Everybody has goals. They bring direction, purpose, and meaning. Goals can be small and easy to accomplish. At times, they can be lofty, feeling impossible to achieve.
After four seasons with the Fresno State Bulldogs, Jalen Moreno-Cropper heads to the 2023 NFL Draft with a list of college football goals accomplished. He’s achieved them for himself, of course, but not only for himself. Cropper is an explosive playmaker, but he’s more than that. He’s a football man. He’s a Fresno man. But above all, he’s a family man.
Jalen Moreno-Cropper Heads to the 2023 NFL Draft With His Fresno State Goals Ticked Off
“I told my mom when I first committed. I told everybody, that I wanted to bring a championship home,” Cropper begins to talk me through his list of goals, his checkpoints of success, during a sit-down interview with Pro Football Network.
As we talk, he’s preparing for the 2023 NFL Draft, the result of hard work, sacrifice, commitment, and of confidence after four years of being one of the most exciting offensive talents in college football.
“I wrote down certain goals coming into my freshman year. One of those was to bring a championship home. To win a bowl game. To be mentioned as a first-team All-Mountain West receiver. To be able to have a thousand yards receiving. I wrote all those things down, and I checked off every single last box this year. That’s how I’ve always carried myself. I’m a man of my word, and I’m proud to say I’ve been able to accomplish all those things.”
Many — in fact, almost all — of those accomplishments required an additional year at Fresno State. Cropper could have declared for the draft a year ago, with a level of production and talent that would have earned him a selection. Yet, he wanted to remain true to his word. He wanted to finish what he started with the Bulldogs.
In what he describes as a “roller-coaster” year for the program — one that started off with four defeats in five games and saw injuries dictate the direction of the program — Cropper’s explosive play style helped deliver the Mountain West title that he had promised. Although it wasn’t the first bowl win, he helped deliver a win over Washington State in the LA Bowl.
Racking up 1,089 yards despite the loss of highly-rated quarterback Jake Haener for multiple games, Cropper became the first Fresno State pass catcher since 2018 to have a 1,000-yard season. As a result of his production and importance to the Bulldogs’ offense, he was named a first-team All-Mountain West receiver.
All the goals that he’d set for himself as a college football player were achieved in 2022. The 2023 NFL Draft now awaits.
But that doesn’t tell the full story of Cropper, the footballer, the Fresno State player, the family man. It doesn’t even begin to tell the full story of his contribution as a wide receiver for the Bulldogs, let alone everything else.
Cropper has etched his name alongside the WR greats at the program, with performances as a sophomore that included three 100+ receiving-yard games and a 202-yard outing against Utah State, putting the family name alongside KeeSean Johnson and Davante Adams in the annals of great Bulldog pass catchers.
“It meant a lot,” Cropper reflects on hearing his name mentioned alongside some Fresno State greats. “I grew up watching Davante Adams and Derek Carr in Bulldog Stadium. I chose to come here because I wanted to be another great added to that receiver list. Everything that I was able to accomplish my sophomore season, to be able to come out there and be as productive as I was, was definitely one of the big goals.”
A Fresno Man
Fresno State has been an integral part of Cropper’s story. It’s not just the time that he spent there as a student-athlete and football player. Growing up in Parlier, a little over 30 minutes down the CA-180 W from Fresno State — a place that Cropper admits “not a lot of people can say they made it out of” — he watched Adams and Carr, and more recently, his former high school teammate Arron Mosby thrive in the family atmosphere at Fresno State.
“I always knew Fresno was home,” Cropper responds when I ask why he chose the Bulldogs over some of the best Power Five programs in the nation. Coming out of Buchanan High School, he was a four-star recruit who had helped Sanger High School to a state championship appearance in 2016. His final four teams consisted of California, Utah, Nebraska, and Fresno State. But there was only ever one destination for the talented WR.
“My best friend [Aaron] Mosby played there. Everything that I ever needed was here in Fresno. I had my family, a great coaching staff, great players. There was a great community behind us, always supporting. I felt like there’s no other program like Fresno, and it felt like home. And that was why I always felt like staying at home was the right decision.”
To understand Cropper, there are two words contained within that sentiment that are crucially important. Community and family.
The Fresno State wide receiver and 2023 NFL Draft prospect has been embraced by the Fresno community, and he’s returned their support with his performances on the field. More than that, however, he’s returned their support with a determination to improve the lives of those who he’s entertained on fall Saturdays for the past four years. Like his football life, there are goals to check off here too.
For the opening home game of the 2022 season, Cropper provided tickets to the entire Parlier Youth Football League, a place where he once played his football. The Fresno State WR has been involved in giving out 300 backpacks to school children in the Central Valley. Alongside T1 Sports Academy, Excellence Thru Athletics, and United Health Centers, Cropper is helping educate kids on the importance of academics, character, and resilience.
“I’ve always been a person who wanted to give back and have love for everybody. I always felt like I have way more to offer in this life than just football. That calling is off the field. Things like backpack drives, being able to go and talk to different kids, being able to do food drives, set up football camps. Just being able to touch other people’s lives in a different way.
“One of my goals in life is to not only be an NFL football player but off the field for people to remember me as a very great man, who loved his community.”
