Ezell Ruffin will be counted onto lead the Aztec wide receivers once again.
Aug. 19, 2014
SAN DIEGO -
Position previews: Ruffin's star power should make an otherwise unproven receiving corps shine
Returners with starting experience: WR Ezell Ruffin, senior; WR Eric Judge
Departures with starting experience: WR Colin Lockett, WR Dylan Denso, TE Adam Roberts, senior (moved to fullback)
By Michael Klitzing (@mikeklitzing)
LeCharls McDaniel has served three different stints as a member of the San Diego State coaching staff. His first tour began 20 years ago under Ted Tollner - the first of five SDSU head coaches he's worked under. In short, his perspective on Aztec football is about as good as you'll find among anyone not named Tom Ables.
So when asked to put the abilities of one Ezell Ruffin into context, the longtime wide receivers coach is able to draw comparisons to other greats he's seen on Montezuma Mesa. J.R. Tolver, Kassim Osgood, Vincent Brown, DeMarco Sampson - he's coached them all.
The verdict? Ruffin belongs in that lofty company.
In fact, the only question that remains is whether he'll rise to the top.
"Ezell has an opportunity to be anything he wants to be," McDaniel says. "He's already one of the best receivers that I've had here, but now he has to put together a senior season where he can progress to the level where he wants to be. There is no ceiling for the young man."
In opting to return for his senior season after a breakout 2013, Ruffin provides the Aztecs with a go-to guy, taking pressure off a talented but green group of youngsters who must replace three productive departing seniors.
After years of tantalizing observers with his potential, Ruffin's breakout season finally arrived in 2013. He caught 68 passes for 1,136 yards during a campaign that included three-straight 100-yard performances during conference play. The speedy Colin Lockett turned in a solid 52-catch campaign to give the Aztecs an effective tandem of starting wideouts, while fellow seniors Dylan Denso and Tim Vizzi provided experienced depth. At tight end, Adam Roberts proved a dependable target, hauling in three touchdown passes in the final five games.
Star in the making?
Eric Judge may have a thin resume, but the sophomore has shown just enough flashes of brilliance in his short Aztec career to get your mind racing. There's the fact that coaches rave about his blazing speed. There's the fact that in his one start as a freshman, Judge caught two touchdown passes, including the game-winner in overtime.
What if ...
McDaniel has certainly seen the flashes, too. But he said the likely starter at the "x" receiver position still has some work to do if he's to have the breakout season he seems destined for.
"I see Judge as a young man that needs to keep growing," he said. "He can take a larger role in the offense and what we do, he just needs to keep working, keep getting better. I want him to get better at route running and get better as a football player. He's made strides, but he can make more strides."
Replacing the likes of Denso and Vizzi appears to be SDSU's biggest question mark at the receiver position. The good news is that there is no shortage of candidates. Juniors Jemond Hazely and Larry Clark are currently listed as the backups, but others are in the mix as well. McDaniel said the diminutive Lloyd Mills has made "a great jump", showing impressive blocking and playmaking ability, while junior Paul Pitts is looking to get his career back on track after a devastating knee injury in 2012.
But the real wild card may be true freshman Mikah Holder, the prized recruit out of Oceanside High.
"I'm happy as heck to have Mikah Holder," McDaniel said. "He's got great feet, and I think his best football is ahead of him."
Might it be ahead of him this season?
"Well, you never say never," McDaniel said with a grin.
Opportunity at tight end
With Roberts moving to fullback (albeit a fullback who will often line up as an H-back), SDSU will be breaking in a new starting tight end. The frontrunner is Robert Craighead, a converted defensive lineman, who possesses good hands to go with formidable size. He'll be backed up by sophomore Daniel Brunskill, an effective blocker.
"Z" WR-Ezell Ruffin, senior; Larry Clark, junior
"X" WR-Eric Judge, sophomore; Jemond Hazely, junior
TE-Robert Craighead, junior; Daniel Brunskill, sophomore