An ode to Nolan Givan and SDSU’s other unsung players

Credit: SDSU Athletics

Credit: USA Today Sports

Luq Barcoo signed a three-year, $2.305 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of SDSU with $180,000 of the contract guaranteed.

Calvin Munson makes the league minimum of $650,000 while playing for the Miami Dolphins. Ryan Pope made at least $8,000 a week as a member of the Green Bay Packers before his release. Certain members of the current Aztec team had a lot to play for Saturday Night against BYU. Any player on the NFL radar has the chance for a lucrative paycheck — even if they are not major contributors on NFL rosters.

Dwayne Johnson Jr., Tariq Thompson, and Darren Hall, in particular, benefited from playing against a quarterback expected to go high in next year’s NFL Draft.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are players on the SDSU roster who work just as hard, but all they play for is their teammates and the love of the game. Amateur sports remains one of the few places in society where people perfect their craft without undue influence from money. With the major revenue sports, college football, and college basketball, the line between amateurs and professionals has nearly disappeared.

Occasionally, however, if only for brief moments, a player’s purity competing in the game he loves emerges. The 2020 season as a whole and Saturday’s game, in particular, illuminated competitors, who may not be special players, but are certainly special people, who have found a way to embody the words “doing my best” as they compete at the top level of college football.

San Diego State’s 22 seniors played in potentially the final games of their college careers this month. Only a handful of those 22 have a legitimate chance to join the other Aztecs in the NFL; the rest have been playing for different reasons. The players in the former group already have the admiration of the fan base, and supporters will continue cheering them on at the next level. The latter group is no less worthy of admiration, but their next chapters will be out of the eye of the public. Before stepping out of the spotlight, then, there was an Aztec on Saturday who turned in a terrific performance, whose play encapsulates all that is right about amateur sports.

That player is Nolan Givan.

Weather at kickoff was 28°, wind gusts were over 20 miles per hour. The Aztecs’ strategy was to win the time of possession and keep the ball away from BYU’s potent offense. To accomplish this, they employed two tight end sets often, which meant as the second tight end, Givan played most of the game. He played more like a sixth offensive lineman than a tight end, engaging the BYU defensive front relentlessly. When he went out for passes, BYU all but ignored him, which is why he had a season-high two catches. Givan sacrificed his body and resisted his evolutionary instinct for self-preservation, all to win a football game for his coaches, his teammates, and for himself.

Following the game, coach Hoke described Givan’s impact on the team and concluded his remarks with, “we are really happy we brought him in (the program) and had him for this one year.” Like coach Hoke, Aztec Nation should be grateful for the unsung heroes on the team. The players who give their all with no future payday to look forward to. Diehard Aztec fans are not under any illusions of their team winning a National Championship, but they follow this team because it is their school, in their city, or somewhere along the way a player or a coach captured their affection. In this way, competitors like Nolan Givan are closest to the fans. They play for the best reason: for the love of the game.

San Diego State played eight games this year. In the end, their boldness in scheduling Colorado after Fresno State canceled their game with the Aztecs will cost the team a bowl berth — unless the uncertainty of COVID-19 opens up other opportunities. The imprudence of that decision aside, nothing should take away from the remarkable feat the team and the program accomplished by being able to play a full schedule.

“I’m proud of the leadership of our senior class,” Coach Hoke said following Saturday’s game. “Very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. The accountability they’ve had to each other. I’m proud of this group of guys. Hopefully, no other senior class or football teams have to go through the pandemic like this, and I’m real proud of how our guys represented San Diego State.”

Imagine being tasked with corralling over a hundred young men to live under stricter quarantine rules than the rest of society. This is precisely the task the senior class was given.

“You look at a college football team,” said senior captain Johnson. “It’s built off a whole bunch of 18, 19, 20, 21-year-olds. Having to lead those guys and tell them, ‘It’s time to lock-in. You can’t get out. We need you to stay in your room. The only time you can leave is to go to the grocery store and (then) come home. Just be strict on what you do and who you are around.’ It’s hard.”

Credit: SDSU Athletics

“What were you doing at 18, 19, 20 years old?” Johnson added with a smile and a laugh. “It’s definitely a hard thing. I think the senior class definitely held everyone accountable, and we got through it.”

The hashtag #Win22 was the stated goal for the team going into the season. With a 4-4 record — which saw the Aztecs a few plays from winning every game — regret and wondering “what if” is a natural reaction. But it is possible the team accomplished something more impressive than a conference championship. They succeeded where most communities around the world have failed. They found a way to manage the impact of Covid-19 on their lives.

Jordon Brookshire started and played as well Saturday night as any quarterback has this season. Brookshire’s 230 passing yards were the second-most yards thrown this year behind Carson Baker’s 261 yards against San Jose State. The game was billed as a battle between SDSU’s defense and BYU’s offense, but it was SDSU’s offense led by Brookshire that outgained the potent Cougars.

SDSU’s chances of victory were thwarted due as much to their own mistakes than anything the Cougars did. Brookshire threw an interception on a first and 5 deep in BYU territory, Kaegan Williams fumbled inside of the redzone. Twice the Aztecs failed to convert on fourth down inside Cougar territory. While there is blame to go around for all of these miscues, the first of the two failed fourth-quarter attempts deserves a closer look.

On the television broadcast, Aztec Hall of Famer Kirk Morrison called out the play before the Aztecs broke the huddle. He explained the Aztecs had a similar situation the week before, and they called a run to Brookshire. He expected a similar call in this situation. Unfortunately, Morrison was not the only defensive mind who knew this tendency. BYU defensive coordinator IIaisa Tuiaki saw it too and called an appropriate play. BYU’s defense all but ignored the fake handoff to Greg Bell and keyed on Brookshire. Following the game, Brookshire confirmed the call on the play was a QB run and not a read option. The predictable play call was the coaching equivalent of Brookshire’s interception and Williams’ fumble. If a coach’s job is to put players in a position to succeed, this critical fourth down was a clear example of Jeff Hecklinski failing to do so.

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Paul Garrison
My earliest sport's memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.

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Total Views: 232 ,
(Visited 279 times, 1 visits today)
Paul Garrison
My earliest sport's memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.