I don’t know if even Lawrence Fan, San Jose State’s Hall of Fame Sports Information Director, keeps official stats on how many of the school’s football players make it to preseason watch lists, but it’s probably a safe guess that 2013 has the highest number in school history.
To date, 10 Spartans have been nominated to 11 different watch lists, and more nominations could pile up before the season begins.
For the third time, the Spartans all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards Noel Grigsby appears on the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch list. Named for the Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame wideout, the Biletnikoff Award recognizes the outstanding pass receiver in college football. Heading into 2013, the 2012 All-WAC selection is poised to finish his career as the greatest receiver in school history. Grigsby enters the season second in the nation in both career receptions (227) and receiving yards (3,015).
Fellow 2012 All-WAC selection, senior Bene Benwikere, is on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award. Benwikere’s seven interceptions last season tied him for third nationally, and he was twice named a national defensive player of the week in 2012. He was also named to the Bronco Nagurski watch list (recognizing the top defensive back) and the Chuck Bednarik watch list, which is awarded to the top defensive player in college football. The 6-foot, 192 pound corner back not only figures to earn further accolades as a collegiate player in 2013, but start gaining notice in NFL circles as a potential draft pick in 2014.
Four Spartans have been included in the Rotary Lombardi Award watch list — offensive lineman Nicolas Kaspar, defensive lineman Travis Raciti, and linebackers Keith Smith and Vince Buhagiar. All four players were first-time All-WAC players in 2012. The Lombardi Award recognizes the top offensive or defensive lineman and/or linebacker that lines up no further than five yards away from the line of scrimmage. Raciti was also named to the Bednarik watch list.
Other award watch list selections include:
Punter Harrison Waid — Ray Guy Award for top punter.
Kicker Austin Lopez — Lou Groza Award for top kicker.
Running back/kick returner Tyler Ervin — Paul Hornung Award for most versatile player.
A number of these same players are on the watch lists for the College Football Performance Awards.
The most heralded player on San Jose State’s roster is of course quarterback David Fales, and he’ll be among those being “watched” for some of the most respected awards in college football. Fales is one of 34 quarterbacks currently on the Davey O’Brien watch lists, which goes to the “outstanding quarterback who exhibits teamwork, sportsmanship, character and leadership in competition and in the classroom.” Additionally, he finds himself in contention for the 77th Maxwell Award, which is given by the Maxwell Football Club to “America’s College Player of the Year.”
As I’ve touched on before, Fales is receiving mostly unprecedented national attention for a San Jose State football player. After leading the Spartans to their first 11-win season as a major college football program, the former JUCO transfer has become one of the more intriguing players heading into 2013 in the country, as well as potential NFL draft pick next year. He was recently the subject of another spotlight by one of college football’s most respected writers, this time Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated. Along with detailing Fales’ winding road as a college player from Nevada to Monterey Peninsula JC, nearly to the FCS ranks before landing at SJSU, he also has the story of how Fales recently counseled at an Elite 11 high school quarterback camp in Oregon and won a formal throwing competition against the likes of Clemson passer Tajh Boyd, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. No word on whether Manziel was dehydrated during the competition.
These award lists are ultimately just a nice bit of praise for these players prior to the start of the season. Some of them feature over 100 players, most of whom we know have no chance at the award. At the same time, having so many Spartans added to these lists shows how far the program has come in the last four years. Even in years past when San Jose State had legitimate pro talents on their rosters (such as Green Bay receiver James Jones and Jacksonville DB Dwight Lowery) they flew under the radar and had to wait until the end of the season for any sort of recognition. Hopefully this signals a permanent change in the way San Jose State is viewed throughout college football.