Time to Take a Look at 2010

With a record of 1 – 4, and upcoming games at Fresno State and Boise State, the San Jose State Spartan football team faces the grim prospect of having their 2009 season record soon fall to 1 – 6. A 1 – 11 finish is not impossible, and many fans now expect no better than three wins on the year. Though the 2009 campaign is not yet half over, some are already looking to 2010.

So what do Spartan fans have to look forward to next year, other than another brutal out-of-conference schedule that features road games at Alabama, Wisconsin, and Utah? Is there any way to jolt the team from its current malaise? Is there anything that can be done this year to ensure 2010 is not another football disaster? Perhaps most importantly, what does it matter?

On offense, the Spartans will have a number of "skill" players returning. Running backs Lamon Muldrow and Brandon Rutley can be counted upon to provide one-two punch on the ground. Quarterback Jordan La Secla is gaining valuable experience this year, proving to be a cool and accurate passer with a deep ball, and can run a bit. Kevin Jurovich will be missed next year, but Marquis Avery will return, and Ryan Otten, at tight end, will be a sophomore.

But next year's offensive line, objectively, is already a problem area. SJSU will lose several seniors, including center Ronnie Castillo, and guards Steve Lightsy, Nathaniel Timo, and Garrett Faulconer. Returning as seniors will be guards Isaac Leatiota, Ailao Eliapo, Norman Romero, and tackles Fred Koloto, and John Konye. Robbie Reed will likely take over at center in his senior season.

The O-line has not been able to establish a Spartan running game for three years now. Many of the same linemen who have started for those three years return next year. It is not prudent to expect transformative improvement.

Defensively, SJSU loses many of its best linemen to graduation, including Carl Ihenacho, Liam Smith, Adonis Davis, and Kalvin Cressel. Defensive End Mohamed Marah, out with an early season injury, will return in 2010 by virtue of redshirting this season. Linebackers Justin Cole and Travis Jones are also in their last seasons for Sparta. And although Duke Ihanacho and Devin Newsome will return at the safety position, SJSU's young cornerbacks have, at times, struggled.

There are developing players who will fill some of the defensive vacancies, such as linebacker Pompey Festejo, and safety Tiuke Tuipulotu. Both have gotten significant playing time so far in 2009. Cornerback Brandon Driver should also be ready to join the team, after recovering from a knee injury that has kept him sideline so far in 2009. Ryno Gonzales is probably ready to step in at a linebacker right now.

San Jose State's athletic program depends on football to pay the bills. The 2009 season is causing some fans and supporters to question their loyalty and financial. The credibility of the athletic department and coaching staff is also coming under increasing fire, as the team has not lived up to its pre-season billings. And some fans are suggesting it is time to replace Head Coach Dick Tomey.

After making steady progress toward re-establishing Spartan Football, Athletic Director Tom Bowen simply cannot allow support developed during the Tomey years to evaporate. Spartan Foundation donations were down this year. Further erosion next year could again put Spartan football on the brink of oblivion, which threatens the entire Spartan athletic program – men's and women's programs alike. Less financial support means more "payday" games (Alabama, Wisconsin) which are proving unpopular with many fans. With the stakes so high, Bowen and Tomey really must do something to stop the hemorrhaging. But what?

Here are my suggestions. If I were SJSU Football King for a Day, this is what I'd do:

First, I'd scrap the 5 – 2 – 4 alignment on defense. It simply hasn't worked. SJSU's secondary can't tackle. At Saturday night's game against Idaho, there were several instances where the Spartan defender wrapped his arms around the opposing ball-carrier's shoulders, then got dragged for as many as eight to 10 yards without bringing him down.

I would go back to the 4 – 3 – 4, putting Ryno Gonzalez back on the field at linebacker. The defense could use his size and strength, and his fire. Duke Ihenacho and Pompey Festejo would be my starting safeties. Devin Newsome would move to corner. I'd continue to start Peyton Thompson at the other corner.

It's time to be realistic about 2009. It's a loss. I'd start getting our red-shirt freshmen and sophomore players more playing time. Sophomore Pablo Garcia is already getting time on the D-line, and I'd see that Vince Abbott does also. The O'Neil twins (Wade O'Neill and Kyler O'Neal) would also get a lot more time at linebacker.

Coach Tomey also needs to make his shopping list for 2010 recruits. Junior college transfers have been de-emphasized in recent years, but given the importance of football to the entire athletic program, SJSU should make some allowances for at least a year. Juco athletes who have good grades are eligible to transfer to a four-year college to complete their baccalaureates. Bringing in qualified reinforcements from regional community colleges should not offend the University's overall mission. Were I Bown and Tomey, I'd get President Whitmore's blessing on it, in advance.

Topping Coach's list should be interior linemen, both offensive and defensive. With so many good junior colleges in the region, finding about six capable studs (three for the offensive, three for the defense) should be possible. Coach should also look for another stand-out JC cornerback or transfer, as well as at least one wide receiver. That would be about eight JC transfers next year, which is a little higher than we've seen the last two or three years. But it would get some new blood into the moribund offensive line, as well as fill the gaps which will be left on defense. And Coach should still have enough scholarships to bring in several freshmen, and reward a few of his walk-ons.

Finally, I'd advise one or two coaches to plan on furthering their career. They probably know who they are. As for Coach Tomey, I'd wait and see how the 2010 season goes. Tapping an assistant now to succeed him does make some sense, as it would be good for recruiting and program continuity. But Coach Tomey has been too much of a class act, and done enough for SJSU, that he should not be rushed out. After a lifetime of coaching, I'm sure he knows how to find the door on his own.

So, in my book anyway, the 2009 season is done. There will be no bowl game, no conference championship, and no return to glory for Sparta this year. Using the remaining games to get younger players experience, with an eye on rebuilding (in a hurry) for 2010, not only helps put a competitive team on the field next year, but keeps those all-important season ticket holders and Spartan Foundation contributors interested.

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R. P. Cotta, Jr., is an Associate Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact R.P with any questions, comments, or tips at rpcottajr@insidesparta.com

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