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Sac State hopes new facilities can entice local talent to stay and play
As he rebuilds a college football program, Marshall Sperbeck sees signs of progress.
The new $11 million Broad Fieldhouse gives the second-year Sacramento State coach a spacious office with a view, something he didn’t have last season. Downstairs, the locker room is much improved and the weight room gives the Hornets something they can show recruits without being embarrassed.
Better facilities should help Sperbeck’s vow to build a strong local recruiting base. Already, there are more local players on the roster – 26 from the Sacramento area, and another 30 from within roughly a two-hour drive.
That’s a big jump from the 17 Sacramento-area players, plus 18 others within two hours, on the 2007 roster, or the 13 locals and 15 others within two hours on the 2006 team, Steve Mooshagian’s last as head coach.
“It will help tremendously in recruiting,” Sperbeck said of the fieldhouse, which sits just southwest of Hornet Stadium and houses the football and track offices.
“It certainly has given our kids a sense of pride. … We feel like our facilities are up to speed with anyone in our conference now.”
Which Sperbeck emphasizes as he tries to keep local talent home.
“There’s some very good football,” said Sperbeck, whose team opens the season againt Humboldt State on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. at Hornet Stadium. “The fact they’re close is going to bring more people to games, more notoriety to our program. I see it already working.
“I think it creates a sense of unity within your team when you have that many guys that know each other. Pretty soon it becomes the popular thing to go to Sacramento State because a lot of other guys are doing it. It can be contagious.”
So can winning. The Hornets went 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference in Sperbeck’s first season. With quarterback Jason Smith and running back Bryan Hilliard, both sophomores, back and senior preseason all-Big Sky tackle Ray Navar anchoring a solid line, the offense should be improved from a unit that finished last in the league in total offense last season.
“Our offensive line was kind of a patchwork deal last year, where we had to put together tight ends and a JC transfer that was a nose guard,” Sperbeck said. “Now we have real offensive linemen.”
Smith, who held off UCLA transfer McLeod Bethel- Thompson to keep his starting job, completed 162 of 303 passes for 1,826 yards, 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2007. He’ll have a familiar target in senior Tony Washington, who caught 29 passes for 414 yards and three scores.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Hilliard showed major potential in averaging 5.4 yards per carry and running for 826 yards and seven touchdowns last season. But sophomore Evander Wilkins has made a big push for the starting job in camp.
The defense lost all four starters up front and everyone in the secondary, leaving standout senior linebackers Cyrus Mulitalo, Mike Brannon and Mike Hickman to carry a heavy load. Mulitalo, who recorded 98 tackles last season, and Brannon, who registered 9 1/2 sacks, earned preseason all-Big Sky and All-America honors.
Sophomore Christian Clark and junior Bill Sherman should help at tackle. Redshirt freshman Zack Nash and Sierra College transfer Kevin Moore head the defensive end candidates.
Senior cornerback Kevin Davis is the most experienced hand in the secondary. Community college transfer Michael Casper and freshman Jeff Johnson will push for time on the corners; junior Dorian Brown, sophomore Peter Buck and senior Matt Evans should all play at safety.
The schedule includes home games against Division II Humboldt State and NAIA member Southern Oregon, trips to Colorado State and UC Davis and eight Big Sky contests.
“I really think in Year Two, a winning season,” Sperbeck said. “I think that’s got to be a top priority.
“I really think if we’re able to stay healthy and continue working hard and stay together as a team and develop from week to week, I think we can be pretty good.”
Mulitalo said he expects the Hornets to contend for a Big Sky championship.
“My motto I kind of force upon the team: Playoffs or bust,” he said.
2007 record: 3-8 overall, 3-5 Big Sky Conference.
Coach: Marshall Sperbeck, 3-8, second season.
Key losses: DT Dallas Mauga, DT Chris Hurts, DE Blaine Jackson, DE James Henderson, S Brent Webber, S Brett Shelton, CB Jody Johnson, WR Ryan Coogler, RB Travon Jones, C Kyle Leitzke.
Key returners: LBs Cyrus Mulitalo, Mike Brannon and Mike Hickman, RB Bryan Hilliard, QB Jason Smith, WR Tony Washington, T Ray Navar, G Matt Lemley, K Juan Gamboa.
Picked to finish in Big Sky: Seventh by coaches, eighth by media.
Hornets on offense: Sac State should be much improved. Smith and Hilliard have a year’s experience, Washington heads a deep receiving corps and the line should be solid. But big-play capability appears limited.
Hornets on defense: LBs Mulitalo, Brannan and Hickman form a terrific trio. But the Hornets lost all four starters up front and everyone in the secondary. A mix of returning reserves and fresh faces will have to step up, or this unit could be on the field for long stretches.
Scouting the Hornets: A young but improving offense, a defense led by three standouts but saddled with plenty of question marks and a softer schedule probably adds up to something close to a .500 season.
By John Schumacher