“Rule of thirds” is a long-known photography guideline to place your subject in the left or right third of the frame for a well-composed shot. It’s merely a suggestion.
The Spartans expanded that concept in real-time taking their spring scrimmage event to another level worthy of big and small memories, honoring a legacy and getting people truly excited in what was the last FBS spring scrimmage in the nation.
The first two thirds of the Saturday event could be seemingly unappreciated, but each were profound in its own way.
Leading and learning by example
Firstly, dozens of elementary school age kids took part in a makeshift mini-camp where kids were broken into age groups rotating to skill stations manned by the players. Funny enough, many of the players taking on the persona of the coaches who coach them every day and kids listening to their every word of encouragement and guidance.
The faux competition with and against the players could just as much be real competition to the kids. Unabashed effort and intensity with some violent high fives.
As some of the kids were responding to the adjustments and took it seriously, for others, it was a worthy accomplishment to be out there. Their shyness and confidence still building, these are little building block moments the Spartans are offering.
It’s the continuous brand building any program should do for its local community (for any of our heartless MWC audience that’s the takeaway).
Possibly, it’s “Shielding the Bay” at its earliest stages - the old mantra for SJSU recruiting efforts in the area, where one exuberant kid was overheard, “When I play here, I’m going to set all kinds of records.”
On a different note, observing the Utah State softball team walking in between the event festivities, a few kids simply said, “Hi!” with a hearty wave; which seemed to impress the Aggies. “Wow, this is cool. They’re having a lot of fun today,” overheard from an Aggie. A little obscure thing that says a lot.
Remembering, honoring, memorializing
Secondly, on the first third of the CEFCU stadium floor in the north end zone, a stage and social area hosted the late Lawrence Fan’s induction to SJSU’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Fan is the 40+ year Spartan stalwart sports information director whose indelible work is etched in the memories of generations of Spartans and sports administrations around the nation.
From one legend to another, activist Dr. Harry Edwards shared his admiration and many salient memories the two shared and created. The famous orator and sociologist on race, sports and societal connections placed Fan in the highest regards as an ultimate human being of care, responsibility and hard work – going so far as suggesting that an area or building be named in Fan’s honor.
Spartan head coach Brent Brennan also shared Fan’s humorous yet memorable media training methods and admiration of one who epitomized a universal Spartan spirit.
A scrimmage that symbolized a highly energetic spring
The last third of the spring scrimmage event we’ll present in a Q&A fashion with the voice of Spartan football Justin Allegri along with QB Chevan Cordeiro and LB Jordan Cobbs.
Last week’s article on the Spartan’s May practices should also help round out the spring sessions.
How serious or not should we take these spring scrimmage games?
I always go into the spring game with an open mind. I don’t want to over evaluate or pump up too much of any one part or person or group. I don’t want to say, “Oh, the defense was so dominant, but does that mean the offense wasn’t that good? Or our wide receivers were great but what does it say about our secondary?” I just ask myself how are our guys looking in terms of moving fast or how quick they come out of their cuts or are they reading plays and formation right. Those things are what I like to look at.
Overall, the energy was just great. You can tell the guys like playing with each other and being around with each other. Add a good crowd and good energy from them, yes, I felt all the guys enjoyed it. And yes, I’ve felt the energy all spring.
Where does the team need improvement or fill holes in your eyes?
This is the first year in several years, where you have to talk about the defensive line and say, we have to replace a lot there and that’s a part of the Spartans we didn’t have to think about for the last four years or so. I think there’s a lot of options there and the depth is there and it helps when you have guys who had a lot of snaps from last season who hopefully fill in those starting roles this year. Then you have a new guys like Natano Woods who hasn’t played there and Soane Toia who didn’t play this spring, who’s definitely someone to look for, along with Trey Smith. So, how are these guys going to play as they learn their positions? How are they adapting and trending? You can’t really evaluate until the real games start.
Who do you like or what’s sticking out to you at this point?
I like the linebackers. They’re gritty, physical and tough and hungry for starting time. They will be a fun group to watch. The secondary returns the most on defense. I’m not too worried about them - everyone is back who can be a contributing factor. I do think the team wants to hang their hat on defense, but they equally want to clean things up on offense to help the defense more.
One other big takeaway with what I was looking for in the spring game was who’s going to join Kairee Robinson at the running back position. Kairee is great and can do a lot but he’s also going to need a breather now and then. I really enjoyed watching Quali Conley this spring. In terms of his size and build and to someone who’s done it well before, he should be a lot of fun to watch because he can be a guy who can run between the tackles for those one or two yards when you need to. He should help coach Brennan decide when those decisions need to be made. I’d slot him as that number two right now. But there are other guys who can still factor into that.
How’ve you been with all considering?
I’m going through a whole bunch of rehab to make sure I can get back by the summer to get back with them team. So, I’m just working and grinding (Cobbs is rehabbing from a season-ending injury last year).
Some here talk about the little things being important. What does that mean to you?
Our main focus is making sure to expand and excel and much as possible. We need to capitalize on all the extra work we can do such as weight training and any extra work that helps us compete, especially against bigger teams. We have an extra hard schedule this year and we have to focus a lot on that extra work to make sure that we’re prepared.
Also, someone like coach Carrol, our new strength coordinator. He’s amazing in helping us get ready and preparing our bodies to handle this much load and work. By the time fall camp comes, I really feel we’ll be ready to go full steam ahead.
This roster has done about a complete cycle and people out there are unsure what to expect
We have a group that loves football and that’s what I love. You can’t teach that. You can’t recruit that. So to say we got a group of guys that loves to play football is beyond everything else, because if you don’t really love the game and you know it’s hard to come out here everyday, it’s just great to see and feel that love for the game. Love conquers all.
How would you differentiate last season coming into this season for yourself?
Compared to last year, I was still in the process of really learning the offense. This year, I’m definitely starting off more comfortable with the offense. It’s more about getting on the same page with the receivers, getting better with understanding my protections and just learning more of the small things compared to just the offense as a whole. And during this spring, yes, I feel I got better at more of the small things and yes, I do feel like I’m more ready than last year.
What strikes you the most this spring from what you’ve seen so far?
My O-line. They gelled fast and they strive to get better as a unit. My running backs and receivers are up there too. Nick (Nash) is really standing out, as well as Justin (Lockhart) and Charles (Ross). I feel like we’re all gelling together and already playing as one.
What’s the general plan for you between spring practices and fall camp?
Just continue to study my plays and get stronger and bigger. I do think I have to get bigger so I can withstand through the season better, but just continue to learn the small things so when fall camp comes so I can hit the ground running and hit that next level.
A big intangible this spring was that the positive vibe and energy was high and consistent the last five weeks. It can only be equated to more intangibles: new blood, youthful energy, a lively presence, new best friends and lots of love and excitement for just being able to play the game, as Cobbs also noted and felt.
Though we’re still unsure of the collective product we’re going to see on the field, you can count on this team playing with a giant chip on its shoulder.
Fall camp starts at the end of July for the Spartans where we will again get curiouser and curiouser.