Photo by Gerald Castillo
2022 Texas State football preview
Texas State has had a lot to clean up during the Spavital era.
The former Texas A&M, California and West Virginia offensive coordinator established expectations for his program in San Marcos during his introductory press conference for the Bobcats over three years ago on Nov. 30, 2018.
“Let me set this straight with the expectations here at Texas State — we’re gonna win, we’re gonna win games, we’re gonna win championships and we’re gonna win bowl games.”
With a combined record of 9-27 from 2019-21, those goals haven’t come to fruition for the maroon and gold heading into Spavital’s fourth year at the helm of the program. There have been a lot of obstacles Spavital has had to overcome in building the program in San Marcos whether it’s recruiting budget, facilities or having to travel to San Marcos High School to practice when it storms due to the university’s lack of indoor football facility. And if you put each coach over the last three seasons through a lie detector test, 2022 may be the first year the ‘Cats can realistically be competitive with infrastructure built on the roster.
Quarterback play was something fans were gushing about when Spavital was hired in 2018, but he hasn’t been able to find the success he found at the power five level so far. Redshirt Layne Hatcher was named starting quarterback on Aug. 23, and it seems like Hatcher is the most decorated and experienced field general Texas State has had on their roster during the Spavital tenure. Hatcher did spend the 2018 season in Alabama’s loaded quarterback room featuring three now-NFL starters in Mac Jones, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. Hatcher’s football IQ is something he’ll rely on in 2022.
“I always say God blessed me with guilt, so I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I’m not (doing as much football homework as I possibly can), and that’s kind of all I’ve ever known,” Hatcher said. “That’s what I rely on, you know — I’m not gonna outrun everybody, I’m not gonna throw a ball farther than everybody — but I can out-think you, and that’s my plan every Saturday. So it makes me a football nerd, and I’m sure there’s some people out there that are working pretty hard and if I ever find out who they are make sure I go top them.”
The Texas State offensive line has the most depth the position has seen since Spavital was hired, and it’s thanks to COVID’s eligibility freeze and a handful of transfers on the interior. The Bobcats feel like they finally have the depth needed to put playable lineman on the field even when inevitable mid-season injuries occur. The starters for the maroon and gold in 2022 on the line begins with preseason All-Sun Belt first team redshirt sophomore Dalton Cooper at left tackle, junior San Marcos product Alex Costilla at left guard, senior Russell Baker at center, preseason All-Sun Belt second team redshirt junior Kyle Hergel at right guard and redshirt senior A&M-Commerce transfer Richard West at right tackle. Redshirt junior Rhode Island transfer Evan Lovell is entering the season with a foot injury, and is someone who will see playing time at the guard position once he returns.
Redshirt sophomore Calvin Hill and redshirt junior Jahmayl Jeter bring back consistency and juice out of the backfield, but it seems like the ‘Cats will lean into the Spavital’s passing offense more this season. Don’t discount screens and routes out of the backfield. Even though the maroon and gold feel like they finally have the talent on the line and under center to run an efficient passing attack, if things go south the depth at running back can help them. Redshirt sophomore transfer running back Lincoln Pare comes over with Hatcher from Arkansas State, and redshirt sophomore transfers Damarius Good from UCF and Josh Berry Blinn Community College.
“(The running back room) has been the (deepest room we’ve had at Texas State), and it’s been very tough discussions,” Spavital said. “You can’t ever have too many running backs. You just got to have guys that you feel comfortable putting in. I know a lot (of what) Calvin and Jeter can do. So we got really good evaluations of Lincoln (Pare), Josh (Berry) and Damarius Good. So that’s been fun to watch them (and) kind of see what they’re capable of doing. They’re all different — some are great in the pass game, some are great in protections and some are consistent across the board — it’s fun to watch, but you know, I feel good with all five. All five of those guys (are going) there, they’re all traveling, (and) they provide value on special teams as well.”
“It’s always (a hot hand situation when it comes to reps), (but) we’re gonna go with Calvin (Hill) and (Jeter). We’re gonna sprinkle the other guys in as well. But those guys have been here for the longest and (have) proven to be pretty consistent running backs so we’re gonna give them shots. But they know that if one guy is feeling it, he’s got to let it ride and that’s just kind of the nature of the beast with running backs which is unfortunate at times. (We’ve) got a loaded room — which is a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong — but you know there’s gonna be some disgruntled guys that want to have more touches then they’ll probably get, (and) we’re aware of that. It’s not like quarterback (where) you announce the starter and you just kind of live with it. With the running backs you gotta play them all at some point. It’s kind of one of those deals where competition brings out the best of everybody, if you’ve got an opportunity to take advantage of it and never look back on it, and that’s kind of the mindset they got in that room right now.”
The receiving core might have the most depth out of any position on the roster and has big play ability as well. Marcell Barbee — a highlight reel over the past two seasons accumulating blanks TDs on blank yards on blank receptions — was in a hotly contested competition to start for the maroon and gold heading into 2022. Barbee ended up winning the spot outright with fellow senior Javen Banks taking the opposite outside spot, but expect names like redshirt junior Demarcus Gregory and redshirt senior Dennis Robinson to be mixed in on the outside as well.
