A non-scholarship player growing into a scholarship athlete is one of the most important features of SDSU’s football team. Multiple walk-ons shooting up the depth chart is a great way to evaluate the health of the culture Brady Hoke has established within the program. The Aztecs’ success lies in their player development. None of their four 2022 draft picks were highly rated coming out of high school, but they embraced the process at SDSU and became stars.
SDSU’s core values – hard work, toughness, passion for football, and personal integrity – have little to do with athletic ability. High school athletes must excel on the field to get into the program, but once there, every player, regardless of their prep status, is on an equal footing when it comes to embodying the characteristics of the SDSU Way.
Enthusiasm is difficult to gauge in practice if enough scholarship athletes feign effort. With all that is required of them, it is difficult imagining too many non-scholarship athletes going through the motions. Walk-ons excelling as Aztecs, then, is one of the best qualitative indicators that the staff and team’s seniors have succeeded in passing down the program’s culture.
Over the years, SDSU has had great success with non-scholarship players. The Bulsworth Trophy is annually handed out to the best player in the country who started their career as a walk-on. An Aztec has been nominated for the award every season since 2013. The Montezumans’ nominee from a year ago, Segun Olubi, was an anomaly. Olubi was the first Aztec on the Bulsworth Trophy list that played defense.
“As a defensive walk-on, you really got to fly to the ball and make plays, flying to the ball being the more important of the two,” Olubi told EVT on what it takes for a walk-on to catch the eye of the coaching staff. “You’ve got to be running to the point that you’re making plays that you “shouldn’t” be making. The coaches also recognize effort in everything you do, so you’ve got to be early, show out and leave late.”
Not only a boon for the culture of the program, Olubi’s ascension on the defensive side of the ball gave Kurt Mattix and his staff another star to build their scheme around. It is doubtful SDSU would have won 12 games a season ago if Olubi had given up on his dream of playing football. If the Aztecs’ defense is going to continue being among the nation’s best, they will likely need to strike gold again with a non-scholarship player.
The Easy Answer: CB Adonis Brown, S Davaughn Celestine, DE Dylan Taylor
The most obvious players to supplant Olubi as non-scholarship impact performers are those highest on the depth chart. Davaughn Celestine is listed as Cedarious Barfield’s primary backup at the Field Warrior Safety. Adonis Brown is third behind Noah Avinger and Noah Tumblin at the Boundary Corner. Dylan Taylor is the third Defensive End listed behind Keshawn Banks and Daniel Okpoko.
“I can’t name any walk-ons on defense more deserving than another because of the special work ethic within the group,” Olubi explained. “They all flash too, so consistency is going to be key for them. Every time you consistently make plays and limit mistakes, you put yourself in a position to stand out. Dylan, Davaughn, and Adonis are all players to watch out for.”
#93 Dylan Taylor
SDSU brought Deven Lamp over from Tulsa to provide depth on the defensive line. Lamp was unable to play in Spring Camp due to injury. His place on the Aztecs Depth Chart, then, is based on his film and work at SDSU this offseason. It is expected that Lamp will have an impact on the field in 2022. Lamp is currently listed tied with Dylan Taylor on the post-spring depth chart. Taylor appeared in five games for the Aztecs a season ago.
An undersized interior defensive lineman with Cathedral High in Los Angeles, Taylor racked up 82 tackles and eight sacks on his way to the Angelus League MVP honor. On paper, he fits well in the 3-3-5 since the linemen stunt and move and do not need to be the traditional size to excel.
SDSU head coach Brady Hoke mentioned Taylor as someone who could step up and earn playing time. Last season, the Aztecs often used seven linemen in a game. With Keshawn Banks, Jonah Tavai, Justus Tavai, and Garrett Fountain the four established players, there are three spots available if the coaching staff employs the same number. Upperclassmen Wyatt Draeger, Nassir Sims, Daniel Okpoko plus Lamp, and Taylor would be next in line for meaningful snaps.
#48 Adonis Brown
Brown played safety at Chaminade High School in West Hills, CA. In his senior season, according to Maxpreps, he recorded 52 tackles, defended four passes, and was part of five turnovers. He has the size, speed, and experience to be effective. Brown played in three games in 2021.
During the Spring Game, freshman QB Kyle Crum broke out of the pocket and lofted a pass into the end zone for Jesse Matthews. It was the type of play Matthews routinely torches opposing teams on. Brown, matched one on one with Matthews, fought and knocked the ball away. It was indicative of the potential he has at the position.
