Last Thursday marked the first SDSU football Spring game open to the public in over two seasons. The event brought together the current 2022 football team & staff, many Aztecs football alumni players, a large amount of the student body and a good-sized contingent of fans.
It was a warm and beautiful day out as the sun shined down on the spectators around the SDSU practice fields. Some fans in attendance wanting to be out of the sun, even peered down from up above in the shaded parking structure lined up against the bleacher seats.
This SDSU Aztecs football team is sure to get quite the buzz around town leading up to the 100th season. New Snapdragon stadium and the rolling back of COVID protocols aside, this years team entered into the Spring with a number of exciting position battles with many high profile recruits and talents that have been scratching the surface.
Once again, the winning team was to be awarded steaks for dinner, while the losing team hot dogs. If that wasn’t enough motivation for this young & hungry team, perhaps the multiple starting spots up for grabs on both sides of the ball would suffice.
As we detailed in last week’s Sons of Montezuma Podcast, Aztecs football legend Donnel Pumphrey was running the sidelines for the ‘white team’. On the opposite ‘black team’ (but same side of the field) was also legendary SDSU quarterback Brian Sipe.
You can listen to our latest Sons of Montezuma Podcast featuring SDSU Aztecs football legend Donnel Pumphrey. The NCAA all-time leading rusher shares his thoughts on his playing days at SDSU, the business of the NFL and his football journey into coaching.
If last years lackluster offensive Spring Game showing of a 10-3 score earned a victor’s steak, no doubt it was of the jerky type. A Slim Jim at best. By comparison, this year proved to be much different—at least for one team. Team Pumphrey ran away with the the victory and did it with all the flavor of a luxurious Wagyu. Final score, 28-6.
Ok, maybe that’s just a little hyperbole. However, if your average Spring Game were truly any indication of a team’s outlook with their strengths and weaknesses in the coming season, the Aztecs should eat good once again this season.
Team Pumphrey featured players like talented freshman QB’s Will Haskell Jr. and Liu Aumavae. Along with pass catchers WR Brionne Penny, Ronald Gilliam, Tyrell Shavers, and Darius De Los Reyes, and TE Logan Tanner, they amassed 200 yards through the air.
The highlights were plenty with Team White’s attack. But the Spring Game is never truly what meets the eye. If last years defensive game was an indication of what kind of team we were expecting to see, it was spot on. If that kind of logic holds true for this year’s Spring Game performance, what should we then take away from it?
Team Sipe featured QB Braxton Burmeister, the heralded hometown hero back in town to compete for the QB1 spot. But as noted in our upcoming Spring Game Podcast featuring KUSI’s Brandon Stone, Braxton only had one true starting receiver (Jesse Matthews) on his team from whom he had truly spent the bulk of his time to get in-sync with since announcing he was coming to the Mesa.
So that leads us to beg the question, Is The QB1 Battle Still Up For Grabs?
Much has been made about Coach Hoke’s words just before the Spring Game of his decision to call Burmeister the leading competitor for QB1 going into Fall Camp. Much was praised for his work ethic, leadership and experience he possessed to add to the QB room. So everyone was very excited to see live in person the qualities brought forth into an actual scrimmage environment.
According to reports all over San Diego sports media, you would’ve thought Braxton had led team Sipe to the 28-6 victory instead of the other way around. There were times Braxton showed flashes of his skills and physical talents eluding defenders and keeping his cool under pressure.
Despite a few early completions, the flow of the game and purposes from which the playing time was allotted didn’t fully provide enough opportunities to see Braxton (5 of 9 – 41 yds) display all he could do—which was the only disappointment of the evenings events.
On the flip side, in the eyes of sonsofmontezuma.com, the QB room confirmed what many had hoped for from this years team—a step up in overall skill. Will Haskell Jr. dazzled the crowd with flashes of his effortless passes. The ball seemingly launches out of his flick passing motion.
Last season Haskell Jr. showed limited passing plays vs Towson and Fresno State. Though both of those bulk playing time moments offered successful drives, being able to see the phenom up close in extended play was an absolute thrill. (Will the Thrill’, has a good ring to it don’t you think)
The ability is there and it’s plain to see. The leadership and respect from teammates is as well. Having been under the program for a whole season prior to any other QB in the program, presents an interesting advantage for Will Jr. Though he may not have a start under his belt at the D1 level can be perceived as a disadvantage, we are talking about competitive athletes here and not some untested product being used for the first time in a trial run.
The game is the game and these young men have been playing it all their lives. Despite what some may have the general base thinking this competition is sewn up, Will Jr’s exhibition last week really set the stage for a spectacular Fall camp for the ages in Aztecs Nation.
Each quarterback showed very well in their first moments as Aztecs. Kyle Crum was impressive running the offense and led all in rushing yards. Marshall Eucker connecting in the air with a touchdown score was promising. But it was Liu Aumavae who took home the performance of the night.
Aumavae coming in, joined Kyle Crum as early entrees into the program despite technically still being high school aged seniors. So to see his 9 of 13 for 96 yards and two touchdown passes against a Kurt Maddux led 3-3-5 was impressive. The coolness with which he showed operating the huddle gives much to be excited about.
But what may prove to be the most exciting factor of this Spring Game that can translate into this year’s production, may be the unbelievable performance and prospects of WR Brionne Penny. With big brother and Aztecs legend Rashaad Penny in attendance of the game, Brionne put on a show.
Hauling in 3 touchdowns, Penny displayed what so many continue to hope for from the younger brother of two current NFL players. Coming into his junior season, Brionne has a big opportunity to distinguish himself as a factor in the offense to offset all the defensive attention that will surely be brought to outstanding seniors Jesse Matthews and Tyrell Shavers.
With Elijah Kothe making the decision to enter the transfer portal, there is a void to fill for that third option who can be a big body in the run blocking game to match with pass catching abilities. Brionne has the physical body to provide such blocking, but in this game he made it known that he has the hands to also thrive at this D1 level.
Overall the Spring Game was a huge success. The defense will have their work cut out for them to repeat the performance of last season’s nationally ranked unit. DT Nassir Sims (below), among others like Justus Tavai, and Garret Fountain will be called upon to aid returning standout super seniors Keshawn Banks and Jonah Tavai.
The running back room and offensive line starters also shouldn’t be settled at this point. Each of those position groups will surely be battling well into Fall camp to see who will rise to the top and earn their starting positions—Not a small task.
But the day wasn’t fully made until the following 24 hours. That’s when all the social media buzz was truly able to testify about how awesome of an event the 2022 SDSU Spring Game truly was. From prospective recruits, to players family members, and coaches in the community, SDSU knocked this year out of the park. This years game was such a wonderful atmosphere, it is almost, almost a shame that next season it will take place in the amazing Snapdragon Stadium (surely it will right?)
The up close and intimate interaction that the SDSU practice fields provide on campus is an irreplaceable vibe. But maybe Snapdragon will be able to turn this Spring Game into a true annual SDSU event to be at. We are banking on it!
Listen below for our Sons of Montezuma Podcast ‘Spring Game Recap’ with KUSI’s Brandon Stone who was reporting live there on the sidelines! Subscribe to our Podcasts everywhere available!