SAN JOSE -- The veterans on the San Jose State football team say the program today bears no resemblance to the one they first joined.
"It went from a bunch of guys trying to play football to a team actually playing football," senior linebacker Vince Buhagiar said.
Still, there's one major thing it lacks -- consistency.
That's the buzzword the coaching staff used when it was selecting a starting quarterback and picked senior Blake Jurich over junior Joe Gray. If they can get consistent play even after the departure of the record-setting David Fales, the hope is that the Spartans can begin experiencing consistent success as a program.
San Jose State hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1991-92, with last year's disappointing 6-6 campaign helping to continue that streak. And that was with Fales.
There's no doubt the Spartans have made strides, and the players feel confident the program is on the rise. The 22 wins over the past three years are the most since San Jose State also won 22 from 1990-92.
But since 1992, there have only been three winning seasons. If SJSU is to become a strong and stable program, it can ill afford a season of regression.
"We need to keep winning," senior defensive tackle Travis Raciti said. "When you get wins, you get funding, and funding helps keep the program at the top."
The athletic department remains hopeful of breaking ground on the Vermeil-Walsh Athletic Complex, which would replace the bleachers and visiting locker room in the north end zone of Spartan Stadium and provide new locker rooms, offices, meeting space and luxury suites. The school remains well over $10 million shy for the total $38.5 million project.
The original hope when the project was approved in March 2013 was to break ground by the end of that year and have it completed by the 2015 season. That's no longer realistic, but athletic director Gene Bleymaier remains optimistic.
"We're continuing to cultivate donors, and we're making slow progress. I'd like it to be a little faster," Bleymaier said. "We have a ways to go."
While that's beyond the players' control, they know it's up to them to make sure a culture of winning remains in the locker room.
"The old mentality is out where getting by is acceptable," junior left tackle Wes Schweitzer said. "That's not how it is anymore. We've got to strive to be great and work hard every day."
That's where the youth comes in. The depth chart is littered with players who are freshmen or sophomores. Those players saw how the program turned around with an 11-2 season in 2012 and know it's on their shoulders to maintain it.
"Coming in here, we feel like that set a new standard," sophomore wide receiver Tyler Winston said. "We have the team to keep that standard the whole time we're here. We don't want drop-offs, going on that roller coaster up and down. They set that standard, and we have to keep it going."
"We saw how it was done and what we needed to do to stay at the top," sophomore tight end Billy Freeman added. "Not that we're at the top -- we've got a long way to go -- but we've seen how hard work pays off."
The veterans say it'll be their job to keep showing the underclassmen what it takes.
"We've been going out of our way to leave a legacy in teaching what we've learned and what we've picked up on our journey at San Jose State," Raciti said.
That can be as simple as reminding the younger players how much better things are now.
"I joke around with them all the time because we have 12 or 13 linebackers in that meeting room," Buhagiar said. "There was one week my freshman year where it was just me and Keith (Smith) left."
Sophomore linebacker Christian Tago seems destined to be one of the new team leaders and said he took the time during his redshirt year in 2012 to learn.
"I just sat back and saw how the older guys structured it and how they ran practice," Tago said. "Coaches didn't need to step in and say anything. They policed guys."
Tago, like most of the younger players, feels the program is headed in the right direction.
"You have your up-and-down seasons, but I feel like we're going up at a steady pace," Tago said. "Last year was a neutral year, but I feel like we're on the right track to being one of the best teams in the Mountain West."
Opening game: North Dakota at San Jose State, 7 p.m. Thursday
Key date: Sept. 27 vs. Nevada
Sophomore Tyler Winston was second on the team with 858 yards receiving last season.
Complete season overview, 2014 schedule. PAGE 6