“Adonis, he’s the older guy (in the cornerback room), so he’s played a lot,” SDSU CB Noah Tumblin said during Episode 23 of The SDSU Football Podcast. “He just knows the position very well. He’s a very savvy player. He has a chip on his shoulder, and he makes a lot of plays as well.”
#31 Davaughn Celestine
Entering his fourth season in the program, it could be argued that Celestine has the best chance of making an impact in 2022. He has played in twelve games with SDSU, including nine games a season ago, where he recorded a pair of tackles. Celestine is listed second on the depth chart but is likely third in reality behind Kyron White, who would fill in at both Warrior spots for the starters if the season started this week.
Celestine played at El Dorado High School, finishing 3-8 his senior season, though he could hardly be blamed for that. Offensively, he led the team in rushing (689) and receiving (274) yards and touchdowns (13). On special teams, he paced the team in kick return (371) and punt return (422) yards, including a kick return of 83 yards and a punt return of 81 yards. His 1,840 all-purpose yards was 1,528 more than the second-best mark on the team, according to Max preps. Defensively, he had a team-leading 57 tackles and seven interceptions and was a first-team, all-league selection as a cornerback.
Newcomers to the program: DL Jaylin Dickerson and S Kristien Reyes
Dickerson and Reyes were both late additions to the spring roster. Their first practice was after camp had already started. In warmups, they stretched in the last row behind the rest of the team. It was a visual demarcation of their standing with the program. Notwithstanding, each showed potential in their brief auditions, and both carry terrific letters of recommendation.
#92 Jaylin Dickerson
Originally from Indianapolis, Dickerson prepped for Marion High School. He last played for Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista. At both stops, he primarily played defensive end. At 6’6,” he passes the eye test and was an imposing presence in defensive line drills treating the equipment like rag dolls.
“Jaylin Dickerson is a very hard-working young man,” Southwestern Defensive Coordinator Dionicio Monarrez told EVT. “He loves the game of football and has overcome many obstacles to be in the position he is in. He will only give you his best. Jaylin has the size and quickness to add some depth to the pass rush side of the defensive line. He is a very honest and good person, and he will be a great teammate.”
#40 Kristien Reyes
Reyes is from Tracy, California, where he was an undersized middle linebacker and running back for Tracy High School. As an RB, he displayed a tough running style, good hands out the backfield, and decent speed. A willing and violent tackler on defense, his move to the secondary at Laney College was natural.
In the Spring Game, he tied for the team lead with five tackles. He also added a pass breakup. More importantly, he followed Olubi’s advice. Reyes attacked the opposition, ran to the ball, and made plays. Arriving late to camp certainly did not help his cause, but if he showed well during the post-spring workouts with Adam Hall, perhaps there could be an opening for him.
“Kristien plays hard and has a passion for the game,” Laney Head Coach John Beam told EVT. “Smart player, low maintenance off the field. Kristien wants to be great and is a team player.”
Cheating Choice: #36 New Zealand Williams
Williams, a redshirt freshman, was one of the jewels of the 2021 recruiting class. Among the ten schools he turned down to become an Aztec were Georgia, Nebraska, and Colorado. He is a scholarship athlete but belongs on this list because during spring camp, he switched positions from safety to weakside linebacker.
When Olubi first arrived on campus, he too played safety before making the same move Williams is attempting. With the speed of a DB, he brought a unique skill set to the position.
Bigger safeties have frequently played the Aztec safety at SDSU, but with Olubi’s success moving to LB, expect to see more DBs with larger frames make the switch. Williams is the first example.
It is a brilliant counter to the spread offense, but it requires special athletes to pull it off. Olubi was up for the challenge. The coaching staff is wagering Williams is too.
“New Zealand, obviously a young guy, still learning the playbook, still learning the ropes, but if you watch him play, aggressive, downhill player, loves to get to the ball, loves to hit people,” starting Will LB Michael Shawcroft said of his new understudy on Episode 20 of The SDSU Football Podcast. “Obviously, I love that in a linebacker. I think everybody else does too.”
“It also provides a speed aspect for us. Coming from safety, he’s used to moving his hips a little bit. He’s a faster kid. Now, coming down in the box, as long as he can get used to hitting O-Linemen, shedding off O-Linemen, maybe put a little weight on, keep the speed, I think it will be really beneficial to us.”