the nation's most versatile athletes. In many respects, the Bulldogs, under the direction of offensive coordinator Dave Schramm, have taken on Burse's personality.
"He does a great job of making explosive plays. He's had a big-time impact," DeRuyter said. "We're trying to spread the field vertically and horizontally, and he's a guy that can do a multitude of things."
Fresno State ranks nationally in total offense (17th) and scoring average (15th, 39.5), and they attack from all angles. Burse has carried the ball five times for 35 yards and a score, ranks second on the team with 604 receiving yards and five TDs, and has 602 return yards.
"You can't just be set on one thing," Burse said. "Defenses can shut you down that way. Hes only a receiver, so lets double team or lock him up. But when you get reverses, passes down the middle, its Man, this guys all over the place.
There was a time when Burse couldn't find any traction.
He led Modesto Christian to a CIF state championship as a playmaking quarterback in 2009, but struggled to find his footing as a freshman receiver in Fresno. Often times, Burse said, he overanalyzed his play and small mistakes snowballed.
Slowly, doubt crept in.
"When you come in as a freshman, you have such high hopes," Burse said. "When things aren't going your way, you're going to have your doubts. But things open up for you, players leave. When that times comes, you have to take advantage of it, run with it and never give it back."
He hasn't, and the 'Dogs have followed. Fresno State is having a dream season, the kind Burse and Breshears visualized throughout the spring and summer drills.
"Guys mature over a year and they worked hard in the offseason," DeRuyter said. "All the players bought into the system, and when you do that you have a chance to succeed."