Sacramento State football coach Jody Sears is happy quarterback Garrett Safron and wide receiver DeAndre Carter are on his side of the field this year.
Last season, when he coached at Weber State, Sears watched helplessly as the duo ruined his team’s Big Sky Conference opener.
Despite an early first-half non-throwing-hand injury that required 20 stitches, Safron completed 25 of 32 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Carter. Sac State pummeled the Wildcats 31-3 for its first football win in school history in Ogden, Utah.
“Sac State always had talent, always made you stay up at night,” Sears said. “We knocked Garrett out with an injury, and he comes back and throws a couple of touchdown passes before the half.”
Sears said the Wildcats’ pregame focus had been to contain senior wideout Morris Norrise. Instead, they got a heavy dose of Carter, who had eight catches for 148 yards, including a backbreaking 51-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
“We were more worried about Norrise, and then all of sudden we’re wondering who is this No. 2 guy because we can’t cover him,” Sears said.
While Sears won just two games and lost his job, Safron and Carter had record-setting seasons for the Hornets.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Safron set single-season school records with 294 completions, 460 attempts, 3,289 yards and 27 touchdown passes. He also had a school-record 3,781 all-purpose yards and was named to the All-Big Sky Conference second team, a first for a Hornets quarterback. He enters this season first in career touchdowns (52), second in career passing yards (6,223), second in career passing attempts (900) and second in career completions (564).
The 5-10, 185-pound Carter tied the single-season school record with 14 touchdown catches and had 64 receptions for 934 yards. He was named to the All-Big Sky Conference first team. Coming into this season, the San Jose native is third in career receiving touchdowns (18) and eighth in career passing yards (1,439).
But like their new coach, Safron and Carter were disappointed with the 2013 season. The Hornets were 5-7 overall, 4-4 in conference and were pounded 34-7 by Causeway Classic rival UC Davis in the season finale.
“I’ve been thinking about our season opener at Incarnate Word (on Saturday) since our last game against UC Davis,” Safron said. “We’re just hoping all our hard work in the offseason will pay off because our goal is still the same. We want to take this school where it’s never gone before.”
Because of their similar personalities, Safron and Carter have grown closer since their first season together four years ago when Carter was a true freshman scholarship recruit and Safron a second-year redshirt freshman walk-on. (He’s now on scholarship).
They are together almost all the time at school, and they even spent their summer break in Santa Monica, Safron’s hometown.
While both wolfed down copious amounts of fish tacos at the Mexican restaurant Safron’s mother runs, they quickly burned off the calories with their workouts.
“I consider Garrett my brother,” said Carter, who still grieves over the death of his younger brother Kaylan to a heart ailment last summer. “People who work hard want to work with other people who work hard. So it’s an attraction thing.”
Added Safron: “Me and DeAndre are able to talk about anything. I have his back, he has mine. It’s nice to have a connection like that.”
Carter marvels at Safron’s toughness and determination. He could barely contain his anger last season against powerful Montana at Hornet Stadium when Safron twice got knocked out of the game after hard hits but returned to lead a late Hornets comeback that tied the Grizzlies 45-45 with 23 seconds in regulation. Sac State lost 51-48 on a defensive miscue in overtime.
“I thought their defense took a couple of cheap shots,” Carter said. “But Garrett kept getting back up because that’s the kind of player and person he is. Tremendous heart, tremendous effort, tremendous playmaking ability.”
Safron smiles when he talks about Carter’s school-record five touchdowns in a 63-56 overtime win against Southern Oregon in the home opener last season. Carter caught a no-margin-for-error 14-yard touchdown pass from Safron in full sprint through the back of the end zone for the game winner. That came shortly after catching a game-tying 6-yard toss from Safron with one second left in regulation.
“DeAndre is so smart on the field – he’s never wrong,” said Safron, who threw a school-record seven touchdown passes in that game. “He watches so much film that he knows the defense even before the snap of the ball. And whenever you put a ball in DeAndre Carter’s hands, he’s capable of making an amazing play.”
Sears is pleased to be working with two strong leaders with possible next-level ability who have helped him make a quick transition from the Hornets’ new defensive coordinator in January to interim head coach in April after Marshall Sperbeck departed.
“Garrett has been a quality quarterback the last two years, so I’m just tickled to death to be on the same sideline,” Sears said. “He gets it. He’s got great moxie, a good feel for the game.
“DeAndre is just dynamite. Explosive, fast and strong – everything you want in a receiver.”
That’s a good combination, Sears said, especially when they’re on his team.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.