Photo credit: sjsuspartans.com
By: Ana Kieu
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Summer has ended and the San Jose State Spartans football team opened their fall camp on Wednesday.
As you should already know, San Jose State has been a lowly team–especially in head coach Brent Brennan’s first and second seasons, respectively. So if SJSU wants to be a better team, then they’re going to have to show grit and fight in their upcoming games; but we all know that’s easier said than done.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to check out what the Spartans are up to.
San Jose State will undergo changes in its cornerback position. On defense, there will be two new starting cornerbacks–Tre White and Nehemiah Shelton–following the departure of seniors Dakari Monroe, now a rookie defensive back with the Kansas City Chiefs, and John Toussaint.
White and Shelton have the first chance to replace Monroe and Toussaint based on their performances in spring practice and the beginning of fall camp. White, from De La Salle High (Concord, Calif.), was a starter in San Jose State’s nickel defense against Washington State. In that same game, Shelton, a Long Beach College transfer, came up with one of the team’s three interceptions that night in Pullman, Wash.
Here’s what White and Shelton had to say when asked about being a good cornerback.
“To be a good defensive back is having a short-term memory. If something happens, it’s being able to turn around and focus and be ready for the next play,” said White, who saw action both as a cornerback and a fifth defensive back in certain pass defenses.
“Film. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of extra work,” Shelton said about becoming a good corner in the team’s defensive scheme.
Both cornerbacks sense the heightened focus so far during fall camp. Perhaps some of the focus is being more in tuned with what is going on instead of figuring out what to do.
“The intensity is way higher than last year. I like how we are bringing it. The effort, our “blue line,” everything is coming together. The energy is up,” said Shelton, who played in three games last season.
“As a team, we’re really showing our ‘blue line’ culture. The 100-100 is really showing up. It’s something we practice and preach. It’s being able to execute 100 percent effort, every single play 100 percent of the time. As a team, it gives us the juice and energy we need for practice.”
Defensive coordinator Derrick Odum reportedly likes the way the first few days have gone for White and Shelton specifically and for the defense in general.
“I do know we are farther along at the start of camp than we’ve ever been. I really enjoy that part of it–the guys understanding what we’re talking about before we get to the assignment at hand. It’s showing. The guys are flying around. They’re in great shape,” said Odum, who has returning starters on defense in lineman Cade Hall, linebackers Ethan Aguayo and Jesse Osuna, and safeties Tre Webb and Jay Lenard. White’s among seven other returning players to start in a game last season.
“I’m pleased with the first few days. Obviously we have a ways to go, but I like where we are.”
“We’re installing as we’re as we’re going. We don’t want to take a step back as far as our progression with techniques and assignments. We’re throwing a lot at them and they are handling it. So, everything will be right the next four days and we can move on from there,” Odum said about what he hopes to see in the remaining practices for the first week.
When it comes to Spartan football specialists, depth and target consistent appear to be there. Why’s that? San Jose State special teams coordinator Fred Guidici was a hit at one of the early football team meetings. The SJSU assistant, now in his sixth year on the staff and 36th year in coaching, got the room buzzing with his annual standing vertical jump with both feet on the floor to a safe landing position on a standard height desk top.
Guidici will be looking for similar leaps and bounds from his special teams units in 2019. He’s coached two of the five top kick scorers in school history in Austin Lopez and Bryce Crawford and punters Michael Carrizosa and Harrison Waid, one and two on the San Jose State list for career punting average. Oh wait, there’s more–devising schemes for blocking kicks and setting up punt and kickoff returns.
This year, Guidici has his biggest group of punters, kickers and long snappers. It’s a six-pack with only redshirt freshman placekicker Matt Mercurio returning from the 2018 team. For spring practice, Alex Galland transferred in from Yale and kicker Chris Wood and long snapper Will Butler, two community college transfers, made it a foursome. Long snapper Andrew Gonneville from Trabuco Hills High (Mission Viejo, Calif.) and kicker Collin Tamas from Amador Valley High (Pleasanton, Calif.)–both freshmen–joined the Spartans for fall camp.
“The good news is we have a lot of depth and a lot of competition. We have good kids. They’re pushing each other and I’m really proud to have these six guys in my (meeting) room with me,” said Guidici, who has spent the first three days of practice installing the team’s PAT and field goal schemes on both sides of the ball.
Giudici’s aim is for consistency and accuracy in all areas of special teams play. A high net punting average, which would include minimizing long opponent punt returns.
“We want accurate placekickers, have them battle it out under pressure (during camp) and may the best man win,” Giudici said.
Mercurio, who made all his kicks in the team’s weekend spring scrimmages, and Galland, a second-team All-Ivy League punter as a sophomore, came out of spring practice at the top of the depth chart. Wood and Tamas are in the mix for each of the kicking jobs.
“So far, so good. What people don’t understand is our game is more mental than physical. We’re not taking big hits out there or putting down big shots. It’s just 1-for-1 every time. You make the kick (and) forget about it. And, it’s on to the next one. You miss it, same philosophy… It’s all about the next kick. 99 percent mental, 1 percent physical. You just get your mind right,” said Mercurio, who is somewhat amazed he is the “senior” member of the Spartans’ specialists after joining the team just a year ago from Palma High in Salinas, Calif.
Butler did all the long snapping in the spring. Gonneville, trained by Spartan alum Matt Wigley, the long snapper for the 2008 and 2009 teams, is challenging for the job.
“I’ve been a long snapper since I started playing football at six years old. I was a center and thankfully, one of my coaches knew the value of a long snapper on a team and knew where it could get me. So, I stuck with it all the way through Pop Warner into high school, went to community college and still long snapped,” said Butler, who has high school playing experience as a receiver and a linebacker.
“I’ve been long snapping since my freshman year (in high school). I played outside linebacker and got first-team all-league with that. I just did that on the side. I really wanted to pursue it (long snapping) at the collegiate level, because I love doing it,” said Gonneville, who trained with Wigley every Saturday for three years.
“I learned everything from him. When I first started snapping, I could barely get it back 15 yards. Over the years, I got better and better. Next thing I know, people start calling. San Jose called and that’s why I’m here.”
Whoever wins the long snapping duties, will be snapping to Galland for PATs and field goals. The grad student, who calls Bakersfield home, has experience as a holder from his junior season at Liberty High in Bakersfield, Calif. Focused on punting for the Spartans, he also is relying on his experiences kicking for Yale to give him the best perspective holding for the winner of the kick-scoring sweepstakes.
“Actually, having been a kicker for three years at Yale, it’s nice to know all the things I didn’t like that my holders have done. For example, you have to get your body out of the way of the ball as much as possible. You have sit back more than you want and keep your feet out of the way, get your head out of the way, knowing how to lean the ball. It wasn’t that hard a transition,” said Galland, who is pursuing his master’s degree in public administration.
Guidici, Mercurio, Galland, Butler, Wood, Gonneville and Tamas will be chasing the unit’s goal of consistency throughout the weekend and the rest of fall camp in preparation for the season.
The Spartans’ first practice open to the public is Tuesday, August 6, at 9:40 am. The team’s first scrimmage is Saturday, August 10, 5:30 pm in CEFCU Stadium. There’s no admission charge.