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Spartan spring football report: Be surprised, very surprised

April 2023: a month of enticing energy and enthusiasm

photo by: Vic Aquino

More often than not, you have to see things with your own eyes and get first-hand accounts of what’s happening on the ground and not just what you see and hear on your screens.

For San Jose State, April practices were a nice, nice surprise. With no real expectation except to show up and observe, observe, observe; there was plenty of promise and potential each week. Some players kept popping up and some new names had the expected buzz, while the rest of the proven stalwarts didn’t have to overexert too much of themselves in April.


Starting his seventh year as head coach, Brent Brennan and staff can now fully say they have the foundation and culture fully in place, as Brennan and his program have a reputation that now precedes them.

With the normal attrition and churn, along with the multi-year Covid-effect, let’s also call year seven a completely new cycle.

And to help bring in the new and out with the old, the Dallas Cowboys drafted an ultimate Spartan in edge rusher Viliami Fehoko, who was picked 129th overall in the fourth round on Saturday. Fehoko’s complete growth cycle at San Jose State was text-book developmental success for the program.

The 2022 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year is versatile; probably moreso than the conference saw. Fehoko could roam along the line on the strong side or inside to cause havoc with his extraordinary strength and good speed.

With Dallas, Fehoko joins Pro Bowler and cousin Tampa Bay Buccaneer DT Vita Vea in the NFL.

Another prideful Spartan, receiver Elijah Cooks signed onto the Jacksonville Jaguars as an UDFA (undrafted free agent). Cooks is a big, fast and athletic receiver who produces and has a great Spartan attitude; meaning Cooks has a big upside with more to learn under the right NFL tutelage – much like his former Nevada counterpart Romeo Dubbs at Green Bay.

Both Fehoko and Cooks embody a program spirit defined by family and brotherhood in its most literal sense – quite counter to the faithless ways of the transfer portal.

Coming into this season, the obvious areas people would look at are the groups with the biggest name voids.


But over and over again during spring practices, the defense was high energy. Perhaps it was youthful energy and new blood excitement. Nonetheless, there’s still experience and swarminess written all over what should be a signature 3-4 Derrick Odum defense.

Over the last few weeks, a few new and still new names were indicative of a lively and experienced defense. From great inside coverage interceptions by Zavion Reese (17) to batted down passes by Jaylan Lawson (5) to ultra-quick-hard-hitting by Tavarius Pitts (40), Anthony Madrigal (55) and Jordan Pollard (10) to a couple Jenkins enforcer brothers in the secondary, this Spartan defense should be able to start fast like last year with the strong hope to sustain and not lose momentum as the season progresses.

Overall, the Spartans still look to have defensive depth, which includes DLs Noah Lavulo (4), Soane Toia (42) and LB Mr. Jordan Cobbs (44) and a fast, physical secondary.

Linebacker coach and special team coordinator Scott White also shared his affinity in Ethan Powell (26). Powell may be one of the fastest on the team, though also White sees raw ability that can be molded into something special.

Some should recall quarterback Natano Woods. If not, one should recall #92, which was retired defensive end Cade Hall’s number. Woods now sports 92 and will be pursuing quarterbacks as a defensive end.

LB Jaylen Lawson (5) batting down a pass by Tyler Voss (10), April 29, 2023
photo by: Vic Aquino


Quarterbacks, check. Tight ends, check. Offensive line, check. Running backs and wide receivers were mostly the unknown areas to keep an eye on.

OC Kevin McGiven probably has his most talented stable of quarterbacks since he’s been at SJS.

With a well-proven Chevan Cordeiro (2) still looking to be the top gun, the competition is right on his heels. Tyler Voss (10) has shown an extraordinary arm; making every throw with his second baseman-like arm delivery. Walker Eget (5) has also dropped long and short dimes more often than not. And then there’s 6’6” 220 lb. Oregon QB transfer Jay Butterfield throwing an assortment of lasers and darts. What a great problem for McGiven to have.

