I’ve said before that I am a man for all seasons – Fishing, Hunting and Aztecs – and it is the latter that brings me to the keyboard this morning. Having followed Aztec football for most of my nearly 70 years, I’m pleased to shout, “HOW ABOUT THOSE AZTECS! Last evening the gritty football team from San Diego State University achieved the goal they’ve aimed at since the start of the season – they are the back-to-back champions of the Mountain West Conference.
In order to claim their second straight crown and third in the last five seasons the Aztecs had to beat a tough gang of Wyoming Cowboys, the same bunch that handed them their first conference loss three weeks earlier, and do it on the Cowboys home turf in front of a hostile crowd that was better dressed for the 18 degree weather, which was the second coldest ever faced by an Aztec team in the program’s 94 seasons of playing the game of football. The 27-24 victory provided the Aztecs with their 21st conference championship and a likely berth in the Las Vegas Bowl, marking their 7th straight appearance in a post-season bowl.
Head Coach Rocky Long who is more averse to the spotlight than most coaches gives the credit to his players, including running back and Heisman candidate Donnel Pumphrey who needs just 108 more yards to surpass Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne on the NCAA’s career rushing list, though in all fairness, it should be noted that Dayne’s total of 6,397 yards does not include bowl games which have only been included in the statistics since 2002. Although attracted to the spotlight like a mosquito to bare skin, Pumphrey is quick to share credit with an outstanding offensive line led by Nico Siragusa, fellow running back Rashaad Penny and receivers valued more for their downfield blocking than catching footballs.
Offense alone does not win football games and the Aztecs boast a solid and opportunistic defense along with outstanding special teams play led by sophomore kicker John Baron II and Penny who as a junior already holds the Aztecs record for kickoffs returned for a touchdown. All-American cornerback Damontae Kazee and middle linebacker Calvin Munson, like Pumphrey and Siragusa are expected to be drafted with a chance to be playing on Sundays next year.
Long often claims that it takes players to win games and coaches to lose them, but there is no greater reason for the Aztecs turnaround and success in recent years than Long himself since taking over as head coach in 2011 and fashioning a record of 53 wins against 26 losses, including consecutive 10-win seasons with one more game to go in 2016. To his credit, Long brings additional measures of success that are rarely talked about, but should be discussed with regard to “student-athletes.” During his tenure, the Aztecs have shown significant improvement in the classroom as evidenced by the team’s cumulative GPA and graduation rates.
As a strict disciplinarian with a no-nonsense approach toward conduct both on and off the field, Long is widely admired for the manner in which he holds his players accountable. That may not show up on a stat sheet, but it might be the most important of all.
Those interested in following Aztec Athletics might enjoy a visit to SDSU’s www.goaztecs.com as well as fan sites such as Aztecs Fight and Aztec Mesa.