“Aztecs Football–It Must Be Different”
He had a fire in his gut. His face got flaming red. He spoke with resolve, he talked with passion.
It was Rocky Long and it was San Diego State’s preseason press conference.
It might be a new football season coming, but you can tell the ‘sting’ or the ‘stink’ of what happened last year, is still very much there in his gut.
The Aztecs open preseason camp on Friday, and things are different, and will be different.
The team that collapsed after a (6-1) start, the one that lost 5-games late in the season, then got punched in the mount by Ohio in a (27-0) loss in a bowl game, has not been forgotten.
Long promised in January a full evaluation of the program after an extraordinary finish to a campaign, football like we haven’t seen on Montezuma Mesa since the Chuck Long era.
Lots of things are different, starting with maybe the two most important acquisitions in the off season, not players, but coaches.
Ron Caragher, former head coach at USD, San Jose State, with a strong reputation from his days at Kentucky, joins the staff as passing game coordinator with the responsibility, install the ‘spread’ attack and rejuvenate a dormant passing game.
Brady Hoke returns, as defensive line coach, after losing his job at Michigan, and bouncing around to Oregon, Tennessee, and the Carolina Panthers. He brings emotion, teaching skills, motivation techniques, to that side of the football.
Those two are difference makers, so give Long credit with having the brass to want to add more quality assistants, former head coaches, to what had become a younger coaching staff.
He tore down the team’s off-season training regimen. They ran, ran, and ran more. Conditioning will be their middle name. They had huge gains in the weight room. Spring ball was the most physical it’s been in the last four years. Long went back 8-years to revisit fundamental drills that had been on the shelf.
SDSU replaces a near four year starter at quarterback, but fiesty competitor Ryan Agnew, out of Texas, got tons of experience last yer year when he was forced to play because of the injuries to Christian Chapman, the long term starter. He brings a strong personality to the huddle, and makes plays..
Injuries wrecked the offensive side of the ball. The quarterback, then the star running back Juwan Washington, then the fullback Issac Lassard, and then problems in the offensive front, with injuries and attitudes. They staggered to the finish line.
The Ty Roemer suspension was something we had not seen in years with a Long team up on the hill. A poison in the lockeroom, possibly. For the first time in years, there seemed to be no leadership from the players themselves. There was no Damontee Kazee, no Rashard Penny, no DJ Humphrey.
Long has gone heavy into the transfer venue. Former starting offensive linemen from Oregon and BYU have arrived, and are ready for starting jobs. Transfers from Arizona and Nebraska are on the roster. A couple of hot JUCO’s have arrived, and four more could be here by opening day.
Chemistry and attitude, two things missing last fall, look to be back on campus. That looks like it will change. Offensive center Keith Ishmael, a 3rd year starter, says there won’t be any ‘dark days’ in that locker room now. Agnew exudes spark as a personality in the huddle. Tariq Thompson seems ready to assume a role as a verbal leader.
It’s been two years since the Chargers left town, and yet this city, and those alumni have not embraced the program the way you would imagine. Long is (71-35) with the Red & Black. They’ve been to 8-Bowl games. They’ve beaten teams from the Power 5-Conferences.
The Aztecs have been everything that Boise State was when the Broncos moved to the upper echelon of the conference. But the crowd support has not grown as the program has grown.
A school trying to build a new football stadium, needs a return to the top and be in the running for a New Years Day Bowl Game.
Long pulled his new found phrase out of his pocket….’being just OK is not OK at San Diego State, championship matter.’
The term ‘redemption’ seemed to emminate from different coaches offices I visited on Tuesday. Talk is one thing. Results are important.
Long talked a good game on Tuesday. Now we see if the new quarterback, the load of transfers, the coaching additions, can make a difference.
San Diego State needs it to..