College Sports

Sac State’s new coach will face old team Saturday at Hornet Stadium.

Sacramento State football coach Jody Sears says Saturday’s home opener against Weber State isn’t about him.

But it’s clearly the biggest story line as the interim coach leads the Hornets against the Big Sky Conference team he coached the previous two seasons – the first as an interim coach – before being fired in the midst of a rebuilding project.

“I’m so excited for the guys,” Sears said of the Hornets. “This is what college football is all about: Getting to play in front of your community, your university and your student body, ’cause this is their team. So it’s about the players, about the program. This has nothing to do with me or where I’ve coached.”

One guy who isn’t buying that is Jay Hill, Sears’ successor at Weber State.

“I guarantee that coach Sears wants to win this game because of what happened, and the situation he was in here,” Hill said in Wednesday’s Big Sky Conference call. “It’s a big game. This is a Big Sky Conference opponent. Everything makes it big.”

Sac State is 1-1 after beating Incarnate Word, then being spanked by Cal 55-14 in Berkeley last Saturday. Weber State is 0-2 under Hill, the former Utah assistant, but played the tougher schedule to date.

The Wildcats fell to No. 16 Arizona State 45-14 in the season opener, then played well before losing 24-7 to three-time defending Football Championship Subdivision champion North Dakota State last Saturday in Ogden.

Last season in the Big Sky opener, Sac State, then coached by Marshall Sperbeck, beat Weber State 31-3 – the Hornets’ first win in Ogden, Utah.

It also was the start of a seven-game Big Sky losing streak before the Wildcats topped Idaho State 32-7 in the season finale to finish 2-10.

Sears was the new Weber State defensive coordinator in 2012 when then-coach John L. Smith, also new, suddenly bolted for Arkansas before coaching a game. Sears became the interim coach, then was named coach in 2013 before being axed at the end of the season.

“We were hired to do a job, and we didn’t get it done,” Sears said. “And, shoot, we’re better men for it.”

Sears said the Hornets will face a much stronger Weber State team than the previous season in what is a nonconference matchup that won’t count in the Big Sky standings.

Thirteen Weber State starters return, and Hill has brought in several transfers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including starting sophomore quarterback Billy Green from BYU.

Sears said he enjoyed watching film of some of his former players.

“They’re a lot better, and a lot stronger, they’re obviously well coached, and they’re extremely sound,” Sears said. “… It was fun to see those guys working and growing together.”

Sears didn’t have as much fun watching film of his team’s performance against Cal. Despite having inherited a team of veterans, the Hornets looked like rookies at times against a Cal team that was 1-11 last season but appears much improved. Sears counted 31 missed tackles and too many dropped passes.

“We didn’t perform like we expected to last week,” Sears said. “But that doesn’t matter. That’s behind us. We’re focused on our home opener.”

Although the defense struggled, Sac State linebacker Darnell Sankey continued to be a force for Sac State. He had a 15 tackles and forced two fumbles a week after he was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Incarnate Word.

Last year, Sankey, then playing defensive end, made Sears’ day miserable. He had 10 tackles – four for a loss – three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Weber State.

This time he hopes to make Sears’ day bright while trying to extend Sac State’s record to 16-5-1 in home openers in the FCS era.

“He definitely has the fire and wants us to go out there and beat Weber,” Sankey said. “He wants us to control both sides. He wants us to play our hardest. Hopefully, we can go out and get a victory against his old team.”