Campus and community rally behind historic Hornet football team
June 15, 2023
It was a season – actually a remarkable stretch of seasons – Sacramento State football fans will not soon forget.
The Hornets finished 2022 with a 12-1 record and were ranked as high as second in the nation, the latest chapter in a historic three-season run over four pandemic-interrupted years that has included three consecutive Big Sky Championships, three consecutive Causeway Classic victories over UC Davis, an overall win-loss record of 30-8, and a 23-1 conference mark.
The only 2022 defeat? A wild 66-63 loss to Incarnate Word in the Football Championship Series playoff quarterfinals on Dec. 9.
Fans on campus and in the community have taken notice, and game attendance has soared. A record 23,237 fans packed Hornet Stadium for the 2022 Causeway Classic.
"It brings tears to my eyes to see our campus community, alumni, and greater Sacramento community embrace Sac State football," Athletic Director Mark Orr said. "This past season, we set the school record for overall and average attendance at games."
The coach who led the 2019-2022 teams, Troy Taylor, saw his success open other doors, and on Dec. 10 he accepted the head-coaching position at Stanford.
"It brings tears to my eyes to see our campus community, alumni, and greater Sacramento community embrace Sac State football." -- Mark Orr, Athletic director
Andy Thompson, who had been defensive coordinator for the Hornets since 2019, replaced Taylor.
Thompson acknowledged that a transition is under way, but the basic elements for success remain in place.
"Probably the biggest difference between Coach Taylor and myself is I work on the defensive side of the ball, and he worked on the offensive side of the ball," Thompson said.
"We shared a lot of same values and worked together well, but it will be a little bit different just because I'm not him. We want to be innovative. We want to be exciting to watch."
Returning players are motivated to keep things rolling.
"They're going to basically see the same … team, but (a team that) just wants it a little bit more," said third-year wide receiver Devin Gandy. "I'm going to go harder for everybody."
Jared Gipson, also returning as a third-year receiver, said the community's support inspires the team.
"It's cool to see that we've built that kind of culture around here, so hopefully we'll be able to keep it up," he said.
The team plans to host community celebrations ahead of its first home game of the 2023 season on Sept. 9.
"This is us giving back to the community, just having them be proud of us," Gandy said. "When they're there and the stands are packed and stuff … it makes us feel good. And it actually makes us play harder."
President Robert S. Nelsen, who is retiring and moving home to Texas in July, has been the Hornets' most visible booster. He said he will continue to follow the team.
"With our outstanding coaching staff, talented returning players, and exciting incoming recruits, next season will be another you won't want to miss," Nelsen said. "I believe that we will be as good as, or even better than, last (season). I am going to miss being at the games, but I promise you that I will be watching every game on ESPN+, cheering the Hornets on to victory."
Thompson said the team's strategy will largely stay the same, with some adjustments.
"At the end of the year, we had some games where we didn't play as well as a team," Thompson said. "We want to try to be at our best for a longer period of time. I think that's one thing we could talk about, as far as next year, improving, is not getting behind early."
While winning a national championship would be a significant accomplishment, Thompson said his student-athletes' educational success is even more important.
"The No. 1 goal … is to graduate our players every year," Thompson said. "That is the ultimate pinnacle of their experience here at Sac State. We want them to walk out of here with a degree, and if they get a chance to win a national championship, that would be the second goal."
Orr said the most impressive part of the Hornets' success is that it is made possible through collective effort from players and their families, the team's staff, Sac State's faculty, and the community.
"As a native Sacramentan, I have always felt our community would rally around Sac State football if we had success," Orr said. "The past three seasons, and especially most recently in 2022, have proven that to be very true."