San Jose State Spartans prepare for Mountain West opener, rest of season without star receiver Lockhart

San Jose State Spartans prepare for Mountain West opener, rest of season without star receiver Lockhart

SAN JOSE — San Jose State’s chase for a second Mountain West Conference title in four seasons starts on Friday night, but it won’t include star wide receiver Justin Lockhart.

Spartans head coach Brent Brennan on Monday announced that Lockhart will have surgery on an undisclosed injury and won’t play this season.

Lockhart, a senior, was a preseason All-Mountain West First Team selection but hasn’t played a down this season. SJSU (1-3) is coming off a challenging non-conference slate, but gets a fresh start with the opening of Mountain West play at Spartan Stadium against Air Force on Friday night.

“Losing a talent like that who’s big, fast and a deep threat is a huge loss,” said SJSU quarterback Chevan Cordeiro.

The Spartans have turned to junior Nick Nash to take over the No. 1 receiver spot with Lockhart sidelined. Nash leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns through SJSU’s first four games. Nash, a converted quarterback, had huge games against No. 5 USC (three touchdown receptions) and against Toledo over the weekend (six catches for 80 yards).

Along with Nash, juniors Malikhi Miller and Charles Ross have stepped into bigger roles in the passing game. SJSU doesn’t have any plans to change the offense even with the news of Lockhart’s surgery.

“We’ve always had a next man up mentality,” said SJSU offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven. “Justin was a good player, and there were some things that we’d like to feature in our offense with him, but we’re not doing anything different schematically because he’s not with us.”

But the Spartans have had to be creative in his absence. The six-foot-three receiver was a dynamic athlete who could stretch the field while also giving the offense a big target to throw to in the red zone.

In 2022, after transferring from Nevada, Lockhart caught 36 passes for 578 yards and a touchdown for the Spartans. He teamed with Elijah Cooks, who’s now in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, as one of the top tandems in the Mountain West. Before this season started, Lockhart said he had high expectations for himself and the team.

“I feel like I’m ready to be a leader on this team,” Lockhart said during training camp. “I’ve been trying to take as many young receivers under my wing as I can. The only goal I have is to win a Mountain West Championship.”

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The Spartans had one of the best passing offenses in the Mountain West last season, but enter conference play at No. 7 in total passing offense among the 12 teams. Cordeiro is averaging 5.9 yards per pass attempt through the first four games — the lowest of his career.

Losing Lockhart is just another blow to a Spartan offense that has been hit by injuries all season. Running back Kairee Robinson and tight end Dominick Mazotti have each missed a game because of injury. Starting tight end Sam Olson was removed from Saturday’s game against Toledo after he was tackled awkwardly in the second quarter.

“I feel like this year, we have to be able to play more together,” Cordeiro said about the team’s recent injuries. “Just everything this year, we have to play as one and be perfect.”

After opening up the season against two Top-20 teams and a conference champion, it doesn’t get any easier on Friday night for SJSU. The Falcons (3-0, 1-0 MW) are undefeated and opened up conference play by beating Utah State 39-21.