As San Diego State’s 2022 roster now battles it out in Spring Camp, we will see for the first time the additions of new players over the next few weeks. The Aztecs look to build on last years success and field a team capable of once again competing for a Mountain West title under coach Brady Hoke’s third season.
The Aztecs signed 17 prep players to join the nation’s 25th ranked football team and have also added 5 new student-athletes from the transfer portal. These 22 newcomers will figure into the staff’s plans in 2022 and some beyond.
Listen to our full Sons of Montezuma – SDSU Football Recruiting Podcast Episode here!
However, when we think of newcomers, we also take into consideration guys on the team who may have either redshirted last season or perhaps will be stepping up into a position with more playing time than ever before in their time at State.
We’ve narrowed our list down to the 10 we believe could be difference makers in 2022. This is a very young and excitable team this upcoming season. So without further ado, this is our Sons of Montezuma ten biggest impact newcomers for 2022.
10. JACK BROWNING, PUNTER/KICKER
Following in the steps of an immortal is not the easiest of tasks. But that is exactly what Jack Browning is attempting to do when he competes for the right to replace the PUNT GOD, Matt Araiza. Already a special team starter as the holder for field goal kicks, Jack is looking to rise up to the full time kicker position. Coming out of Lakeside, CA, Browning actually did hold down both duties during his one season at Grossmont JC and was 4-for-6 (.667) in field goal attempts with a long of 38 yards, while making 14 of his 16 PATs (.875). According to GoAztecs.com, Jack also punted 60 times for 2,291 yards (38.2 avg.) with a long of 69 yards. These numbers are a few years removed from where we are now, so hopefully the workouts and training he’s undergone the last few years will increase these possibilities. There will be competition from Collyn Hopkins and David Delgado for each position, but only Jack has shown to be cool under pressure with the dynamic fake field goal rushing touchdown vs Hawaii last season.
9. JAY RUDOLPH, TIGHT END
Now we know what you’re thinking. Jay Rudolph is not a newcomer. We may agree with you on that. But it’s still not going to stop us from adding Jay to the list. With NFL expected draftee Dan Bellinger leaving a big void in the tight end room, there are plenty of young talented guys to step in and make up the difference. Rudolph just happens to be our pick for the one that will make the most immediate impact. Utilized already in blocking situations, it will be interesting to see if Jay will get some targets moving forward. Either way the run game will need heavy doses of Jay being a people mover and creating options for the Aztecs running backs to attack from. Perhaps opening up some other creative ways to get Jay some touches will make him a bit more of a name to focus on moving forward.
8. COOPER MCDONALD, LINEBACKER (WASHINGTON TRANSFER)
Cooper joins the Aztecs team as a transfer from a Washington Huskies program that dumped their coach in the off season. This opened up the opportunity for this talented linebacker to join his older brother and team captain Caden McDonald. When asked in our latest episode of the Sons of Montezuma Podcast, Cooper was asked how his style of play was. His response was, “me and Caden play at full speed all the time. We only have one speed!” In fact, Caden admitted, “Coop is a little bigger than I am, so he can handle the offensive lineman a little better”. The 6’3″ 245 lb Texan was able to get quite a bit of starting experience this past season on the Huskies, and although he is still learning the intricacies of the Aztecs 3-3-5 defense, the natural gifts and instincts are there for Coop and we will be there for all of it.
7. MEKHI SHAW, WIDE RECEIVER
Mekhi Shaw comes in on our ranking as a very peculiar player. A lot of complimentary talk has been given to Mekhi from players and coaches alike. Last season as a walk on, Shaw earned a starting lineup spot one game for his hard work in practice week. The local high school product, Mekhi was invited to the SDFNL’s high school all star game. But while he couldn’t attend that day, it demonstrated how Shaw had flown under the radar of many D1 programs. To get here to SDSU he has had to walk on first. Once you look passed Jesse Matthews and Tyrell Shavers you realize SDSU’s receiving corps is very young and inexperienced. This sets up the perfect opportunity for someone to step in and be the third option of attack there. When we spoke with Jesse Matthews on our Sons of Montezuma Podcast Spring Ball Preview, Mekhi was at the top of Jesse’s list of young receivers who should make an impact. “He reminds me a lot of myself. Pretty quiet kid, but really good ball skills and really natural feel for the position.” Matthews said. And who are we to disagree with Jesse Matthews.
6. JOSH SIMMONS, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
Not much has been said or is known when it comes to one of the highest rated recruits to come to the SDSU football program. Josh Simmons makes our list strictly for the intrigue of his potential and the open opportunities to stake claims on the offensive line this season. Redshirting last season and being developed by strength coach Adam Hall and offensive line coach Mike Goff for a whole year, hopefully has led to a quick burst out of the gates with his development. A consensus four-star recruit by Rivals, 247sports and ESPN, Josh Simmons will make his impact on the line—it’s only a matter of time.
5. CADE BENNET, OFFENSIVE LINE
Sticking with the offensive line is about the right place to be when it comes to newcomer impact. The Aztecs are seeking to fill 3 starting roster spots from last years team. Gone is bulldozer Billy Dunkle, team captain Zach Thomas, Desmond Bessent, Dominic Gudino and starter Chris Martinez. Incoming Oklahoma State transfer Cade Bennett inserts himself into the mix after two seasons in Stillwater. Bennett started in two games last season, one being the bowl game. Rated as one of the top offensive lineman in the 2020 class to come out of the state of Arizona, Cade will have every opportunity to show he can bring his Big12 potential to the Aztecs offensive system. The spots are open for the taking to join Alama Uluave and Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson to help solidify the line this year.
