One of the clear and certain pressures going into season two of the Brent Brennan era will be the quarterback development led by second year quarterback coach, Ryan Gunderson.
Last year saw uncertainty at the position and indecisiveness on who to start largely because no one was really separating themselves in the QB competition. Josh Love started the first two games primarily because he had the most experience until he was injured. Montel Aaron then picked up the reins until he suffered a knee injury against the Utah Utes and nearly everything in between was disastrous. In retrospect, Aaron could have and should have started from day one last season.
This year, it’s clearer than ever that so much is hinging on good QB play for San Jose State to have a chance at a good season. In particular, San Jose’s QB will need to certainly help sustain drives to help out the defense. And if you can imagine that happening, it means other good things are also happening and, of course, opposing possessions are being limited to help avoid those dreaded blowout losses.
Coach Gunderson will be working with new offensive coordinator, Kevin McGiven. At this point, the overall tone of the offense remains to be seen. McGiven, like many on the San Jose State coaching staff, are from the Corvallis connection that is Oregon State; and though some of the coaches are relatively young and new, including Gunderson who’s a youthful 33, others are well-experienced and well-respected. As it is now, most of the coaching staff has been together for only one season.
“It’s only been a year and half and as coaches, we’re still getting to know each other. We’re all still learning new things and continuing to get on the same page with coach Brennan in terms of terminology and teaching progressions,” asserted Gunderson. “We’re also learning what to expect from each other. We talk about anything and share anything that’s relevant. The entire point of the coaching staff is to have a symbiotic relationship and basically, it’s all a large part going into any game day.”
On any given game day, it’s then all about the players to see what’s stuck from the previous week’s preparation and game plan, so we start to get the whole picture. It also starts with the trust and investment in the players, but that cycle really emanates from recruiting.
“The first thing we hear about and see is talent, of course,” stated Coach Gunderson. “Do they have the traits physically and mentally? Then we also check off all the other things on that mental list of characteristics and qualities: How tough are they? Are they leaders? Are they involved in other sports? How are they in the weight room? We’re getting as much background as possible.”
“From there, we have to also assess if the recruit will be a good fit culturally at San Jose State, as well as the Silicon Valley,” added Gunderson. “No doubt if there are any kids motivated beyond success on the field, this is the place to be. If you think about it, this area provides what no other Mountain West team can offer anywhere in the U.S. and maybe even the entire world.”
On the field, coach Gunderson’s key goal is to get each quarterback comfortable and confident with all levels of the offense to where it becomes natural, so they have a chance to play as fast as possible by trusting their first instinct.
“I’m trying to teach and support them in a multitude of ways. Some of the guys learn visually or by repetition or by writing things out. Basically, we’ll try to expose them to a little bit of everything until something clicks,” expressed Gunderson. “In this process, like any coach, I’m observing many things from seeing how motivated they are, do their actions represent their goals and are they willing to put in the extra work to be great.”
As it’s certainly not yet a lock on who’ll be the starting QB, the corral of San Jose State Spartan quarterbacks span the range of styles, strength, capabilities and experience and Gunderson’s well-aware of his QB portfolio and what they can do.
“Tons of QB types around the nation have been successful and as coaches, it’s our job to call the sets of plays that fit the unique skill sets and talents of each player, especially the quarterback. Like anyone else, we’re going to adjust to the situation as we put the best QB out there,” said Gunderson. “We’re going to adapt and adjust to the most critical position in football and in all of sports.”
“We also got better this Spring and they are playing faster and more confidently, but at the same time, there’s still room to grow,” Gunderson added.
Such goals have underlying pressures, though you won’t hear it or feel it as an outsider coming into the Spartan facility and all said, every position has pressure to perform. Coach Gunderson just happens to be in charge of the most important position on the field that gets most of the attention.
“There’s always going to be pressures and worries and for any college program to do well, you have to have a good quarterback,” Gunderson interjected. “As far as dealing with pressure, it’s just part of the ongoing process that we all work on.”
“We have to also understand where the players want to be socially and academically,” Gunderson pronounced proudly. “There is awareness and plans to help them grow and mature to not just be great football players, but great human beings, students, employees, husbands and fathers.”
It’s enlightening to hear that head coach Brennan is trying to win at all levels that includes the overall well-being of the players. After this second interview with his staff, it’s more clear that a deeper philosophy of winning goes far beyond the game. Most of us will still demand those wins, of course, to keep it all going, but it’s good to know there’s also a high priority for players to get life perspectives and opportunities off the field, where ultimately, it matters most.
Thank you to San Jose State, coach Ryan Gunderson and Athletics Media Relations Director, Lawrence Fan for the access, candidness and hospitality.