SDSU restocked in the transfer portal

Dalesean Staley (center) breaks the huddle with his new team. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

Louis Brown (center in red) is one of many new transfers for the Aztecs. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

With the 2023 football season in the rearview, the Aztecs head into 2024 with a revamped roster and a new head coach. Sean Lewis will lead SDSU this year with a few returning coaches as well as many fresh faces.

Roster change is normal in college football. Every offseason players graduate, declare for the NFL draft, or retire from football. Now with the new NIL rule the transfer portal is always booming with great players looking for new opportunities.

Notable players departing SDSU this offseason include DBs Marcus Ratcliffe and Dez Malone, TEs Mark Redman and Cameron Harpole, LBs Cooper Mcdonald and Zyrus Fiaseu, and OL Cade Bennett and Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson. Although it is tough to see such key players move on from the team, there are always new players coming in from different avenues. This offseason, the Aztecs stocked up in the transfer portal with some talented players who can make an immediate impact on The Mesa.

Lewis and his staff brought in a great group of transfers that fill some of the holes on the roster. Players from all major positions were picked up.

Ja’shaun Poke, Jeremiah McClure, Louis Brown, and Nate Bennett were all additions to the receiving corps. They will help stretch the field and make sure the sticks keep moving for the Aztecs offense.

The secondary added four new players as well. Bennett Walker, Dalesean Staley, William Nimmo and Bryce Phillips all have the experience to come in and make an immediate impact to a backend that lost four starters from the 2023 season.

Both sides of the trenches were beefed up as SDSU added two new experienced defensive lineman Marlem Louis and Brandon McElroy. On the offensive line, they needed help after three key departures. To help fill that void, Lewis added Brayden Bryant, Nate Williams, Tyler McMahan, and Saipale Fuimaono.

The Aztecs top two performing tight ends from last season both entered the transfer portal. They were replaced by Jude Wolfe and Gabe Garretson. After two leaders on the defensive side transferred out, that created a high need for two new linebackers. San Diego native Tano Letuli, who played for Cathedral Catholic, and Owen Chambliss from Utah were added to the roster.

K Abraham Montano runs wind sprints. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

Jack Browning was a game changer on special teams so when he entered the NFL draft it created a vacancy for a skilled punter. Those attributes were found in Tyler Pastula from The University of Albany. Nick Lopez and Abraham Montano were added to enhance the place-kicking competition as walk-ons.

Finally, this offseason saw QB Liu Aumavae transfer after the Aztecs went to the portal and added Florida State quarterback AJ Duffy.

Overall, the Aztecs did a great job in bringing in new players to help fill their needs and set the roster up for a new season. While more roster change will likely come after spring camp, particularly to add more reinforcements in the trenches, below is an evaluation of the transfers currently enrolled at the university.

QB AJ Duffy

Previous School: Florida State

Years of Eligibility Remaining: three years

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Liu Aumavae

Status: Upgrade

Duffy transferred to the Aztecs after spending the last two seasons with Florida State, where he did not see much playing time. He joins the other five Aztecs quarterbacks, three of which were on the roster last year. He will have to prove himself this spring along with fellow-newcomer, former Colorado commit Danny O’Neil. Both are with the team this semester. Duffy, a dual-threat QB, impressed in agility drills at a recent workout.

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DB Bennett Walker

Previous school: Eastern Michigan

Years of Eligibility Remaining: one year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Dez Malone

Status: Downgrade

Walker returns to his hometown of San Diego after playing last season with Eastern Michigan. He chose the Aztecs over Troy and Liberty. He brings a great skillset to the position that is missing now with Tumblin and Malone’s departure. He had an impressive season in 2023, where he totaled 23 tackles and 3 interceptions. He has the ability to come in and make an immediate impact on the defense.

Walker was a dual sport athlete for local high school Patrick Henry. Not only was he a ballhawk in the secondary playing CB, FS and SS, he also played basketball all four years.

DB Dalesean Staley

Previous School: Northern Iowa

Years of Eligibility Remaining: three years

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Marcus Ratcliffe

Status: Downgrade

Staley played the 2023 season for Northern Iowa, where he earned Phil Steele Freshman All-American First Team honors. He accounted for 70 total tackles and 3 interceptions. His previous success makes him a great addition to this Aztecs defense, which has always been known for its aggressive play.

Staley has terrific hands. As a freshman, he was part of Northern Iowa’s hands team responsible for recovering onside kicks. In September, with UNI clinging to a 37-34 lead with 1:40 left in the game, Staley fielded an onside on one bounce and raced 25 yards that helped the Panthers upset No. 19 Youngstown State.

