Spartan Football Spring Practice Report....

The Spartan football team began spring practices last week, attempting to fill several offensive vacancies, as well as welcoming a few new faces to the defensive side of the ball.

Head coach Fitz Hill said one of the biggest holes the team needs to fill is at quarterback, a position held by Scott Rislov for the past two seasons.

The leading candidates for the position, Hill said, are last season's backups, seniors Beau Pierce and Dale Rodgers, who have more experience working in Hill's offense. Hill said Adam Tafalis and J.P. Greco are also in consideration for the starting job.

"We've lost a lot of experience," Hill said. "But we've also gained a lot of athleticism at the quarterback position."

Along with Rislov, starting wide receivers Tuati Wooden, Kendrick Starling and Jamall Broussard have all played their final games for the Spartans.

Hill said two wide receivers, Rufus Skillern and Jamall's younger brother John Broussard, will be expected to carry most of the weight on their shoulders.

Hill said John Broussard, who may end up taking over his brother's old spot, brings unmatched speed to the offense.

"If there is anyone faster than John Broussard, it'll be scary," Hill said.

The Spartans will also be without the tight end tandem of Courtney Anderson and Leon Pinky, who caught a combined 13 touchdowns last season.

Pinky did have years remaining on his eligibility but decided he did not want to come back to the team after the end of last season.

The offensive line will be without starters LaMons Walker and co-captain Joe Hayes, something Hill said hurts the team in a big way since the Spartans will concentrate on a running game this season.

Hill said the Spartans have five quality backs who will be the focal point of the offense in 2004.

Tailback Lance Martin said he's ready for the opportunity to be in a run-oriented offense.

"I've been waiting to run the ball a long time," Martin said. "We've mostly been a passing offense, so I'm just happy we'll be running the ball now."

Hill said tailback Lamar Ferguson will be back for the Spartans in 2004 after missing the majority of the 2003 season with a knee injury.

Joining Martin and Ferguson at tailback will be new addition Tyson Thompson, who Hill said can make a big difference this season.

"Tyson Thompson is a quality running back," Hill said. "And since we've had Lamar Ferguson back, I've realized just how valuable he is to this running game."

The Blue Shirts:

The Spartan defense is also welcoming in new faces, including Ezekiel Staples, who will be trading in his white offensive practice jersey for a blue defensive one.

Staples, who has spent the past two seasons as a fullback for the Spartans, will now be a linebacker, possibly taking over for departed senior Paul Okumu, Hill said.

Staples said the transition over to defense hasn't been too hard but added he is still making little mistakes.

"It's been fun," Staples said. "It's hard sometimes, and sometimes I'll still mess up here and there. It's fun going against the big boys (offensive linemen). They used to block for me, and now they're trying to get me."

The defense will also have a new face at coordinator in 2004.

Keith Burns will be taking over as defensive coordinator for Chris Wilkerson, but Hill said the defensive scheme won't be much different from last season.

Burns took last season off from coaching after spending the 2000 to 2002 seasons as head coach at the University of Tulsa, one of San Jose State University's Western Athletic Conference opponents. He said he's enjoyed every minute being out on the field again.

"This is great," Burns said. "I had a chance to sit out a year and watch football, and I learned a lot, but the thing I learned the most is how much I love this game."

This isn't the first time Hill and Burns have been on the same sideline. They were both assistants at the University of Arkansas where Hill, the wide receivers coach, would work directly with Burns, who was the defensive backs coach.

Both coaches said they used to have their little chess games on the field back in Arkansas and love the opportunity to do the same now with the Spartans.

"I'm an offensive guy, and Keith's a defensive guy," Hill said. "I've had fun going head-to-head with him again."

Burns said it was the opportunity to work with Hill again that brought him to the Spartans.

"When I decided to get back into it, the No. 1 priority was to go with somebody I've loved and trusted and believed in," Burns said. "There's no doubt in my mind that one of those guys is Fitz Hill. I've always admired his faith and consistency."

Burns will be without two of last year's defensive captains - safety Gerald Jones, who led the team with eight interceptions, and defensive lineman Philip Perry.

However, the Spartans will have safety Josh Powell back to replace Jones after missing the majority of last season with an injured ankle.

The defense will also be returning several starters in the secondary, including Eric Wilson and Trestin George, who made two interceptions and returned a kick for a touchdown last season.

The Spartans will also be returning many defensive linemen who saw playing time last season, including Sean McNamara, Tony Ficklin, Kinji Green and Larnell Ransom.

John Broussard said on a team with several athletes, the defensive linemen stand out.

"We've got a lot of athletes on this team" Broussard said. "Our defensive linemen are some of the best athletes on the team. They're running fast, jumping high and strong, too. They just do everything."

Hill said the one thing this team has over any other he's seen as the Spartans head coach is "pure athleticism."

"Top to bottom, this is the most athletic team we've had since I've been here," Hill said.

(*) Spring practice wraped up with the annual Spring Game last week on April 24th at Spartan Stadium.

Inside TheSpartans Top Stories