The tight ends group may also be coach Matt Adkins best group ever - perhaps even so far to say the best tight ends group in the MWC. They’re all big, quick and mobile tight ends who look interchangeable. From experienced Dominick Mazotti (81), Jackson Canaan (85), and Skyler Loving-Black (86), there’s also freshmen Joshua Scott (84) and Nate Lewis (89). It’s a formidable group that should expect a lot of action, as in years where Josh Oliver and Derrick Deese Jr. caused chaos in the middle.

At the receiver spots, Justin Lockhart (11), Charles Ross (4), Malikhi Miller (12) and Nick Nash (3) are the most experienced who should be the main rotation. But if one were predicting, as in the past Brennan years that saw Bailey Gaither, Tre Walker and Cooks, of course, there’s a question on who the go-to receiver will be at this point.

In Nash, he is the all-purpose athlete and former QB who looks to be more natural as a receiver. Nash is running good routes with good speed and is making great catches this spring. Redshirt freshman Cieonta Davis caught some eyes as well with some “easy” one-handed catches. So there’s heavy potential all around.

The running game for the Spartans has historically been cloudy but with a share of meatballs (in the sincerest sense:). Earlier years saw the likes of Tyler Nevens and Dejon Packer providing the running punch. Currently, it’s cannonball Kairee Robinson (32) expected to carry the torch. With 752 yards rushing in 2022 and 10 TDs, Robinson’s style and trajectory should make him fun to watch this year. Though this spring, you’re not going to see too, too much of Robinson.

Coming close onto Robinson’s heels, RB coach Alonso Carter has a very vibrant group of fast, quick, powerful and compact runners, who look to be bursting out plays every practice. Utah Tech transfer Quali Conley (7) and Montana State transfer Isaiah Ifanse (22), along with redshirt freshman Jabari Bates (20) have been electric.

The offensive line, and any line play actually, has always been the most difficult to assess at practices. It’s the most challenging group to watch, because they have to play as a tight knit group for things to work consistently. Most people only notice when an individual gets beat and not the minutia of their craft: hand technique, footwork, positioning for run vs. pass protection, etc.

OL coach Josh Oglesby, or any OL coach, probably has the hardest job to create and sustain continuity with the entire OL roster, which looks to be up to 20 guys. With experience coming from the likes of Jaime Navarro (54), Tyler Olstrom (71), Fernando Carmona (79), Jake Steele (78), James McNorton (65), Marist Talavou (61) and Anthony Pardue (74), the expectation this year is certainly to be solid. What you can also see are the younger guys able to layer in for multiple years of good trench play from just gaining experience.

photo by: Vic Aquino

The kicking game

Kicking might be the easiest to assess for the novice watchman. How well and how easy the ball pops off the foot on a consistent basis is a given. Hawaii transfer Kyler Halvorsen (11), Taren Schive (49), Dino Beslagic (39) and punter Alex Weir (99) aren’t showing any obvious kinks in what should be an effective kicking game this season.

Long snapper Andrew Gonneville (51)
photo by: Vic Aquino

May 6 spring game

If you choose not to show up on the afternoon of May 6th to watch the spring game (and activities), trust this assessment provides you a brief insight on what to expect for the 2023-2024 season. Excitement and a winning season to say the least.

Basically, every spring Saturday practice has had the spring game aura. Junior day this past Saturday saw over 200 recruits, family and coaches enjoying perfect weather, Hawaiian reggae and the Spartan experience (even basketball head coach Tim Miles made an appearance).

If you do choose to go next Saturday, know that you’ll experience an oasis of spirit, excitement, family and brotherhood – and to say the least, a good team this season. It’s everything the over-the-top, glitzy college football world is not - real from the bottom up and the top down.

Brent Brennan and Kenyon Reed (7) share a moment
photo by: Vic Aquino