2024 Aztecs Football Spring Practice Storylines

Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli blocks Tupu Alualu block in practice last year. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Jeff Sobol closes out morning workouts with the Aztecs. (Paul Garrison/EVT) 

Sean Lewis’s First Spring as Head Coach

Spring camp is here, and the Red and Black will have 15 practices in preparation for the fall. “We’re thrilled, very eager, and ready to go,” Lewis excitedly said in his press conference with the media the week before the first practice.

The Aztecs completed winter conditioning and now begin Phase Two of the 2024 football season. “This is the first opportunity where we actually do ‘ball’ and implement the systems,” Coach Lewis said before adding, “The biggest piece as we move through spring practices is, ‘what is it that we are asking them to do from a schematic standpoint.’”

The Aztecs will compete for starting jobs in all three phases of the game. Offensively, they will have a new quarterback, as Jalen Mayden moved on to the NFL. They will also have a new core of receivers vying for starting spots.

The defense will look very different as they make the switch from a 3-3-5 to a 4-2-5 under new hire Eric Schmidt. The battles for starting spots on this new-look defense will begin in spring practices as a group of incoming transfers will clash with the returning Aztecs.

Special teams will look different as well. Without Jack Browning, the punter/kicker battle will be one to keep an eye on this spring. The Aztecs have brought in Tyler Pastula to compete for the punting job, as well as a slew of kickers to fight for the job of handling field goals, PATs, and kickoffs.

Spring camps are always competitive but this one is filled with a level of competition, unlike the past few years as the new coaches look to fill out their depth charts and install new systems. No starting jobs are ever guaranteed in football and players will be bringing their A-game to all 15 practices.

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How will the new offensive attack form over Spring?

Lewis, the offensive coordinator for the Colorado Buffaloes last season, has been excited to showcase his new Aztec Fast offense in 2024. “It’s a style of play where the guys think fast, know fast, do fast” is how Lewis described his offense. The name is fitting. SDSU’s roster is filled with speedsters. On that side of the ball alone, the Aztecs have ten players who run 20 MPH or faster.

Kyle Crum in practice last year. (Don De Mars/EVT)

With Mayden moving on to the NFL draft the Aztecs needed more quarterbacks to compete in the spring. They have Kyle Crum and Javance Tupou’ata-Johnson returning from last year. They will be challenged by early enrollee Danny O’Neil and Florida State transfer AJ Duffy. The quarterback competition in spring practice will be crucial to the offensive attack that will be on display at Snapdragon Stadium.

The Aztecs also brought in receivers from the transfer portal that will elevate the position this spring. Jeremiah McClure, Louis Brown IV, Nate Bennett, and Jashaun Poke join the Aztec Fast offense. All four receivers can track down the deep ball and make moves to take short-yard plays upfield for huge gains. They will be competing with returning receivers Mekhi Shaw, Baylin Brooks, and Phillippe Wesley.

New look 4-2-5 Defense

Not only will the offense look different, but the defense will change from the 3-3-5 that had been in place since Rocky Long took over as defensive coordinator in 2009. Former Washington Huskies special teams coordinator and EDGE coach Eric Schmidt will install a 4-2-5 defense this spring.

With a new defensive scheme, competition will be high as many talented defenders were added to the roster through the transfer portal. Dalesean Staley, William Nimmo, and Bryce Phillips can help in coverage but can also make big tackles in the open field or in traffic. They will all be competing for a spot in the secondary.

This roughing the passer penalty by Cody Moon allowed Ohio to stay in the contest. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

San Diego native Tano Letuli who played linebacker for Cathedral Catholic has great size and speed to rush the quarterback but can also be dangerous in coverage. He will be competing with returners Cody Moon, Brady Anderson, New Zealand Williams, and DJ Herman.

The defensive line was also beefed up with the additions of Marlem Louis and Brandon McElroy. Both are considered upgrades to the defensive line and will compete for starting positions this spring.

Schmidt, like Lewis, will be hard at work during camp as he keeps an eye on the competition to mold his defense and give the team the best chance to stop offenses in their tracks. Competition will be fierce at all three levels of the defense.

What will special teams look like after Spring practices are over?

Special teams are often overlooked and Aztecs fans have been spoiled with Matt Araiza and Jack Browning handling all the kicking duties since Araiza took over in 2019. With Browning entering the NFL draft, the position is open, and this spring camp will be a hard-fought battle for the kickers.

This spring will likely bring a change in the kicking duties. Instead of one person handling all three duties, they will be split among multiple specialists.  Zechariah Ramirez will be challenged by Albany transfer Tyler Pastula for the punter position this spring. Nick Lopez was brought in from Louisville, and Abraham Montano from Mountain West rival Fresno State to compete with Gabriel Plascencia at kicker.

Mehki Shaw shows off his athleticism at practice. (Don De Mars/EVT)

The return game is another aspect of special teams that will see a new level of competition this spring. Kenan Christon, Sheldon Canley II, and Mekhi Shaw are among the returning players with a shot at maintaining their spot as the top returners. A name to watch this spring is transfer Ja’Shaun Poke. Poke spent 2019-2022 at Kent State as a receiver and returner under Lewis before transferring to West Virginia for the 2023 season. He brings experience to the return game, with 44 returns for 1,110 yards and a long of 50 yards.

What players will emerge as leaders after spring camp?

Spring Camp is not only where players compete with each other for starting positions but it is where leaders are made. Every year, captains are selected for the team, and these are the players who are leaders on and off the field.

With Garret Fountain entering the portal, Christon is the only returning captain from last season, meaning there will be multiple first-time captains this year. These players will set the tone at spring practices. It will be worth watching as the bonds formed through the hot spring days can lead to success in the fall.

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