Editor's Note: This is the second of nine articles previewing the football teams in the Western Athletic Conference. Today, the Appeal takes a look at San Jose State University Spartans.
By DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
If energy equates to wins, the San Jose State Spartans will have a successful first season under new head coach Dick Tomey.
The 67-year-old Tomey has been hustling and bustling around the San Jose area since he was hired seven months ago. He's met with faculty groups, student groups, fraternity groups and civic groups trying to drum up interest for the Spartans, something that has been missing in recent years.
The once-proud Spartan program has fallen on hard times. Only twice since 1992 have the Spartans enjoyed a winning season. The last four years under Fitz Hill were horrible, as SJSU racked up a 14-33 record, including 2-9 last year. That won't put many fans in the seats.
Tomey, who has previous head-coaching stints at Hawai'i and Arizona, has described the atmosphere as "electric".
"I believe there is genuine excitement," Tomey told reporters during Media Day interviews in Reno last week. "People want something to be proud of like the days of Claude Gilbert (back-to-back 10-win seasons in the mid-80s) and Darryl Rogers (22-9-3 in three seasons in the 1970s). There's no reason why we can't have a solid program.
"We want to build a program. We're going to put it together the right way; not take any shortcuts."
Besides wins, Tomey wants to change the perception of the Spartan football team. In the past, the description of San Jose State has been "they're fast, big and good athletes." Tomey believes that's a slap in the face, and he wants to change that.
"We want to be known for the way we play, not what we look like," Tomey said, adding that he wants his team to be known for its tough, passionate play.
Tomey brings the West Coast offense and the Desert Swarm defense to San Jose, and with the latter, he hopes to have the same kind of success he had at Arizona when the Tedy Bruschi-led unit was one of the best in the country.
"We're running the West Coast offense, whatever that means," Tomey said. "We're going to focus on the intermediate passing game. We'll throw it every down if we have to or we'll run it every down if we have to."
Sophomore Adam Tafralis (29-for-65, 432 yards, 2 TDs) is the No. 1 quarterback entering training camp. J.P. Greco and Kevin Brown, a pair of JC transfers, are expected to battle for the No. 2 job.
"He did a tremendous job in the spring," Tomey said of Tafralis. "He played last year. He played against Boise State (8-for-16, 138 yards) and did a great job. He played bits and pieces in other games. He did an outstanding job in the spring game. He started bad, but by the end of the day he completed 60 percent of his passes."
The Spartans boast a plethora of tailbacks, including Yonus Davis (5-7, 169), who redshirted last year after playing in only two games, and Lamar Ferguson (5-5, 170). Ferguson rushed for 150 yards last year. Al Guidry, a JC transfer, and true freshman Brandon Minor also could see time.
The Spartans are inexperienced at fullback, where James Callier and John Nelson are listed 1-2. Callier had one carry last year and Nelson racked up four tackles while seeing limited time at linebacker.
San Jose State returns its top three receivers - Rufus Skillern (40-588-4), James Jones (25-317-1) and John Broussard, who caught 20 passes last season. Chester Coleman, who played in five games and caught one pass for 15 yards, backs up Skillern.
"Rufus is a terrific receiver," Tomey said. "James is outstanding. Broussard can be outstanding."
Bryan Watje, the Spartans' starting tight end, caught seven passes for 125 yards and three scores. He's backed up by Kyle Cancimilla.
Creating stability on the offensive line is critical for the Spartans, as there were multiple starters at each position across the offensive line last year.
Amadeo Novella (6-4, 305) moves from right guard to left tackle. John Toensfeldt (6-8, 290) returns at right tackle. John Booker (6-4, 300), who started late in the year at left guard, has moved to right guard. Chad Lerette (6-4, 303) and Marcel Burrough (6-6, 349) are battling at left guard and Justin Paysinger (6-1, 290) is the starter at center.
Defense has been a problem for the Spartans. They have given up an average of 29 points a game for the past 12 years. That won't win many games. Tomey is hoping he has the players to make his "Desert Swarm" effective.
Former safeties Eric Wilson (5-9, 202) and Bobby Godinez (5-11, 207) have been moved to linebacker, and both are No. 1 entering camp. Wilson had 68 tackles last year and Godinez had 49. The third linebacker starter, Matt Castelo, racked up 36 tackles in seven games. Ezekiel Staples, who had 94 tackles last year, including eight for loss, battles Godinez at the inside spot in the 4-3 defense.
Kinji Green (6-2, 275) had 57 tackles last year, and will team with Anthony Flores (6-4, 299), who had 12 tackles, at defensive tackle. Justin James (6-4, 238), who had 13 tackles last year, and Larnell Ransom (6-0, 253), who had 26 tackles, are slated to start at defensive end. Rafael Pineda (6-0, 255) is the top reserve at end, and Buck Tuua (6-1, 254) returns at tackle.
Josh Powell (6-3, 213), the Spartans' leading tackler with 101 stops, returns at strong safety. Brian Nunez (5-11, 176), who led the team with four interceptions, will be at free safety. Trestin George (5-9, 178), who had 39 tackles last year, and Larry Collins (5-10, 181), who had 32 stops, are the starters at cornerback. Trae Jackson (13 tackles) will battle for time at safety and several players will battle for back-up spots at cornerback.
Punter Waylon Prather (36.8) returns at punter and walk-on Bijan Shahmirza is the No. 1 kicker going into camp. He is a transfer from West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif.
Darrell Moody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281