The Sacramento State football team hasn’t made the playoffs for three decades, but that postseason drought might come to an end if its top senior players can continue to make a splash.
The Hornets boasted 14 all-conference players after last year’s campaign that featured the most league wins in over 20 years of Big Sky play.
However, Sacramento State (7-4 overall, 6-2 Big Sky last season) was predicted to finish fifth and seventh in the league by conference coaches and media, respectively.
In terms of national rankings, the Hornets were the Football Championship Subdivision preseason No. 19 team by Street & Smith’s and the No. 23 squad by Athlon Sports.
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“We sat here first day of camp and talked about not giving in to any of the preseason hype and attention that we’ve been getting,” said Dre Terrell, a senior cornerback. “We’re just going to come out here and play football.”
Here are Sacramento State’s top five players to watch this season, which begins against the University of St. Francis on Sept. 1 at Hornet Stadium.
The Hornets struggled to find consistency and production at the quarterback position for two back-to-back two-win seasons before senior Kevin Thomson showed up on campus.
The 6-foot-1 signal caller passed for 1,828 yards and 17 touchdowns while only throwing three interceptions in eight starts.
Thomson, who transferred to Sacramento State after two seasons at UNLV, also rushed for 494 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns.
“He’s got a great feel for the pocket and he can run around and make plays and extend them if something breaks down,” said Jody Sears, Sacramento State’s coach. “He’s a great competitor and I’ve been very encouraged about his leadership skills.”
Helping out Thomson in the passing game was senior wide receiver Andre Lindsey.
The 6-3 speedster earned second-team All-Big Sky recognition after leading the Hornets in receiving with 756 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranked second on the team with 849 all-purpose yards despite not playing special teams.
Lindsey, who is also a Big Sky champion in the 110-hurdles (2017) and 60-hurdles (2018), had the best yards per reception average (30.24) in the FCS.
“I believe he has NFL speed right now at such a young age,” said Mister Harriel, a senior free safety. “I believe that Andre’s just a great receiver: good hands, good route running and he’s like Flash to me. You give him one step and he’s out of there.”
Senior defensive end George Obinna isn’t only going to be chasing quarterbacks this season, he’ll be hunting history.
The 6-2, 230-pound bulldozer is 10 sacks from tying the program’s career record as he currently stands at 19 1/2.
Obinna, who earned first-team All-Big Sky honors last year, finished with three forced fumbles, 8 1/2 sacks and 12 1/2 tackles for loss, which tied for the team lead.
The Athlon Sports preseason All-American also helped anchor a defense that set a Division-I school record with 43 team sacks and tied for second place in the FCS in sacks.
“He’s athletic for his size and how big he is, and he uses his strength very well,” Terrell said. “This is our fifth year together and he’s been a beast ever since I met him.”
Terrell garnered national attention as the FCS Defensive Player of the Week when he snatched three interceptions in the home opener against Incarnate Word last year – and he might be poised for more success this season.
The Sacramento native and Pleasant Grove product finished last year with the third-most tackles (61) on the team while earning third-team All-Big Sky recognition.
Terrell, who at 5-8 is smaller than most No. 1 receivers he covers, also led the team with five interceptions last year. It was a far cry from when the former walk-on used to get torched, as he puts it, against former Sacramento State wide receiver and NFL journeyman DeAndre Carter.
“He might have the best ball skills on our team,” Sears said. “He’s got a great feel for the passing game and is always around the ball when it’s in the air and if he touches it, he’s probably going to catch it.”
Harriel, like Terrell, is another homegrown talent in the defensive backfield for the Hornets after spending four years at Antelope High School.
The former first-team All-Big Sky member enters this season as the most decorated preseason player on the team.
Harriel has been named to the Big Sky, Street & Smith’s and STATS FCS preseason All-America team after leading the team in tackles (87) and ranking second on the team with three interceptions.
“He makes my job a whole lot easier in the back end,” Terrell said. “Knowing I have someone like him that can cover ground and has great range for the whole field allows me to be more aggressive knowing he has my back.”