DB William Nimmo

Previous School: UCLA

Years of Eligibility Remaining: one year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Cedarious Barfield

Status: Downgrade

Nimmo, the former UCLA Bruin, has good size for a DB, standing at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. He has the speed to make open-field tackles but also the size to get into the box and tackle powerful running backs. His experience makes him a perfect plug-and-play athlete for this upcoming season.

Nimmo earned a spot on UCLA’s Athletic Director’s Honor Roll 11 times and made the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll his final four seasons in Westwood. He has played in 33 career games, mostly on special teams, and has one career start.

CB Bryce Phillips

Previous School: Tennessee State

Years of Eligibility Remaining: one year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Noah Tumblin

Status: Downgrade

Phillips was a tackling machine for Tennessee State in his two years with the program. He had 35 in 2022 and 27 in 2023. More than just high numbers for the position, he punished ball carriers with a level of intensity and grit that the Aztecs defense is known for. His ability to do it all as a corner, from tackling to making interceptions, puts him in a great position to be a key piece of this Aztecs defense.

WR Jeremiah McClure

Previous School: UCLA

Years of Eligibility Remaining: Four years, No redshirt

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Tyson Berry

Status: Upgrade

Jerry McClure committed to SDSU at the beginning of January. He brings elite athleticism to the wide receiver room. His physical skill set is something the Aztecs have not had in a freshman in years. McClure has great speed and should provide a deep threat at minimum in 2024. As he polishes his game more, he could be an all-conference player down the road.
McClure joins the Aztecs after being offered by several other Mountain West schools including Fresno State, Colorado State, and Utah State.

TE Jude Wolfe

Previous School: USC

Years of Eligibility Remaining: One year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Mark Redman

Status: Downgrade

Wolfe joins the Aztecs after being at USC from 2019-2023. He brings experience to the tight-end position that was lacking after Harpole and Redman both transferred. He has the ideal size for a tight end coming in at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he can catch passes, block, and contribute on special teams.

Injuries are the unfortunate story of Wolfe’s career to this point. Last season, he competed in 11 contests for the Trojans, his most since 2021. With this being his final year of eligibility, expect him to make quite the impact in 2024 if he can stay healthy.

TE Gabe Garretson

Previous School: Butte College

Years of Eligibility Remaining: Three years

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Cameron Harpole

Status: Even

Garretson transferred over from Butte College, where he showed promise as an intermediate pass catcher with good size and speed. His ability to get open will help out this Aztec offense in the short passing game. Expect Garretson to be involved in the screen game, as his ability to run after the catch makes him a perfect target.

Louis Brown IV with new teammate Anthony McMillian (Paul Garrison/EVT)

WR Louis Brown IV

Previous School: Colorado State

Years of Eligibility Remaining: Two years

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Raphael Williams

Status: Upgrade

Brown played in two games for Colorado State in 2022, where he recorded 12 catches for 98 yards, with his longest being 24 yards, and rushed twice for 10 yards. Last season, he broke out for the Rams, catching 48 passes for 481 yards and five touchdowns. He is a young player with a great eye for the ball and the speed you look for in a receiver. The Aztec made the right move adding him to the roster from the portal as he has two years left to make an impact on The Mesa.

Brown not only adds elite athleticism to the Mesa, but he also brings a bit of swagger to the field. He went viral last season after he scored a touchdown in a tight game against rival Colorado. His touchdown celebration mimicked Deion Sander’s signature shuffle. Brown topped the score by trolling Shedeur Sanders and his famous watch celebration.

WR Ja’Shaun Poke

Previous School: West Virginia

Years of Eligibility Remaining: One year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Joshua Nicholson

Status: Upgrade

Poke is one of the more exciting transfers the Aztecs added this offseason. He has the ability to stretch the field on offense as a great deep threat and is a crisp route runner. His size and extra quick speed allow him to create separation on routes, and his yards after catch will make for some exciting plays on offense. He is also a great addition to special teams as a returner, he has 44 returns for 1,110 yards in his career.

WR Nate Bennett

Previous School: Portland State

Years of Eligibility Remaining: One year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Brionne Penny

Status: Upgrade

Bennett brings a great set of skills and experience to the wide receiver position. He previously played for Portland State, where in three seasons, he caught 97 catches for 1,133 yards. His ability as a consistent receiver who can make tough catches and get yards after catch make him a perfect addition to this Aztecs offense.

