SDSU Aztec Spring Camp: Practice 1 Report

The offense works on blocking drills during the first practice of spring camp (Don De Mars/EVT)

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The four QBs vying for the starting role (Don De Mars/EVT)

SDSU’s Spring Camp officially began at 3:45 pm on Tuesday afternoon. EVT writers Andre Haghverdian and Johnny Olivieri took in the entire practice and spoke with head coach Sean Lewis, S Davaughn Celestine, WR Mekhi Shaw and RB Lucky Sutton afterwards.

Here are some of their observations from the first spring practice. 

Energy and Music

Among the most notable changes after transitioning from a 65-year-old head coach to a 37-year-old one was the energy of the team. Anyone that has heard Lewis speak at one of his press conferences can feel the excitement he brings to a room. 

One practice in and safe to say it translates to the practice field. 

“It’s definitely a different environment for us,” said Celestine, referring to the players that were around under the previous staff.  

Towards the beginning of practice when the team broke a huddle and went over to warm up, Lewis clapped loud enough for everyone to hear and screamed “lets go baby” as he sprinted towards the far end zone with the team faster than some of the players.

When Sutton forced a fumble on special teams return drills, Lewis came sprinting in yelling, “Great job!” as he jumped up and bumped shoulders with him.

Quite the change from previous years. 

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Another element absent in the recent past is music.

As the players trickled onto the practice field, music was playing from a set of speakers towards the middle section of the practice facility between the fields. 

“I like having music out here,” said Shaw. “It keeps things uptempo, keeps things high energy which I like a lot. It’s good for a lot of players. It’s good to keep us having fun. That’s a big part of what we do out here: come out here to have fun and play the game we love.” 

Sutton echoed Shaw’s and Celestine’s sentiments.

“Coming off that season last year, you just want to be better so this first practice especially we just wanted to have more energy out there and want to be crunked up,” Sutton added.  

The players had the opportunity to select their favorite songs (clean versions only), which were then compiled into a playlist that ran throughout the two-and-a-half-hour practice. 

The genres varied throughout, but hip-hop was clearly the dominant force. Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar made several appearances. 

“I think music has such an intricate role in people’s lives right now and especially these young men,” Lewis explained. “They are accustomed to it. It helps create a performance environment that is high energy, that creates high enthusiasm, and that’s what I want this place to be. … I don’t know what half of those songs are because (the players) pick them out, but they enjoy them. Maybe one of these days we will get the coaches playlist rolling and (the players will) go, ‘what the heck is all that?’ They’ll get hit with some real tunes.”  

When asked what song he would choose, Lewis laughed and responded, “Ice Cube, Today was a good day.”

Tuesday was a good day.

QB Competition

When asked during Thursday’s press conference which QB would take first-team reps during Tuesday’s practice, Lewis played coy and refused to provide a name. 

QB AJ Duffy took first-team reps during the first practice of spring (Don De Mars/EVT)

When practice began, Florida State transfer AJ Duffy was the answer to the question. He was followed by true freshman Danny O’Neil, Kyle Crum, and Javance Tupou’ata-Johnson. 

When asked post-practice if that means Duffy is the presumed starter, Lewis shot that down. 

“We are still very much working through a lot of things, including that,” he replied. “But for right now, that’s where his name happens to be, and for every position, it’s a starting point that we will constantly be evaluating.” 

Last year’s backup, walk-on Tobin O’Dell, was not at practice on Tuesday. SDSU confirmed to EVT that O’Dell is no longer on the team. He informed the coaches of his decision to transfer last Monday. 

During early portions of practice, O’Neil threw the prettiest passes. During 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, though, he threw two ill-advised interceptions. The first was hauled in by safety Eric Butler on an overthrow down the left sideline. The second by Josh Hunter, who cut in front of WR Jerry McClure running an inside slant, and would have returned it for a score if the play was not blown dead.  

O’Neil was not the only QB to turn the ball over. Each of the others threw picks as well. Duffy’s quick out down the right sideline intended for Nate Bennett was jumped by Chris Johnson and returned for a score. True freshman CB Isaiah Buxton made a diving catch for a pick down the left sideline on a poorly thrown curl route by Crum. Finally, CB Tayvion Beasley cut in front of a Johnson pass down the middle of the field deep in the red zone. 

Lewis mentioned the turnovers in his opening statement following practice but understood this was the first in a line of many practices.

“Hopefully, we’ll learn to value the football a little bit more,” he remarked. “Lots of great plays … and lots to clean up.”

While there were several big passing plays made, two passes stood out. During a WR/CB individual drill, Crum threw a beautiful deep back shoulder fade down the right sideline to Nate Bennett, who, despite being well-covered by true freshman Tayten Beyer, hauled in the pass as he fell towards the end zone. 

