SDSU Year In Review: Offensive Line

Credit: Hawaii Athletics

Credit: SDSU Athletics

A look at the 2020 San Diego State offensive line, a unit that often goes unrecognized. 

San Diego State has a reputation for not only being one of the top Group of Five programs for offensive linemen but one of the best schools for offensive linemen anywhere on the West Coast. Most of their offensive linemen spurned Power Five schools to come to SDSU and for good reason.

Recent NFL Draft picks Terry Poole, Nico Siragusa, and Keith Ismael along with several other undrafted free agents, most notably Daniel Brunskill, have shown SDSU readies players for the professional ranks. San Diego State’s Offensive Line has been represented on the All-Mountain West First Team in five of the past six seasons.

As the game of football has grown less physical, offensive line coach Mike Schmidt, continues to instill toughness. In a recent interview, Kyle Spalding summed it up.

“What makes me different than a lot of other (players); it really just comes from the school and it comes from our program,” Spalding said. “And how tough and mentally tough and hard that we play there at San Diego State. It’s a program built on that. The grittiness and just the finish and the effort can overcome a lot of other things in your game. That is something we are proud of at San Diego State that I think is different about my game.”

In 2020, the offensive line was terrific, especially in the first half of the season. The unit was one of 21 schools listed on the Joe Moore Midseason Honor Roll. The Joe Moore Award annually honors the top offensive line in the country.

In 2021, the Aztecs will be replacing one to three offensive linemen. How the group below grows and responds will be key to the team’s success.

 

2020 Starters

#71 Kyle Spalding 

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’6” 305                       Left Tackle              Senior

The first-team All-Mountain West selection has already declared for the NFL Draft. Spalding originally came to the Aztecs as a tight end, but as he added weight was converted to the offensive line. How he performs in pre-draft workouts will determine where and if he is drafted. Regardless of where he is drafted, his athleticism, hard work, and toughness will earn him a spot in an NFL Camp.

#77 Jacob Capra 

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’5”  315                        Left Guard             Senior

A second-team All-Conference selection by Pro Football Focus, the transfer from Oregon lived up to the potential this past season. He was superb for the Aztecs in 2020, starting all eight games, and along with Spalding, solidified the left side of the line.

Capra has not indicated publicly what his intentions are for next season. He came to SDSU along with his brother Joey Capra. Perhaps, the chance to play alongside his brother one more season could be enough to convince him to stay on the Mesa. If he returns, his experience could make him a candidate to replace Spalding at left tackle. Another positive sign he might be returning: his primary back up at the position, Jalen Booth, transferred.

#72 Alama Uluave   

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’2” 305                        Center                    Junior

At the start of the season, Uluave was listed second depth chart at center, but ended up starting each of the eight games this season in place of Dominic Gundino. Uluave was solid in his first year as the starter. His snaps were consistent. He offered athleticism and versatility at a position of need for the team.

In 2021, Uluave will need to become more of a force to retain his spot in the starting unit. It is possible with the youth behind the starters at other positions along the offensive line, Uluave could slide over to guard next season, especially if Gundino returns and is healthy. Whatever his role, Uluave’s experience this season should give Coach Mike Schimdt comfort going into next year.

#56 Dominic Gudino 

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’3”  300                      Center                      Senior

A hometown hero out of local Olympian High School in Chula Vista, Gudino started six games as a true freshman giving hope that he would be the next great lineman from SDSU. Gudino has not lived up to those aspirations, but has proven to be more of a super-sub along the front. Poised for a breakout year, an injury cost him all of 2020. His teammates thought enough of Gudino to name him team captain, He led his peers in following the COVID protocols this past year that helped SDSU be one of the least impacted teams by the pandemic.

Gudino is a strong candidate to return next season, which given his leadership ability, would be huge for the program. In 2021, he will still only be five years removed from high school. There should be fierce competition along the lines next season with the potential for three new starters. Gudino could start at left guard or center next year.

#73 William Dunkle 

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 5”  330                      Right Guard           Sophomore

A first-team all-conference selection by Pro Football Focus, Dunkle won the award despite missing half the season due to COVID tracing within the program. Another hometown hero, he was simply a difference-maker for the team in 2020. Only a sophomore, when he played, the offensive line consistently pushed the defensive fronts backwards, but were not nearly as successful when he was not in the lineup.

2021 has the potential to be Dunkle’s last season on the Mesa. If he does indeed switch from blocking linemen in the Mountain West to blocking them in the NFL after next season, it will because he made strides as a pass blocker. Already an NFL-quality run blocker, Dunkle will focus on improving his technique in pass protection to round out his game for the next level.