One of Bennett’s best games of the 2023 season came against Mountain West opponent Wyoming. He reeled in 4 catches for 44 yards, with a long of 19 yards.

OL Tyler McMahan

Previous School: Modesto College

Years of eligibility remaining: Two Years

Replacement on 2023 roster: Drew Azzopardi

Status: Downgrade

McMahan just finished his sophomore year for Modesto, where he played left tackle. He is a powerful run blocker, often finishing his blocks to the ground. The athletic tackle was utilized in power run plays for his great downside blocking.

McMahan is very fast off the ball when dropping back for pass protection, which is important when you are trusted with blocking for your quarterback’s blindside. On film, he showed an initial punch, which utilized his height and prevented defenders from getting into his body. Following the 2023 season, he was named a junior college All-American.

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LB Tano Letuli

Previous School: Army

Years of Eligibility Remaining: Three years

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Vai Kaho

Status: Even

Letuli, the Cathedral Catholic alumni, returns home to join the Aztecs in 2024. He previously played for Army. His size and speed as a hard hitting linebacker who can also drop back into coverage makes him a no brainer addition to the 2024 roster. He is fast and powerful enough to rush the quarterback, and fill running lanes but also athletic enough to drop back into coverage. He will be a real nightmare for quarterbacks in 2024.

Letuli reunites with his former High School teammate Lucky Sutton on the Mesa. The two graduated together in 2022 after a very successful senior season, where the Dons finished with an impressive 12-2 record that was capped off with a nine-game winning streak and a state title.

DL Marlem Louis

Previous School: Richmond FCS

Years of Eligibility Remaining: One year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Cooper McDonald

Status: Upgrade

Louis joins the Aztecs as a grad transfer from Richmond where he has a long list of accomplishments that include back to back playoff appearances and leading the team in tackles and sacks during the 2023 season. His experience and pedigree will be huge for the Aztecs defensive line this season.

Louis has great experience in big games as he played great for his team in the first round of the playoffs against North Carolina Central where he recorded 3 sacks to help the Spiders advance.

Owen Chambliss running sprints. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

LB Owen Chambliss

Previous School: Utah

Years of Eligibility Remaining: Three years

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Zyrus Fiaseu

Status: Downgrade

Chambliss was a great pickup this offseason. He comes from Utah, where he did not see a lot of playing time but made an impact on special teams. He may have to play more special teams on this Aztecs team in 2024 as the defense is stacked, but with his eligibility remaining could be a great player as he develops.

DL Brandon McElroy

Previous School: Marshall

Years of Eligibility Remaining: One year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Daniel Okpoko

Status: Upgrade

McElroy is in his final season of eligibility and should strengthen the Aztecs defensive line in 2024. He has impressive size and speed for a 6’5, 310-pound lineman. He is a classic nose tackle who will command double-teams at the point of attack. McElroy can also use his power to get to the quarterback. He should pair well with this defense. A space-eating interior lineman is essential for the 4-2-5 to succeed.

P Tyler Pastula

Previous School: Albany

Years of Eligibility Remaining: One year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Jack Browning

Status: Even

Pastula fills a big need that was missing after Browning declared for the NFL draft. He brings great ability to the punter position and should make a big impact on special teams immediately. He played for the University of Albany in 2022 and 2023. In 2023, he punted 61 times for 2,602 yards. He should be able to pick up where Browning left off.

Brayden Bryant working out at SDSU. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

OL Brayden Bryant

Previous School: North Dakota FCS

Years of Eligibility Remaining: two years

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Thomas Mirabella

Status: Upgrade

Bryant comes from North Dakota, where he was a redshirt last season but saw significant playing time during the 2022 season, where he played in 11 games as left guard. He is a great reinforcement to the offensive line in 2024 and should make plays in the running game, as well as a pulling guard.

OL Nate Williams

Previous School: Akron

Years of Eligibility Remaining: One year

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson

Status: Even

Williams brings great size as a lineman from Akron, where he played mostly right tackle. He played in 11 games in 2023 for the Zips, four of which were starts. He should be a great pass blocker for the Aztecs and help buy time for the speedy receivers to get deep.

OL Saipale Fuimaono

Previous School: Allan Hancock College

Years of Eligibility Remaining: Two years

Replacement on the 2023 roster: Cade Bennett

Status: Downgrade

Fuimaono brings great power to the offensive line. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound guard should pair great with Williams and really help out the interior of the offensive line. He previously played with Allan Hancock where he was voted to first team all state as a true freshman.

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