Senior-heavy Sac State football team begins season with spectrum of talent

Hornets return 14 starters and receive votes in preseason poll

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Senior-heavy Sac State football team begins season with spectrum of talent

Sacramento State senior quarterback Kevin Thomson throwing a pass during practice Aug. 15. Thomson scored 26 touchdowns while turning the ball over just three times a season ago.

Sacramento State senior quarterback Kevin Thomson throwing a pass during practice Aug. 15. Thomson scored 26 touchdowns while turning the ball over just three times a season ago.

Thomas Frey - The State Hornet

Sacramento State senior quarterback Kevin Thomson throwing a pass during practice Aug. 15. Thomson scored 26 touchdowns while turning the ball over just three times a season ago.

Thomas Frey - The State Hornet

Thomas Frey - The State Hornet

Sacramento State senior quarterback Kevin Thomson throwing a pass during practice Aug. 15. Thomson scored 26 touchdowns while turning the ball over just three times a season ago.

Thomas Frey, Sports editor

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Winning wasn’t something the Sacramento State football team was used to — but now, winning is expected.

After consecutive 2-9 seasons in 2015 and 2016, the team came together and won seven games in 2017. The Hornets have 14 of 22 starters returning this season, and the team is ranked No. 32 in the Football Championship Subdivision.

“The expectations are high,” said Sac State head coach Jody Sears. “I also know that the past doesn’t equal the future. Oh boy do I know that. However, we’re gonna challenge these guys and I’m not gonna let complacity slip into past performances. I know those kids expectations are high so we are going to keep pushing them and keep raising the standard.”

The Hornets have six starters, including senior quarterback Kevin Thomson, returning this season from an offense that led the Big Sky Conference with 6.5 yards per play.

In Thomson’s first year as starting signal-caller, he had 17 passing touchdowns against three interceptions. Thomson, a transfer from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, also excelled on the ground, rushing for 494 yards, never losing a fumble, and hitting pay-dirt nine times.

Thomson contributed a lot of his success to an offensive line where all five starters started at least 10 games. Three of those five lineman return this season.

“I think they are the most important unit on our offense,” Thomson said. “Everything starts up front with the line. We’ve got a lot of experience coming back and I think they are going to do great.”

Senior defensive lineman George Obinna goes against the offensive line everyday in practice, and said the line is the most “cohesive unit” on the field, and that they haven’t missed a step from last season. Obinna is coming off a season in which he recorded 8.5 sacks and forced three fumbles.

Obinna said that the senior-laden defense is more tight-knit than ever before.

“During this offseason we all tried to watch films with each other and basically just try to gain more chemistry with each other, just hang out, do stuff, just fun stuff,” Obinna said. “I think that’s translating to how we play on the field. Last year we were tight but we weren’t as tight as we could have been. This year we really got it.”

Last season, the Sac State defense led the Big Sky in sacks, turnover margin and only allowed opponents to convert 26.1 percent of their third down conversions — again, the best in the conference.

“Watching them play, you get excited and you have confidence they are going to make a stop everytime they go out on the field,” Thomson said. “Whether you are down or up, you are always confident they are going to make a play.”

Thomson said the offense thrived off the momentum the defense would bring after a big stop. The Hornets were No. 1 in the conference in red zone scoring percentage and points per game. Big-play receivers like Andre Lindsey and Jaelin Ratliff each averaged over 20 yards per catch and will return this season.

“My only goal is to get the ball in their hands,” Thomson said. “They are the playmakers and I am fortunate enough to have dynamic guys out there. I just kind of get the protection set up and get the ball in their hands and let them do it. I think our execution is a lot better. We know where we are at as an offense and we can put more in. Last year we were learning and it was brand new. This year we are going quick and we are able to put in more plays and more formations so it’s a big advantage for us.”

Sac State opens the season at home against St. Francis (IL.) on Sept. 1. The team will travel to San Diego State Sept. 8 and will have three challenging games to end the season as it heads to No. 8 Weber State Nov. 3 before hosting No. 27 Northern Arizona on Nov. 10 and then closing out the season Nov. 17 on the road in the Causeway Classic against UC Davis.