By Ray Hamill — As he gets set for his final season at San Diego State this fall, former Big 5 standout Kyle Spalding recalled recently how being around the game of football here on the North Coast helped prepare him to play in college.
Spalding, a starting left tackle for the Aztecs, graduated McKinleyville in 2016, and says many of the people he met through the sport in Humboldt County played a big role in shaping his career.
In particular, coaches Spencer Phillips and Drew Petersen — the latter of whom is a legendary strength and conditioning coach at Humboldt State — as well as some well-known former HSU stars.
“I was woking out in the weight room (at HSU) with college football players,” said Spalding, who was a high school teammate and close friend of Petersen’s son Bryce. “I was there with guys like Josh Hanson and (Alex) Cappa, and just like-minded people who knew football. And being around them they mentally kind of rubbed off on me, and that helped me to be able to get to where I am today.”
It has been a surprising journey of sorts, and one in which the former Panthers standout has had to adapt.
The 6-6, 300-pound Spalding was recruited by San Diego State to play tight end after playing quarterback in high school.
After red shirting in his first year with the Aztecs, Spalding then switched to right tackle as a sophomore, before moving once again at the start of his junior year and starting at left tackle.
He admits all the moving around has been tough, but he believes he has finally found a home at left tackle.
“Having to go from quarterback to a position I had never played before was hard, and then one year later doing the same thing again. It was definitely a challenge,” he said. “We needed someone to play right tackle, so I played right tackle, and then I found my way to left tackle.
“It’s a big position, but it’s definitely where I feel more comfortable.”
Spalding is projected to remain the starting left tackle this fall, on an Aztecs team that was an impressive 10-3 last season.
The team will have a new head coach after Brady Hoke took over from Rocky Long.
Hoke, a former Michigan head coach, was the Aztecs defensive line coach last season under Long and has retained the majority of the staff, including long-time offensive line coach Mike Schmidt.
So the transition will be minimal for Spalding.
The former Panther admits “it’s kind of a big deal for my family and me” to play for Hoke because his father is a Michigan graduate and Spalding himself, who was born in the state, grew up a big Michigan fan.
In addition to preparing him for the jump to college, Spalding says he’ll always fondly remember his time playing at Mack High.
“I made some great friendships there and we had some great memories,” he said.
In particular his junior year, when Phillips took over as offensive coordinator under head coach Sean Curry, and the Panthers enjoyed one of their best seasons in recent years.
“My junior season is probably the one I remember the most,” Spalding said. “We had a new coach, Spencer Phillips, and coach Curry really trusted him with me and the offense.
“We made a lot of changes that year and went full spread, and we won a lot of games.”
Most notably a 42-0 North Coast Section playoff win at home to El Molino.
As for this year, Spalding, as always, has high hopes for the Aztecs.
“We’re hoping for a season. This COVID thing hasn’t been helping, but we do what we can,” he said. “Our goal at San Diego State is to win a conference championship every year.”