Five Breakout Players For 2009

Inside Sparta continues its series of articles, leading up to the start of the 2009 season. Each article in the series covers five aspects of the team. Previously we looked at five team weaknesses for this season. In this edition we take a look at five playert that may have breakout performances in 2009.

Each season, it can be counted on that certain players will emerge from the pack of anonymity with breakout performances. In 2006 the San Jose State Spartans saw Dwight Lowery, a little known junior college transfer player, become a 1st Team All-American. In 2007, Kevin Jurovich, a back-up defensive safety that nearly gave up football entirely, switched to wide receiver and broke the school's single season reception record on his way to an All-WAC season. Last year, Jarron Gilbert, a one-time walk-on defensive lineman, found himself as a 3rd Round NFL Draft selection after leading the entire nation in tackles-for-loss, and being named WAC Co-Defensive Player Of The Year. While it remains to be seen whether any of the current anonymous San Jose State players will be awarded the same level of accolades bestowed upon Lowery, Jurovich, and Gilbert, there will no doubt be a handful of players that will become household names, at least in the homes of Spartans fans. Listed, in no particular order, are five candidates that Inside Sparta feels could have a breakout season for the Spartans.

1. Tight End Ryan Otten
With the injury to projected starting tight end Terrence Williams in the first full scrimmage of the fall 2009 camp, Ryan Otten went from just being a redshirt freshman vying for playing time to the tight end with the most experience in San Jose State's offense. Otten spent the entire 2008 season playing on the scout team for the Spartans, which is more than either of the other two tight ends on the roster can claim. Both Avelino Valencia and Chris Bryant are recent junior college transfer players, with Bryant expected to join the team this week. Watching Otten in practices last spring, it's easy to see why Head Coach Dick Tomey immediately decided to offer him a scholarship after watching highlight film of him playing for Del Oro High School in Loomis, Calif. Otten, at 6-foot-5, not only provides a big target, he has the speed to separate from opposing linebackers, and tremendous athletic ability that allows him to make difficult catches. Additionally he has added 20 lbs since last season, and now weighs in at 235 pounds. In San Jose State's offense last season, the second leading receiver for the Spartans was tight end Jeff Clark. That is not expected to be the case in 2009. Still, look for Otten to play a large role in the San Jose State passing game.

2. Offensive Guard Ailao Eliapo
As a true freshman out of South San Francisco High School in 2007, Ailao Eliapo played in 10 games for the Spartans as a defensive tackle. Last season he switched to offensive guard, and was the only offensive lineman to start in all 12 of the Spartans' games. In 2005, he was a First Team Cal-Hi All-State selection. Despite his extreme size, 6-foot-3 and 320-pounds, Eliapo has good foot speed and technique. The publication Phil Steele's College Football projected Eliapo to be a Second Team All-WAC right guard in the 2009 edition. Eliapo will be critical to the return of a viable run game to the Spartans' offense in 2009.

3. Cornerback Peyton Thompson
As a true freshman last season, Peyton Thompson was a Special Teams standout, predominantly on kick coverage. This season, much, much more is being asked of him. Both he and fellow sophomore Alex Germany are replacing NFL Draft selections Coye Francies and Christopher Owens at the cornerback spots. The San Jose State coaching staff has enough confidence in Thompson and Germany that they are not moving the more experienced Devin Newsome back to cornerback from safety. Thompson looked good during the spring drills, and has been even better in the early fall. He has tremendous athleticism and a quiet confidence that will mold him into being a team leader down the road.

4. Defensive Back Ronnie Yell
Coach Tomey recently stated that his staff was not expecting nor requiring any of the new freshmen this season to become major role players in 2009. In an ideal world, all of them would redshirt this year. That will probably be the case for most of them. If there is one true freshman that is more likely to see playing time in 2009, it is probably Ronnie Yell. A 5-foot-9, 160-pound defensive back from San Diego, Calif. Yell played both quarterback and defensive back for Lincoln High School, where he threw for 17 touchdowns and ran for five more on his way to being an All C.I.F. San Diego Section pick. Over the summer, Yell was named South MVP in the Alex Spanos All-Star Classic, which showcases the top high school seniors in the San Diego area, after running for a 71-yard touchdown. Since arriving at San Jose State, Yell has been receiving a lot of attention from defensive backs coach Keith Burns. Additionally, Yell has been lining up as a punt returner. Despite his size, it appears that Yell tremendous speed will make him the leading freshman candidate to see extensive playing time in 2009.

5. Offensive Tackle Andres Vargas
Like tight end Ryan Otten, Andres Vargas will be stepping into a starting role on the San Jose State offense, due in part to an injury to a teammate. Senior Jon Moreno was thought to be the starting right tackle for the Spartans before suffering a torn pectoral muscle the week before the start of fall camp. However, as Coach Tomey recently pointed out in an interview, the coaches had Moreno and Vargas rated dead even for the starting position. It's possible Vargas might have won the starting spot anyway, even had Moreno not been injured. Vargas has the benefit of having a redshirt year in 2007. Last season he appeared in five games for the Spartans as a reserve. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Vargas was an All-West Catholic Athletic League selection at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif. as both an offensive lineman, and as a 285 pound wrestler for the Lancers. Now only a sophomore, it appears Vargas has a great future on the San Jose State offensive line.

Previous articles in the series:

Five Pressing Questions For Fall 2009 Camp

Five Team Strnghts For 2009

Five Team Weaknesses For 2009

Mike Morgan is a Senior Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Mike with any questions, comments, or tips at

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