SAN JOSE -- Jason Simpson has needed a lot of patience throughout his San Jose State career.

The fifth-year senior running back had only 31 carries in his first four years with the program and understandably harbored doubts of ever gaining a significant role with the Spartans.

"I think anyone who plays a game, if they're not in a role they want to be in, they can get frustrated," Simpson said. "There's other guys who the coaches feel are more experienced than you and better than you and sometimes you're like, 'I can do that as well.' But you've got to believe in the coaches."

Simpson's big chance finally came in last week's opener against Sacramento State when starter Tyler Ervin left the game with an injury. Simpson responded with 135 yards on 21 carries and delivered a dazzling 55-yard touchdown run.

"Simpson was ready and his opportunity came," coach Ron Caragher said. "That's a credit to his discipline and maturity to understand he needed to be ready, not knowing what could happen."

With Ervin out for an undetermined amount of time, it's now Simpson's chance to shine. He figures to make his first collegiate start Saturday against Stanford.

The Woodside High product was no higher than fifth on the running back depth chart last fall camp. De'Leon Eskridge and Ervin were co-starters and followed by senior David Freeman and true freshman Jalynn McCain, who has since transferred to Houston.

By the end of the year, Ervin was hurt, Freeman was suspended and McCain was redshirting. Simpson had eight carries in a blowout win over New Mexico State and began chalking up first-team repetitions at practice.


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With Ervin hurt again, Eskridge graduated and Freeman and McCain gone, Simpson has surged up the depth chart.

"You never know when you're time is going to come," Simpson said. "Especially at running back, it's kind of a warrior position. We get beat up all the time. It's just staying in it mentally, whether you get the reps or not."

The coaching staff says this is the Simpson they saw throughout spring and fall camp.

"It's really not surprising for us because of the type of camp he had," offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty said. "But to step up and do it when the lights were on was pretty impressive for that kid."

Despite the first-game success, Simpson knows there are questions about the Spartans' ability to run the ball.

"I remember reading some preseason rankings where we were ranked dead last in the Mountain West in terms of running backs," Simpson said. "I took that personally. I shared that with the running backs. Nothing's expected of us."

It's up to Simpson and company to prove critics wrong. SJSU averaged just 3.3 yards per carry last year and was successful on only 52.8 percent (19 of 36) of third- and fourth-down short-yardage run plays (three or fewer yards to gain).

Against Sacramento State, Simpson was a perfect 4 for 4 and the team was 5 for 6 on such opportunities, including Simpson's attempt on fourth down from SJSU's own 37.

"You've got to have that tough mentality, you've got to pound," Simpson said. "As hard as we run on first-and-10, on fourth-and-1, it's a must. Third-and-1, it's a must."

Follow Jimmy Durkin at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.