Later, during 7-on-7 drills, O’Neil lofted a perfect spiral down the left sideline, which gave Mekhi Shaw enough time to take a bump from safety Jelani McLaughlin, gather his feet, and dive for the catch. The result drew one of the biggest roars from the offensive sideline of the day.

S Josh Hunter intercepts a pass during the first practice of spring camp (Don De Mars/EVT)

Rough Depth Chart

Lewis also said on Thursday that the staff has a rough depth chart setup strictly for the purposes of who to line up during practice based on workouts, seniority, and prior performance. He emphasized not putting too much stock into it this early in training camp. 

Here is how the first teams lined up on both sides of the ball. Players in italics are transfers Lewis brought in this offseason.

QB AJ Duffy

RB Kenan Christon

TE Logan Tanner

WR Nate Bennett

WR Ja-Shaun Poke

WR Baylin Brooks

LT Christian Jones

LG Dean Abdullah

C Brayden Bryant

RG Briley Barron

RT Nate Williams


DE Trey White

DT Darrion Dalton

DT Tupu Alualu

DE Marlem Louis

LB Cody Moon

LB Brady Anderson

CB Chris Johnson

S William Nimmo Jr.

S Dalesean Staley

S Deshawn Mccuin

CB Bryce Phillips


HC Sean Lewis and his son, Rory, during the first practice of spring camp (Don De Mars/EVT)

Head Coach’s Special Assistant

Lewis took the field in black sweatpants rolled up knee-high and a red Aztec shirt with the slogan “TOIL” on the back in Aztec font.

He wasn’t the best-dressed Lewis on the practice field. Rory Lewis flanked his father throughout practice, wearing a number 1 Aztec football jersey. The eight-year-old made sure to keep up with his fast-moving dad as he whizzed through different parts of the practice field. 

The initial thought might be that the father would use his son to keep him in check from using inappropriate language. 

Not so fast. 

“No,” answered Lewis when asked about that. “He just keeps account for me so I can pay it off in pushups. Growing up on the south side of Chicago. (As a) good Irish Catholic, I go to church on Sunday and ask for forgiveness for some of the words I use throughout the course of the week.” 

At one point during practice, Lewis yelled out an expletive which led his son to playfully cover his ears.

When Lewis was asked how he would describe the energy on day one, he stated, “It was good, it was high energy. Now we got to be able to sustain that all the way through,” adding, “I think great teams communicate…so if you close your eyes you can hear pads popping and players communicating, to me, that’s how you know you’re at a good teams practice.” 


  • Former Aztec and current Ohio State Buckeye OT Josh Simmons was in attendance at the start of practice.
  • Mt. Miguel High head coach Verlain Betofe was also in attendance, watching on eight of his former Makasi players currently on the roster.
  • Albany transfer and punter Tyler Pastula was the holder for kicker Gabriel Plascencia, who went first on placekicking drills, followed by Abraham Montano and Nick Lopez.
  • Last year’s OC Ryan Lindley, who was retained as a Senior Offensive Analyst, was primarily working with the TEs during practice.
  • The three primary returners at safety – Butler, Hunter, and Celestine ran with the second team.
  • Bennett Walker, the transfer from Eastern Michigan, who is the only player on the team’s online roster listed as a DB, played CB on the second team.
  • The second team DL was filled by Ryan Henderson, Brady Nasser, Wyatt Draeger, and Dom Oliver.
  • WR Nate Bennett (Portland State transfer) was heavily involved in the passing game, either catching WR screens or deep passes. The 6-foot-3 WR made several back-shoulder fade receptions reminiscent of former Aztec WR Elijah Kothe.
  • Two of last year’s starting OL, Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli and Myles Murao, were in uniform but did not participate in drills on Tuesday; Lewis said on Thursday that both are working their way back from offseason surgery and would be limited throughout the spring.
  • Redshirt freshman Caleb Otlewski played DE during practice after coming in as a SAM LB in last year’s 3-3-5 system.
  • Northern Iowa transfer Dalesean Staley made some great plays during defensive drills and received some high fives from the coaching staff.
  • UCLA transfer William Nimmo Jr. also looked great during individual drills and was highpointing the ball very well.
  • UCLA transfer WR Jerry McClure struggled getting off press coverage in 11-on-11 drills but did break free behind the defense for a big play earlier in practice. 
  • USC transfer TE Jude Wolfe made a great catch and run off a screen pass and then followed up by catching a quick pass off a fake screen on the very next play.
  • Celestine said that from a safety perspective, there is not much of a difference from last year’s 3-3-5 and the current 4-2-5; the three safeties are still playing a field, warrior and aztec role.
  • Sutton noted after practice that in just his 2+ years at SDSU, he has had five position coaches already, so he is focused on learning the new system and the new staff.

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