San Diego State begins quest to Win 22

CB Arnold Escano works through a fumble recovery drill. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Jalen Mayden rolls out to pass on Saturday. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Last season when Jalen Mayden first went back to quarterback, he had a midweek interview with CBS Sports’ Aaron Taylor. Mayden had just moved from obscure backup safety into the national spotlight as one of the few starting DI quarterbacks. During the conversation, Taylor gave him an opportunity to shout out anyone of his choosing.

Mayden responded by showering praise on the walk-ons and the scout team, remarking that they never get the attention they deserve. This was the first public glimpse of a quality that would win the hearts of his coaches and teammates.

On Friday, following SDSU’s first practice, Mayden was at it again. With multiple television cameras filming, he chose to single out one of his teammates for praise, walk-on transfer cornerback Arnold Escano.

“First and foremost, it’s reciprocated,” Mayden replied when asked what his teammates’ respect means to him. “They’ve all seen me start literally from the bottom. I switched positions. I was already at quarterback at the bottom. So, when I see a guy like that, like Escano, he started at the bottom, and he’s working his way up, putting the effort in. And I see him after practice, and I see him in the weight room, that helps me know that they see me working. I see them working, and we’re all together. It’s just love.”

SDSU’s 2023 depends in large part on Mayden’s left arm. That was reflected in the attention he received from the gathered media. He was asked a question designed to make him talk about himself. Instead, he used his platform to shine a light on one of his less-heralded colleagues.

Cedarious Barfield has risen to the occasion.

When 2022 team captain and first-team all-conference performer Patrick McMorris transferred to Cal, he left a leadership void on the team. Barfield, a sixth-year senior, stepped into that gap.

Cedarious Barfield (3) and Christian Jones (70) addressed the media following Saturday’s practice. (Don De Mars/EVT)

In the summer, the players inside each position group competed in various sprints. Usually, different athletes finished first depending on the length of the run or the day on which they worked out. Among the safeties, Barfield stepped up and finished first on every run.

“I felt like coming into the year, we had a lot of guys not on the team anymore, so that leadership role, I had to make it a point to prove myself off of the field,” Barfield said on Saturday when asked to explain why he competed so hard in the summer. “I am a vocal guy, so I wanted to lead by action. Be the first one in line to show the younger guys (how) to keep the tradition going with the safeties.”

The crafty veteran said his teammates have responded well and are ready to lead the defense. He noted that everyone in the secondary loves to cover, and they are up to the challenge of blanketing the opposition should SDSU need to blitz more to create pressure.

Barfield not only had success on the field. He thrived off it. Utilizing the NIL rules that allow him to make money while playing college football, he started a clothing line.

“It’s called Culture Infinity,” Barfield said when asked about the venture. “It basically means infinite culture, showing off your culture. It sold out real quick … but that will come back out.”

Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson (61) blocks on a running play. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Time for Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson (BCD) to step up

Every team in the nation will only reach its full potential if players lower on the depth chart a season ago step into bigger roles. For the Aztecs, that means players like LT Christian Jones, RB Kenan Christon, DL Garret Fountain, and LB Cooper McDonald elevating their games.

One athlete SDSU should not have to guess about is BCD. This should be his third consecutive starting season. He should be fighting for inclusion on the all-conference team, instead, BCD spent the first two days of practice rotating at right tackle with Drew Azzopardi.

“Brandon, he’s improved,” head coach Brady Hoke said on Friday. “He really, though, needs to make a major step as far as I’m concerned because he has the ability to, and he does have the attitude also.”

On Saturday, BCD looked like the backup. In an individual drill, he was beaten, scolded by OL coach Mike Goff and given another opportunity to get it right. He lost the next rep, too, and Goff dismissingly moved to the next man up.

Azzopardi looked like the better player. He is huge, fast, and consistent. But this is not his year.

The Aztecs need BCD to stabilize their line. He has the ability and the experience, but the difference between his reps and veterans Cade Bennett and Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli was pronounced.

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Looking for a few good wideouts

SDSU entered spring camp with fewer wideouts than in seasons past. Given what has transpired since the start of fall camp, the wisdom of that design is questionable.

Brionne Penny runs through a drill on holding the football properly on Saturday. (Don De Mars/EVT)

On Friday, Jalil Tucker’s failure to report to camp and Josh Nicholson’s injury left the group short on scholarship athletes on Saturday. At the start of practice, only five wideouts with a full-ride participated in drills: Brionne Penny, Mekhi Shaw, Phillipe Wesley, true freshman Tyson Berry, and converted CB Jelani Whitmore.

True freshman Baylin Brooks and transfer Raphael Williams worked out on the side with the athletic trainers. Whitmore would join them before the day ended.

“We’ve got a few guys we’re holding out just to get them a little healthier,” Hoke said when asked about the low numbers. “But, that’s why we have a lot of tight ends and a lot of running backs. You watch practice, and you see Cam Davis catch the ball well, and I just think that group is going to be a big part of (the passing game) also.”

Hoke went on to reveal that Williams might not be eligible to play this season.

Williams began his college career in 2020 at Tusculum University, a Division II school. He transferred to Western Carolina in 2021, making his transfer to SDSU the second time he has utilized that option. Only one-time transfers are eligible to play without sitting out a year. Hoke said Williams is trying to get a hardship waiver to play this season.

Without Tucker and Williams, and the severity of Nicholson’s injury unknown (he was not at practice on Saturday), the Aztecs are short on receivers. What they lack in quantity, Mayden believes they make up for in quality.

“No, (there’s) definitely growth because you’d think there’d be a drop off behind Tyrell (Shavers) and Jesse (Matthews) leaving,” Mayden said about the WRs on Friday. “Last year, there really wasn’t that guy behind them and Mekhi (Shaw), but now everybody’s pretty much stepped up. You can throw anybody in there, and it’s the same result.

The SDSU Podcast Live, Sunday at 9 pm

The East Village Times covered the first two practices of fall camp on Friday and Saturday. It is next to impossible to convey all that went on in written form. To add to the coverage of the start of the 2023 season, a special live show of The SDSU Podcast is scheduled for 9 pm tonight.

Aztec fans can follow this link to view the show.

Come hang out, ask questions about the practices, and give your takes on the upcoming season.

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