Words don’t fully do justice to Cropper’s determination in this regard. It’s easy to talk about the skill set that will make him a great NFL player. You can use words like “explosive” and “electric” to sum up a player, a prospect. Transcribing the emotion and depth of feeling of a facial expression is something different. Capturing just what it means to the Fresno State wide receiver to be a “great man” is something different.
Finding the inspiration for this off-field desire for greatness is a little easier.
A Family Man
“He was always such a loving person,” Cropper explains how his grandfather shaped the man he is today. “He was always helping out, lending a helping hand if somebody needed someone to talk to. He was always there. Being able to grow up and see that visually, it was something that I grasped a lot of that.”
In 2022, Cropper honored the impact that his grandfather had on his life and on his quest for greatness by adding “Moreno” to his surname. His entire football journey, he had been Jalen Cropper, but he heads to the 2023 NFL Draft as Jalen Moreno-Cropper. Carrying that name means the world to him.
“Growing up, my grandfather was a big part of my life. Being able to look after us, mentor us, guide us on the right path. I pretty much spent every day of my life growing up with him. From going to my 5 a.m workouts, picking me up from school, being able to grow that bond with him, spend time with him. He’s been able to guide me in the right spots, guide me to make the right decisions in life.
“Being a great role model, I learned a lot of those characteristics, those traits, from him. I’m forever thankful.”
His grandfather taught him to be a great role model, and that’s exactly what Cropper wants to be. That extends to the Fresno and Parlier communities that raised him through to the four younger siblings whom he wants to help provide a future for. Cropper is a football man. He’s a Fresno man. But, first and foremost, he’s a family man.
“Being able to have people like my mom, my dad, mentors like my trainer back home. People you call family gives you the drive to wake up every day, knowing you’re doing it for yourself and not just yourself. I have four younger siblings, I want to make a better life for them. At the end of the day, that’s something that I really cherish because family means everything to me.”
As Cropper eloquently puts it, “people you call family” are key to both his on-field success and off-field character. At Buchanan High School, he played under head coach Matt Giordano — a Fresno native and fourth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, who had a nine-year NFL career and sports a Super Bowl ring — who helped the young wide receiver develop both aspects of his desire to be great.
“He taught me a lot,” Cropper reflected on his time spent with Giordano. “Being able to learn from him taught me a lot off the field, made me a better person, better man off the field. Understanding, the right decisions that you need to make in life. Being able to give back to school, children around the community, and I felt like that was always something that I wanted to do. I want to see the next generation excel and make right decisions.”
A Football Man
Since turning to football at the age of five following a dalliance with soccer as a four-year-old, Moreno-Cropper has been developing his game from a confluence of influences. A Dallas Cowboys fan, he learned to love the game by watching Marion Barber and Tony Romo.
The No. 5 he sported during his Fresno State career is in homage to Reggie Bush, the electric USC playmaker who inspired a young athlete whose multi-positional excellence saw him play running back, quarterback, defensive back, and wide receiver early in his journey.
“Two of the main pass catchers that I like to model my game on are CeeDee Lamb and Odell [Beckham Jr.],” Cropper tells me when attention turns to his pass-catching influences.
“A lot of the things that I’m able to do with the ball in my hands — yards after the catch, stuff like that. When you say players like Odell and CeeDee are capable of doing with the ball in their hands, that’s definitely something that I saw myself doing, and I feel like that’s what separates me from a lot of players.”
A transfer from Sanger High School to Buchanan for his senior year secured the transition from a multi-use weapon to a genuine WR threat. There, Moreno-Cropper developed the passion for catching the ball and using his explosive athletic capability to make plays after the catch with the ball in his hands.
He developed his knowledge of the game and pass-catching technique, all while using his natural talents on sweeps and motion plays to get him into space — a theme that continued during his Fresno State career.
The on-field result of all these influences is a dangerous WR threat that can compete at the catch point and punish a defense after the catch. Cropper lives on the field by a mantra embedded in him by his wide receivers coach:
“Don’t get tackled by the first person.”
It’s been rare to see the Fresno State WR halted by the first defensive player that attempts to bring him to the ground.
“Very crafty, explosive,” Cropper summarizes his game. “Like a ticking time bomb that you never know when it’s going to go off. That’s how I’ve always played the game. That’s always been me. Every offense needs a playmaker that can take the top off a defense or take a shallow route for a gain of 20. That’s somewhere that I excel at a different level just because of my passion and love for their game.”
A dangerous and explosive playmaker with a competitive nature. A team captain this season against Oregon State. A man with a desire to be great and the character to match. In much the same way that Moreno-Cropper has ticked off all his college football goals, he checks a lot of the boxes that NFL teams adhere to when making selection decisions ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Cropper’s football journey will continue beyond his current experiences at the Shrine Bowl. His name will be called in April. Unsurprisingly for the football man, Fresno man, and the family man, it’s how that phone call will impact the lives of those around him that dominates his final thoughts of a thoroughly engaging 30-minute conversation.
“It’ll mean everything. It’s something that I dream of every day. It’s a blessing not only to me but also for my mom, everything she’s put in to see me be successful. For my dad, and everything he did for me to be successful. For my siblings, knowing that all this work is paying off and being able to allow them to have a better life.”
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