San Jose State looking for more balance

This is the second in a series of articles previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal looks at San Jose State.

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

The San Jose State Spartans became a one-dimensional offense last season when running back Yonus Davis went down with an injury.

The Spartans were forced to abandon the running game and rely on the passing arm of starting quarterback Adam Tafralis to move the football.

It didn't work, as the Spartans stumbled to a 5-7 record despite 3,022 yards from the now-graduated Tafralis. The offense was held to 14 points in five of those seven losses.

Well, the Spartans got some good news recently, as Davis and former center Justin Paysinger have returned to the squad. Davis was granted an extra year of eligibility, while Paysinger, a starter two years ago, seems to have recovered from his back injury.

Davis, who was limited to three carries and two games last season, rushed for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns in 2006. He averaged 6.2 yards a carry. He'll work into the rotation along with James Callier (67 carries for 163 yards and three touchdowns), Cameron Island (46 yards on 13 attempts for one TD) and Dominique Hunsucker (36 carrries for 98 yards).

"That was welcome news to us," SJSU coach Dick Tomey said of Davis' return. "It will take him a while to work his way back into things because he hasn't played in a year. He had his best semester academically and got all his work done that he needed in order to be a candidate for a sixth year.

"Justin didn't play much last year. He is now thinking he is going to play at least a little bit. He was a student-coach this spring, because we didn't think he could play for us. We had him chalked off as a medical. Three weeks, he came up and said he's feeling better now than in the last three years."

When mixed in with a veteran offensive line and wide receiver Kevin Jurovich (85 catches, 1,183 yards), Davis and Paysinger give the Spartans some balance entering the 2008 season.

"Obviously I'd like to run the ball better (and more) than we did last year," Tomey said. "Balance is what everybody is trying to get to."

Ronnie Castillo (6-foot, 292 pounds), a two-year letterman, anchors the offensive line at center. Isaac Leatiota (6-4, 295) and Ailao Eliapo (6-2, 320), both lettermen and sophomores, enter camp as the starting guards. At the tackle spots are sophomore Fred Koloto (6-3, 290) and Jon Moreno (6-4, 280), a redshirt junior.

"We have some depth (up front), maybe 10 to 12 guys," Tomey said.

Junior Myles Eden enters camp as the starting quarterback. Eden played 11 games, going 7-of-15 for 30 yards. Sophomore Jordan LaScela, who played in five games and threw for 94 yards, and California transfer Kyle Reed are in the mix, too. Reed broke his foot before spring practice.

David Richmond (55 receptions for 852 yards and three touchdowns) joins Jurovich at wide receiver as does Jalal Beauchman (36 catches for 332 yards and one score). Freshmen Michael Avila and Josh Harrison are in the mix, too. Jeff Clark (eight catches for-70 yards and one TD) returns at tight end.

The defense, which returns six starters and 23 lettermen, has been buoyed by transfers Jeff Schweiger (6-5, 285), a defensive end from USC, and cornerback Coye Francies (6-1,185) from Oregon State.

"They are experienced players from good teams," Tomey said OF Schweiger and Francies. "It gives us an injection of experience that will make a difference. They are both good players."

Tomey likes his defensive unit. It boasts plenty of experience up front, so much so that he moved Jarron Gilbert (6-3, 290), a starting defensive end last year, to defensive tackle alongside junior Kalvin Cressel (6-4, 282). Gilbert had four sacks and 7.5 stops behind the line.

Aaron Gilbert (6-3, 290) and Justin Willis (6-1, 305) are the backups there, and both are two-year lettermen.

Schweiger and Carl Ihenacho (6-3, 245) who led the team in 2007 with five sacks, are at defensive end. Liam Smith (6-5, 250) and Marcus Keli (6-2, 250) are the backups.

At linebacker, the Spartans will have to find a way to replace Matt Castello, who led the team with 141 tackles. Duke Ihenacho (6-1, 200), Travis Jones (6-1, 220) and Justin Cole (6-3, 240) are the starters. Cole had 35 tackles, Ihenacho had 32 and Jones 24.

'We're certainly solid there (at linebacker)," Tomey said.

Francies joins three-year letterman Chris Owens (5-10, 170) at cornerback. Owens had 75 tackles and six interceptions a year ago. Devin Newsome and Andrew Ryan are the frontrunners at safety. Ryan had 51 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.

Jared Strubeck, who converted just half of his 20 field-goal attempts, returns. Currently, Strubeck is doing both the place-kicking and punting.

Tomey is hoping junior college transfer Philip Zavala can take over the punting chores. Freshman Shaheen Ourfallah could also challenge at that spot. Both will be hard-pressed to replace Waylon Prather, who averaged 39.5 yards per kick, including 24 inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

- Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or (775) 881-1281

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