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Spartans look to build on success

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at San Jose State.

By DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

The 2006 campaign is one that will never be forgotten at San Jose State.

The Spartans posted a 9-4 record, their first nine-win season since 1990. The team qualified for and won the first-ever New Mexico Bowl, ending a 16-year drought.

It also was the team’s first winning season in six years. SJSU also beat San Diego State for the first time in 31 years, beat Fresno State for the first time since 1990 and also beat Stanford.

“I’m excited seeing the season get going,” SJSU head coach Dick Tomey said. “Good things happened a year ago that hadn’t ever happened here. I expect this team to be the best team and for players to do their job the best they can. We have a number of players back. We have to follow up on that performance. The strength of our non-conference schedule, we have to be a lot better, or we won’t achieve what we want to achieve.

“Just because somebody did something one year doesn’t mean it’s going to be automatic the next year. The good thing is when you watch our players, they are taking nothing for granted. They understand it will be a very difficult challenge and we are working hard to meet that challenge.”

When you look at the improvement in the San Jose State program, you look at the defense. In 2004, the Spartans allowed 42.6 points a game. Last year, San Jose State allowed 20.8 a game, an improvement of three touchdowns. That’s huge.

Tomey’s expertise has been on defense. The author of the famed “Desert Swarm” at Arizona, Tomey has his team playing hard on defense. The Spartans are athletic and have a lot of playmakers led by inside linebacker Matt Castelo, who was No. 2 in the nation in tackles with 165, and cornerback Dwight Lowery, who intercepted nine passes and is a member of this year’s Playboy All-American team.

Castelo was only about 215 pounds when Tomey moved him to the inside two years ago. Castelo just made tackle after tackle, and he’s earned the respect of many WAC coaches.

“He is just a terrific player,” Tomey said. “He has great instincts. Everybody was saying he was too short (5-10). I like short guys. I like guys I can look eye-to-eye. He is a good football player.”

Surprisingly, Castelo was snubbed and was relegated to second team all-WAC.

“I was ticked off when coach first told me,” Castelo said. “It’s not a big deal (now).”

Senior Demetrius Jones (56 tackles, 9 for loss) and Ryno Gonzalez (28 tackles) join Castelo in the starting line-up. Chris Reese (10 tackles), Brian Elledge (8 tackles), Travis Jones (17 tackles) and John Smith (4 tackles) are the back-ups.

Lowery had 48 tackles snd seven pass deflections besides the nine interceptions.

“He (Lowery) had such a big impact from the beginning of the season,” Castelo said of his teammate. “It seemed like he had an interception every game this year. Teams might not want to test him this year and start going to the other side.”

Christopher Owens, who had four interceptions last season, joins Lowery at the other corner. Owens finished with 50 tackles. At safety, Dominique Hunsucker and Andrew Ryan, a JC transfer, go into camp as the starters. Hunsucker had six tackles in limited action.

Tomey said the defensive front should be improved from last year.

“We were suspect last year,” Tomey said. “Most of the guys that played there were freshmen. The guys are a lot better.”

Adonis Davis (11 tackles) and Jerome Pulu (15 tackles) are the leading candidats at defensive tackle. Jarron Gilbert (32 tackles, 5 sacks) and Carl Ihenacho (28 tackles) are frontrunners at defensive end. Kalvin Cressel (24 tackles), David Lomu (11 tackles), Justin Willis and Justin Cole are the key reserves.

On offense, the Spartans lost talented receivers James Jones and John Broussard, both of whom are currently in NFL camps.

The team does return quarterback Adam Tafralis (2,284 yards, 21 TDs, 65.6 completion rate) and diminutive running back Yonus Davis (1.007 yards, 6 TDs).

Tafralis was a sub 50 perecent passer in 2005, and after spring practice last season, he was running No. 2 behind Sean Flynn.

“He (Tafralis) came to see me after spring ball and asked me what I had to do,” Tomey said. “I told him he needed to be a 65 percent passer, run better and make better decisions. In the fall, he did all of those things. He was amazing and continues to get better. He is as competitive as any young man I’ve ever been around.

“Marcus (Arroyo, QB coach) has done a phenomenal job with him; connecting with him. Giving him the confidence to perform.”

Davis averaged more than 6 yards a carry. Tomey did sit Davis down during the spring because of faltering academics.

Patrick Perry (454 yards) and James T. Callier averaged 4.4 a carry. They will give the Spartans positive productiin when Davis is taking a breather.

The receiving corp is a mystery right now, according to Tomey.

“We signed six and we had three or four returning that played a little bit,” Tomey said. “We’ll have four or five that will be ready to play, but I couldn’t tell you who they are right now. I can’t stand here and say we have anybody that is James Jones.”

Jalal Beauchman caught two passes for 16 yards and Michael Hooper had three catches for 21 yards. Kevin Jurovich, a converted defender, and Colin Maher also are back. Of the newcomers, Kyle Flynn, a JUCO transfer, caught 44 passes last season. David Richmond caught 54 passes in JC ball last season. David Marrero, who graduated from Stanford last spring, was a returner and running back for the Cardinal.

Jeff Clark (8-85) leads the contingent at tight end. Battling for playing time are Julian Harris, who transferred from the University of San Diego, redshirt freshman John Koyne and Nick Marchini.

The Spartans return 11 offensive linemen, led by center Justin Paysinger, who was named to the Rimington Award watch list, and guard-tackle John Booker. Guard Ronnie Castillo, center Ryan Simone and tackle Bradis McGriff all started at least five games last year. Isaac Leatiota will battle for a starting job at right guard. Coming off the bench are tackles Jue Zusin and Chris Danser, and guard David Giesen.

“The offensive line will be much better because we are stronger,” said Tomey, who has been impressed with his team’s performance in the weightroom in the off-season.

The specialists are back. Waylon Prather averaged 44 yards a kick and place-kicker Jared Strubeck went 9-for-12 with a long of 48 yards. He was nearly automatic inside 40 yards.