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August 16, 2012Leon McFadden is a three-year starting cornerback entering his fourth season at San Diego State. He's been arguably the best corner in the Mountain West these past two years, and was selected as the conference's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Coming out of high school, McFadden was an overlooked two-star prospect whose only offer was from SDSU.
Brice Butler is a senior wide receiver entering his first season at San Diego State. He transferred from USC, where he didn't get much of an opportunity to showcase his ability with the loaded Trojan receiving corps. His best season came in his freshman year, where he had 20 catches for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Coming out of high school, Butler was a four-star Rivals Top 100 prospect who had offers from the likes of USC, Florida State, Georgia and Notre Dame.
It seems like Butler and McFadden couldn't be any more different, but they do have some things in common, and have developed a tight-knit friendship.
"Me and Leon have this little thing off the field," Butler said. "He's an L.A. guy, I was in L.A. for four years, so we have a lot of stuff to talk about, and he's a cool cat."
But the similarities run deeper than a Los Angeles connection. They're two of the Aztecs' most talented skill players, who share a singular goal of a conference championship. They've been going head-to-head in fall camp, and their one-on-one battles are always a sight to see.
"He's arguably the best defensive back in the Mountain West Conference," Butler said. "I want to be the best receiver in the Mountain West Conference. So we talk together and we said, "Hey, when we're out there against each other, we got to go at it, no holds barred, whatever goes. So we're out there battling and just trying to make each other better."
"Every day in practice we're making each other better," McFadden added. "Going against him makes me that much better of a player."
McFadden headlines a young SDSU defense that returns only five starters and must replace playmakers like Miles Burris and Larry Parker. He's been motivated by the disappointing performance the Aztec secondary put up in a 32-30 loss against Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl, and is carrying the chip on his shoulder into the season.
"He's smart, I know he gameplans the opponents very well," Butler said of McFadden. "He knows our offense very well, so you know he pays very good attention and all that good stuff. And he's also very athletic and he can play the ball. He used to play receiver, so he has that knack for the ball and has that prime-time instinct. The ball's in the air so he goes up and gets it, he's got great feet and a good backpedal, so he's an all-around great player."
"He keeps me on my toes," The senior receiver smiled. "If you lollygag, he's going to be all over your routes. So you know that you have to be on your p's and q's when you go against him."
On the other hand, Butler is part of a resurgent wide receiver unit that looks to be much improved from last year. He's performed well in camp, and could be the most talented SDSU wideout since Vincent Brown.
"His route-running, and he has speed behind it," McFadden replied when asked what Butler does so well. "That's two of the key things he needs. And his size, (he's a) tall receiver. I'm going to be facing those types of receivers so it's giving me a good look."
They'll also both use this season as one last chance to show NFL scouts that they're the real deal.
"I definitely think (Butler) has the skills to take it to the next level," McFadden said. "He'll be in the NFL."
"No doubt, (McFadden) would be one of the best corners in the Pac-12 right now if he was playing there," Butler added. "I told him that already, so I just tell him to keep on working hard. We're in a smaller conference, but they'll come find you wherever you're at, it doesn't matter."
-- SDSU had its first closed practice Wednesday morning to game plan for Washington, and head coach Rocky Long said the practice was "a little ragged."
"You have to train scout teams too, and this was the first time they were actually scout teams," Long said. "So they were a little shaky and if they're a little shaky and don't give you a real good picture, the other guys look bad too, because the picture's not exactly what they're going to see."
-- SDSU commits Trey Lomax and Addison Morrow visited practice on Wednesday evening. ASR will have a story up on their visit on Friday.
-- SDSU recently updated the depth chart, and there were a few significant changes. Sophomore transfer outside linebacker Derek Largent and senior receiver Dominique Sandifer both moved up to the No. 2 spot at their respective positions.
"He seems like he's almost 100 percent back," Long said of Sandifer. "I'm not sure he feels confident enough to put that kind of pressure on his leg and everything, but he looks to be 100 percent, and so hopefully he'll have a good year.
"Largent's done a nice job. I don't know if he's ready to play yet, but he's done a nice job since he's been here and Vaness (Harris) is a little beat up. He's not beat up enough to not be able to play, but we're trying to give him a little bit of a rest. He's got a sore knee and a sore shoulder and all that."
-- There was a new face out at practice on Wednesday wearing No. 56: walk-on defensive lineman Sven Reiger. Reiger is an exchange student from Germany who took the place of walk-on safety Mario Lodge (out with a concussion) on the 105-man roster.
-- With fall camp about halfway through, players are starting to hit the wall and the mental toughness aspect is coming into play.
"Right now this is the time where the little voice in your head is trying to tell you to stop going, you're physically beat up so you want to, but you have to have that mental toughness to keep going," Butler said. "The brain can make your body go when your body is trying to tell you to stop. I feel like our guys are doing real good and our practice tonight was real crisp for the offense, and we're getting better."
-- Long says the right tackle and left guard competitions are still going strong in camp, and he'll use 2-3 tight ends and 4-6 wide receivers in games this season, depending on the gameplan.