In the slot, former DeSoto product and Cisco College transfer Ashtyn Hawkins was listed in one of the starting positions and will most likely be the most utilized receiver at the position as well. The sophomore played in 11 of 12 games in 2021, and had a 108 yard performance against Georgia State last season. He’s someone who broke out over the offseason to gain a more featured role on the team. Hawkins also was second on the team in yards after catch last season, totaling 152 yards. Redshirt junior Julian Ortega-Jones is another name Spavital has mentioned when it comes to development over the summer and fall camp, so don’t be surprised if Ortega-Jones is sprinkled in the slot as well.
On the opposite side of the slot, redshirt senior and seventh-year receiver Rontavious “Toe” Groves will take the first snap. Groves missed the first four games of 2021 with a foot injury before playing in eight games and starting in three. Groves also led the team in punt returns averaging 11.3 yards per return.
Since Keenan Brown was utilized heavily in the 2018 season, the Bobcats haven’t been able to find a breakout weapon at tight end to compliment Spavital’s offensive scheme. Back in 2019, Spavital mentioned now-junior tight end Micah Hilts had “an NFL body type,” and it seems in 2021 Hilts’ potential is finally coming to fruition after being listed as a starter on the maroon and gold’s depth chart. Hilts has bulked up over his time in San Marcos, and is now listed at six-five 255. While Hilts is listed as TE1, expect the first-year starter to share time with redshirt senior Tyler Huff as well.
Similar to the offensive side of the ball, the Bobcats’ line of scrimmage has improved immensely with an influx of talented transfers and seasoned veterans. Redshirt senior Texas Tech transfer Nelson Mbanasor, who played under Zac Spavital during his time with the Red Raiders from 2017-18, will start at defensive end for the maroon and gold. Senior Nico Ezidore will start at nose guard, and redshirt junior Louisiana Tech transfer Levi Bell will start at defensive tackle.
“(Having the depth we do this season) helps you know, it allows you to focus guys on certain positions, (and) gets kids comfortable,” defensive coordinator Zac Spavital said. “It also allows us to keep guys fresh. Last Saturday, you saw the two things glaring across college football were penalties and then you saw getting adjusted to the tempo and the speed of the game. You saw some teams really get winded out there, you know, and with our perspective, this will be the first time we go into it where we can save an entire front throughout a drive and feel like we can still put a productive unit out there.”
At the ‘Cats hybrid edge-outside linebacker position, junior defensive anchor Jordan Revels will start with more options to utilize his ability while debuting his new number eight jersey. Revels was named to the Bednarik Award Watch List heading into 2022, after playing in all 12 games and leading the team in tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. Revels also was second on the team in sacks in 2021 with three. Sophomore outside linebacker Ben Bell is listed second on Texas State’s depth chart and may also see snaps at the position.
Looking at the linebackers, seventh-year redshirt senior Sione Tupou will start at weakside linebacker, while veteran redshirt senior London Harris has made his transition from edge to middle linebacker. The two veterans combined for 11 seasons of college football over their careers, and also totaled 109 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks throughout their 2021 campaigns. Experience and Harris’s smooth transition to middle linebacker should be strengths for ‘Cats in 2022.
“(I think the linebackers are starting to take charge), I think (for) London it’s a good fit for him at inside linebacker,” Zac Spavital said. “He’s a very talented young man. He’s got a great skill set from an athletic standpoint and he’s big, you know, (with) those two, what’s glaring when you go out there is we’ve really firmed up the size of that linebacker crew. We’ve got some big kids inside now, and I think that only makes you better when you have to stop the run.”
Examining the maroon and gold’s secondary, the Bobcats may not have as much depth in the back end as other positions — but they do have experience. Redshirt senior Kordell Rodgers and redshirt junior Chris Mills will start at both outside corner spots, while redshirt junior Jarron Morris will finally return at nickelback after a tumultuous journey back to the field. At safety, redshirt junior Tory Spears and junior DeJordan Mask will start for the Bobcats, but expect to see a healthy dose of junior Kevin Anderson as well as Morris taking snaps at both positions as well.
“In my mind, that’s the position that doesn’t have as much depth but the experience is there,” Zac Spavital said. “At safety, you’ve got (DeJordan Mask), Tory (Spears) and (Jarron Morris) who’ve started a lot of games. So has Kevin Anderson, and he’ll get into (most games). (Kordell Rodgers) has started a lot of games at corner. (Chris) Mills got a little bit (of playing time) last year, he’s (still) a little raw, and then obviously (the) newcomer (Alonzo Edwards Jr.). So they’ll get their first taste of it, but the thing I think that’s comforting with that is we’ve done a really good job with coach (Clay) Jennings cross-training these (defensive backs) so we can get our best players on the field.”
Junior Seamus O’Kelly will once again punt for the Bobcats in 2022, with redshirt junior and preseason All-Sun Belt first team selection Seth Keller continuing place kicking duties for the maroon and gold. Sophomore Durham Harris and redshirt freshman Kaydon Olivia will see time at long snapper, while O’Kelly will continue holding duties. Groves and Hawkins will see snaps at punt returner, while sophomore Donnovan Moorer and Berry will be the two kickoff returners.
The Bobcats seem to have the most depth, experience and talent during the Spavital era. The biggest question will be can they capitalize off of it enough to win two more games than 2021 and reach the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility. The maroon and gold set their goal for the 2022 season at media day after the ‘Cats first fall practice, making it clear their sights are on making a bowl game.