By John Philip Wyllie
At 2-5 and their chances of qualifying for a bowl game quickly slipping away, the San Diego State Aztecs return to the gridiron Saturday night (6:00 p.m.) when they host the tough Wyoming Cowboys (5-3) at the “Q.” In their last outing October 20, the red and black came within an eyelash of upsetting (6-2) New Mexico, but ultimately fell 20-17 after some last minute Lobos heroics. Last weekend’s scheduled contest against BYU had to be postponed until December 1 due to the fires, so the Aztecs have had an extra week to heal and prepare.
Wyoming should provide another stiff test to see just how far the Aztecs have come under second year coach, Chuck Long. In their favor, the Aztecs boast a 6-2 record over the Cowboys in their last eight meetings, but past results will of course be meaningless once the teams strap on their gear and take to the field Saturday night.
One of the Aztecs vying for increased playing time Saturday night will be former two-time Mesa League Player of the Year Marcus Yarbrough out of Eastlake High. Currently the back-up middle linebacker behind starter Luke Laolgi, Yarbrough got off to a slow start with the Aztecs, but after red-shirting last season he is beginning to contribute. Yarbrough has seen limited action in six of the team’s seven games this season and recorded nine tackles.
“When I first arrived here I was a little out of shape, but through better nutrition and conditioning I lost 20 pounds. I am down to 235 now and I am quicker and faster. I’m also learning the game,” Yarbrough said.
Football is in Yarbrough’s blood. His father Daryl was an outstanding offensive lineman for the Aztecs from 1978-81. Despite that fact, the elder Yarbrough remained neutral when it came time for his son to pick between offers from a half dozen schools including UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona.
“My father really didn’t have a big influence. He just left it up to me. I didn’t really want to go anywhere else. I grew up in San Diego and I love it here. Playing here has been everything I expected it to be. I still like the program and still like the coaches, so everything is going well for me.”
If Long is going to make good on his promise to turn what has been a losing program into a winner, he will have to convince more top-notch local athletes like Yarbrough to stay home and forgo the glamour and adventure of going away to college. If he could somehow lead his Aztecs to a winning season, it might do wonders for his recruiting efforts. Getting above .500 this year might be too much to expect, but with Yarbrough and others like him, Long is building towards a brighter future.
“When Coach Long came in here he found that this team had become accustomed to losing. He is trying to change that mentality around. I see it changing right now. We have had a couple of close games that we should have won. I think things around here are going to start changing soon.”