Meet the swarm of new Sac State Hornets football players
The coaches were light on sleep but heavy on enthusiasm and good cheer.
National signing day is a day to celebrate, Dan Hawkins of UC Davis and Troy Taylor of Sacramento State said Wednesday. And no wonder the coaches were so giddy.
UCD signed 15 total players from the December early period and Wednesday, and Sac State inked 14 total, including 10 on Wednesday.
“We’re good, we’re great, tons of energy over here, and no one’s tired,” Taylor said with a laugh. “We loved our recruiting class, a lot of kids who are passionate about football and competition and who are hungry to be here.”
UCD aims to continue its ascent on the Division I FCS world after fielding its best roster and team in 2018 in the 100 years the Aggies have fielded football. Under the spirited Hawkins, in his second season at his alma mater, UCD won a share of the Big Sky Conference, won its first FCS playoff game and finished 10-3.
“We don’t want to just keep the momentum,” Hawkins said, “we want to get better, and this signing class helps. We got guys who love to compete.”
Taylor needs an infusion of new talent to blend in with the holdover players that went from a seven-win campaign in 2017 to an injury-plagued two-win mess in 2018. The pieces very well could be in place for another Hornets surge next fall.
Taylor is in his first weeks on the job at Sac State, having come aboard after two seasons as offensive coordinator at Utah of the Pac-12 Conference. Taylor is the one-time Cordova High School star quarterback who for much of this decade was the co-coach at Folsom High with Kris Richardson, who is now the Hornets’ assistant head coach.
Sac State and UCD had strong recruiting classes, securing the signatures of skill players, linemen and defensive stoppers, some locally, some from across the state or West Coast.
Sac State did not have a single Folsom High player on its roster last fall, but that changes now with the signing of linemen Tyler Hardeman, The Bee’s 2018 Defensive Player of the Year, and two-time All-Metro Joe Wagner.
Richardson coached both the past two seasons, culminating in back-to-back CIF State Division 1-AA championships.
UCD landed defensive back Jehiel Budgett of Monterey Trail, which went 12-1 last fall before falling to Folsom in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I final at Sac State. A week later, Folsom beat 13-0 Central of Fresno in the Northern California Division I-AA final, a team quarterbacked by Trent Tompkins, the Central Section’s all-time leading passer. Tompkins signed with UCD to learn from record-setting Aggies passer Jake Maier.
The Aggies also signed three receivers and three tight ends with the plan to air it out more under Hawkins. Sac State will also throw it plenty, as Taylor is known for his spread offense attacks.
The Hornets signed three receivers, including Del Oro’s game-breaking speeder Johnny Guzman, also a star return specialist.
“He’s an excellent player, exciting,” Taylor said of Guzman.
Hawkins and Taylor enjoy the recruiting process, mingling with players and family, sharing stories, selling their programs. Both have coaching experience at the major-college level, including Hawkins at Boise State and Colorado.
Both men can electrify a room with their charm and smile. And maybe someday, Sac State and UCD will be in the playoffs at the same time. That hasn’t happened since 1988.
Sac State’s last conference championship was in 1995. The Hornets have fielded good teams since, certainly, but maintaining any semblance of momentum has been the challenge.
And both coaches stressed finding the right fit when seeking new players to plug into the mix.
“We try to help the kids and the parents figure out what the right fit is, what we’re all about, if it feels right with us,” Hawkins said. “If a kid wants to stay in California and go to a good school and play for a good football program, an up-and-coming program, we want to be appealing.”
Taylor said recruiting has changed since he signed to play quarterback at Cal in February 1986. There were no signing parties then, no social media, no hype. But a letter of intent signature can still be the biggest day of a young man’s life, and the first day to the rest of his life as he goes from boy to man.
“Signed on my living room table in Rancho Cordova, a nice glass table with the fake bronze legs, and that was it,” Taylor said with a laugh. “It’s still a huge decision for kids and families to sign. It can be exciting and confusing for players and families, too.
“But some kids like the recruitment more than they actually like playing football, and that can be a red flag in recruiting.”
No red flags here. In Davis, it’s blue and gold team-colored flags. At Sac State, it’s Hornets green.
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: email@example.com, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.