4. JAYLON ARMSTEAD, RUNNING BACK
Almost half of the Aztecs running back room from last year’s stacked lineup is gone. (Greg Bell, Kaegun Williams) Returning are two super seniors, Chance Bell and Jordan Byrd. Neither remaining option has proven themselves to be an every down back—But let’s be honest, does such a thing exist anymore? Well if it does, it could possibly be in 5’11” 220 lbs Jaylon Armstead. The sophomore running back fits the big bodied type of bruiser coach Hoke wants in his backfield. Some glimpses of action last year revealed the dragging power and twitchy quickness that Jaylon can bring in order to keep the chains moving for the Aztecs offense. Though we can’t truly compare Jaylon to any previous Aztecs running back style wise, we can definitely see the effectiveness being on par to the tough running production of a sir Adam Muema. Look for plenty of opportunities for Armstead to compete for the starting spot this upcoming season.
3. WILL HASKELL JR., QUARTERBACK
The undeniable athleticism of Will Haskell Jr. has been on display for Aztecs nation even before he touched down on the Mesa. Last season’s QB struggles had many fans ‘Haskelling’ for an early start and a burning of his redshirt freshman season. Neither of those took place in 2021. But we did get a few glimpses of the promise Will has to his game. This 2022 season features perhaps the most interesting position battle at the quarterback position and Haskell will square off firmly in the middle of it. However, no matter who takes the QB1 spot for the Red & Black, if there’s one thing we know about much of football, it’s that a team must have at least two capable QBs to use in a season. With Will there’s no downside to either spot on the depth chart he finds himself in. With the redshirt no longer a factor, Will can either earn the starting QB spot and gain incredibly valuable reps, or he can elevate himself each day by learning the nuances of the position with still 3 full seasons of eligibility. Sharpening Will’s abilities with healthy competition for the starting spot this year is the best position a young QB can find himself in. The same can be said of the Aztecs as well.
2. JUSTUS TAVAI, DEFENSIVE LINE
After just one day in spring camp coach Hoke referred to Justus as being really big and really strong. That is exactly what SDSU Football had in mind when Justus Tavai transferred over to the Mesa from a Hawaii program in disarray. Brother of Aztecs defensive lineman Jonah Tavai, Justus the elder was a standout of the Rainbow Warriors last season. One thing to know about Justus is, he is man. After spending a year at El Camino JC (CA) he then got the chance to join older brother Jahlani in Hawaii. Redshirting his first season there and playing 3 following seasons has made Justus a proven veteran in college ball and a absolute ballhawk. In this his super senior season, bringing his 6’3″ 295 grown man strength to the defensive line in this Kurt Mattix 3-3-5 scheme is going to be fun to watch. The amoeba defensive line combined with Keshawn Banks and Jonah Tavai is sure to get opposing quarterbacks a run for their money. Look for Justus Tavai to help fill in and make the 2022 Aztecs defensive line attack more balanced out after the early departure of heralded DL Cam Thomas.
- BRAXTON BURMEISTER, QUARTERBACK
It’s the most talked about position in all of football, at every level. For San Diego State, it’s been a quagmire of the offense. So bringing in Virginia Tech transfer QB Braxton Burmeister was anything but ordinary. The local high school star, Braxton’s road to the Mesa has traveled many miles and seen many styles at all his stops. But one thing cuts through all of that—his arm skills and physical abilities. Dubbed as “Vanilla Vick” by the Virginia Tech contingent, Braxton has elusive speed and home run playmaking ability slightly reminiscent of the all-time great Hokie.
Watch our full Braxton Burmeister scouting report in the Sons of Montezuma Podcast.
Having a proven gunslinger in the offense potentially adds the missing piece to this program for 2022. The ability to keep defenses from stacking the box against an Aztecs offense known for its pound & ground rushing attack could do wonders for point productivity. Not to mention the veteran leadership of knowing exactly what to do if a defense decides to be bullish and stack the box to bring pressure anyways.
The #1 attribute bringing in Braxton to the Aztecs offense is that it adds some much needed experience at the D1 level. But what it consequently does for the SDSU program is buy some time for the rest of the quarterback room. With Will Haskell Jr. ready to compete for the QB1 spot and no longer waiting in the wings, Braxton if anything can help push the level of learning faster upon Will and the rest of the guys. But how much time can this truly buy? The common theme for SDSU quarterback history (and many programs in CFB) is that you always need at least two. Just last season we saw that injury often times leads to opportunity for the backups to step in mid season and have to shoulder some of the responsibility for the position. Burmeister is known to be a gritty, gutsy ball runner. But can his body take the pounding of a full season without missing a start? Can the same be said if Will Haskell Jr. earns the top QB1 spot? It all remains to be seen. Til then, Braxton Burmeister, Will Haskell, Liu Aumavae and Kyle Crum will all have to compete like heck, and learn fast to be able to share the load this Aztecs team will be pursuing to push up to the top of the Mountain.