#64 Chris Martinez

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 4”                              Right Guard            Junior

Martinez began the season listed as third on the depth chart at center, but with a true freshman listed as the backup guard behind Dunkle, Martinez slid over and started in his place. Martinez was solid if unspectacular. With Dunkle out, the team lacked physicality, but that says more about Dunkle than Martinez. He filled in admirably.

In 2021, his experience should put him in the competition for playing time. Rarely does a team need only five linemen in a season, so even if Martinez is unable to secure a starting role, there will likely come a time next season where he will be depended upon. Along with Uluave and Gudino, Martinez brings athleticism, versatility and experience which will be key in forming the best unit next season.

Credit: SDSU

#76 Zachary Thomas

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 5” 300                      Right Tackle            Senior

The Mountain West placed Thomas on the second-team All-Mountain West team. Pro Football Focus placed him on their first team. When Dunkle lined up next to him, he and Thomas formed a powerful and intimidating duo. Thomas was terrific last season for the Aztecs. He has started the past 17 games for the Aztecs. SDSU coaches are hoping he will suit up for another season.

Thomas’ younger brother, Cameron, is also on the team, which should give him the motivation to play again in 2021. If he decides to return, Thomas will help anchor an offensive line that should once again be among the best in the Mountain West. Thomas is another hometown hero on the team. He hails from Carlsbad.

2020 Second on the Depth Chart

#62 Jonathan Harrison (LT)

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 5”  320                      Left Tackle             Freshman

Conventional wisdom says the further away from the football one goes, the greater chance a person has to play early in their career.  As a true freshman, Harrison made strides contradicting that wisdom. He was listed second on the depth chart behind Kyle Spalding at left tackle. Harrison, yet another hometown hero among the offensive line, comes from Carlsbad High. His recruiting profile is void of any offers except SDSU, yet the rumors of his ability have been rampant.

In 2021, Harrison will have the chance to compete for playing time now that Spalding has moved on to the NFL. If he is able to slide up the depth chart and into the starting role at one of the most important positions on the field, it will be a sure sign the Aztec coaches have truly found a diamond in the rough.

#78 Jalen Booth (LG)

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 4” 360                      Left Guard              Senior

Jalen Booth is another home-grown offensive lineman. He is from San Diego and went to San Diego High and Mesa College before transferring to SDSU. He has already announced his decision to transfer. His decision leaves the interior with one less upperclassman in 2021.

#55 Joey Capra

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 4” 300                      Right Guard           Freshman

Joey Capra de-committed from the University of Oregon the same week his brother, Jacob, announced his intention to transfer. Both ended up at SDSU. Jacob started at left guard and as a true freshman Joey was in the two-deep at right guard. However; when Dunkle was unable to play, the team called on veteran Chris Martinez and not Capra to replace him. Nonetheless, for a true freshman to be listed as a backup is impressive.

In 2021, Capra could be poised to replace his brother at left guard. There will be lots of competition from other interior lineman, but as they did with Dunkle, if Capra is the best player, he will play. Capra’s impressive recruiting resume and his inclusion in the two-deep last season show he has a shot, but he enters 2021 as an underdog for playing time.

#75 Desmond Bessent

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 7” 305                       Right Tackle           Junior

Bessent came to San Diego State from across the country. He has played sparingly during his time on the Mesa but is entering the time in his career when offensive linemen earn substantial playing time. 2021 will be his fourth year in the program. With Kyle Spalding and potentially Zach Thomas vacating the tackle positions, Bessent’s age and time with the program put him in the center of the competition.

2020 Third on the Depth Chart

#61 Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson (LT)

Measurables               Position                   Year

6” 6’  320                      Left Tackle             Redshirt Freshman

Crenshaw-Dickson came to the Aztecs from the same high school where the Penny Brothers, Rashaad, and Brionne, played. Listed third on the depth chart at left tackle, this will his third year in the program. While the Aztecs were beating Arizona State on the field, they were defeating them off the field as well. Crenshaw-Dickson chose the Aztecs over an offer from the Sun Devils. Crenshaw-Dickson is entering the prime of a typical offensive lineman’s career.

#68 Tommy Mirabella 

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’4” 290                       Left Guard              Freshman

Mirabella broke the heart of local San Diego writer and legend Bernie Wilson by choosing the Aztecs over the Idaho Vandals. Mirabella looks to be the type of player who is forgotten by the fans but emerges as a starter a few years down the road. Players often make a significant change in their measurements after being on campus for season. Look for growth from Mirabella compared to this past season.

#67 Kyle Trombley 

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 5” 310                       Center                      Redshirt Freshman

Trombley has proven himself to be a hard worker in his time on the Mesa. In two years, he has added 50 pounds and has terrific size for the position. In 2021, it would seem like a long shot for him to jump so many upperclassmen to earn playing time. However, he will undoubtedly be given a shot by the coaching staff.

#79 Joey Wright 

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’5”  320                      Right Guard            Freshman

Wright was one of the prize recruits from last year’s recruiting class. Unlike some of the true freshmen listed above, Wright did not make the two-deep, but his placement here is the norm for the position. Wright is one of the players to keep an eye out for in 2021. The Aztecs beat out the Trojans of USC for his services. How fast he can turn the potential into playing time remains to be seen, but the buzz surrounding his recruitment should not be forgotten.

#70 Aidan Finney 

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 6”  300                     Right Tackle           Freshman

Another young lineman who chose the Aztecs over Power Five offers, Finney is among a group who should be making each other better through competition. Already with tremendous size, Aidan was a multi-sport athlete the coaching staff prefers. He averaged seven points and eight rebounds a game for his high school basketball team. Finney is another player to keep an eye out for a potential leap in the depth chart.

Others on the 2020 roster

San Diego State did not disclose the names of the students exercised their right to not participate in the 2020 season. It is possible the players below were not on the depth chart for this reason.

#60 Sebastian Hernandez

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 4”  290                     OL                           Junior

San Diego State has a history of using their depth chart to send a message to their junior college players. This appears to be the case with Hernandez. Signed only a year ago out of Cerritos College, a year in the program, his age, and his playing expertise could make Hernandez a surprised addition to the two-deep during Spring practice.

#65 Justin Yi

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’3” 280 pounds         OL                           Sophomore

Yi came to SDSU as a TE and has jumped around the field before landing on the offensive line this past season. Yi hopes to join the list of converted tight ends who went on to star for the Aztecs. Yi will not have to look far for inspiration as Kyle Spalding just made a similar journey. Any player with the ability to play a skill position is an intriguing prospect.

#74 Nolan Hegeduis

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 6” 275                       OL                            Redshirt Freshman

Hededius is another scholarship athlete who finds himself not listed on the depth chart. Another multi-sport athlete, Hegedius has great size. In 2021, he will be entering his third year with the program and will be looking to make his jump in the competition.

Newcomers in 2021

Josh Simmons

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’6” 280                       Guard                           High School

On Wednesday, SDSU received a verbal commitment from Simmons, a four-star offensive lineman from Helix High. The list of schools who offered Simmons is a who’s who of college programs. Simmons could be playing for any Power Five conference in America. He turned down USC and Oregon, among others from the Pac 12. I told Oklahoma and the Big XII, no. Georgia and Kentucky were rebuffed from the SEC. The losers from the ACC include Syracuse, Duke, and Miami. Even Michigan and Penn State failed to pry him away from the Aztecs…and his mother.

Simmons could end up on the defensive line, but he was a mauler in high school who looks to be a difference-maker on offense. He played through the whistle and destroyed the players he engaged with. Watching his tape, one begins to feel sorry for the kids playing against him.

Zavier Leonard

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 4” 290                      Tackle                           High School

Due to the inroads, Jeff Horton has made in his hometown, SDSU has recruited a number of players from the Dallas/Fort Worth Area. Zavier Williams is one of those players. A three-star athlete, perhaps, Leonard moved to San Diego to avoid working out in the snow. He possesses a quick initial burst at the snap and an appetite for blocking.

Christian Jones

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’9” 300                       Tackle                            High School

Jones signed with the Aztecs in December. Already possessing unbelievable size, he looks out of place on a high school football field.  Like all players his size, he will need to bend more to block smaller, quicker edge rushers, but he boasts a 7’0” wingspan that should aid him. For a player his size, he moves his feet well and moves in front of defenders, and does not just depend on his impressive reach.

Ross Maseuli

Measurables               Position                   Year

6’ 2”  350                     Guard                       High School

When was the last time San Diego State beat out Alabama for a recruit? If you said 2020, you are correct. Maseuli is another in a recurring theme at SDSU. He spurred major schools to stay home and play for the Aztecs. Coach Schmidt does not get enough credit for the wall he has built around San Diego County. Maseuli prepped at Cathedral Catholic, and it is obvious what Nick Saban and Brady Hoke saw in him. Maseuli displays tremendous quickness and strength. When he pulls along the line, he punishes the defensive players he meets.

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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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