By John Philip Wyllie
It appears that nobody is taking the SDSU Aztec Football Team very seriously this season. Coming off a disappointing 4-7 campaign, the men from Montezuma Mesa are expected by most pollsters to finish eighth in the Mountain West Conference.
Senior wide receiver, Robert Ortiz, is unconcerned about the lack of respect being shown his Aztecs. He hopes they will surprise a lot of people.
“I don’t read the newspapers and don’t really care what they are writing about us. I probably won’t even read this article,” Ortiz said Monday, following the first practice of the new season.
Ortiz, now in his fourth and final season of Aztec football, was second on the team in receiving a year ago behind Jeff Webb with 52 receptions for 728 yards and six TDs. His precise routes and sticky hands made him a favorite target of quarterbacks Kevin O’Connell and Matt Dlugolecki. Ortiz doesn’t seem to mind playing second fiddle to the flashier, more explosive Webb.
“There isn’t really any rivalry between us. We are friends and we root for each other. Most of the teams like to key on him,” Ortiz said. “So, that sometimes creates opportunities for me to get open.”
While the receiving end of things will be placed in the capable hands of Ortiz and Webb the passing part of the equation is at this point up in the air. The more mobile O’Connell, supplanted Dlugolecki in the middle of last season, but highly touted Darren Mougey, another running quarterback with a strong and accurate arm, is very much in the hunt for the starting position. Mougey redshirted last year, watching and learning from the sidelines.
Perhaps the biggest problem a year ago was on the offensive line where the only thing that remained consistent was the lack of consistency. Injuries decimated the Aztecs O-line from the outset and without a stable forward wall Aztec quarterbacks were too often running for their lives and forced into making throws they quickly regretted. Barring another visit from the injury bug, the offensive line now with some added depth, should be improved.
The Aztecs may get their biggest boost from the return of running back Lynell Hamilton. In the 2003, Hamilton ran for 1,087 yards in the ten games that he played before severely breaking his ankle. Hamilton’s ’03 rushing totals ranked him 18th in the nation. He briefly considered returning last year, but with his injury not completely healed he wisely opted to redshirt. A fully recovered Hamilton could work wonders for the Aztec offense.
The defense, however, is another story. Losing all four of its stellar linebackers to the NFL, SDSU may be in big trouble on defense. Senior Freddie Keiaho is being asked to fill the enormous void left by the departure of All-American, Kirk Morrison. Linebackers Joe and Brett Martin share a common last name, but are otherwise unrelated. They will have to learn on the job and in a hurry. Marcus Demps, the sole returning starter from the Aztec secondary, will no doubt miss his former defensive backfield teammates.
The Aztecs kickoff the season Sept. 3 in their typically brutal fashion hosting UCLA, a team they have not beaten in 20 tries. (They did tie them once midway through the Roaring Twenties). On Sept. 10, they will have high altitude to contend with along with Falcons of Air Force. Before they can catch their breaths, they are off to Columbus to play perennial powerhouse Ohio State in a chamber of horrors they call the Horse Shoe. Surviving team members will return home September 24 to face a team they should beat, San Jose State.
Optimism runs high at the beginning of every season and so it is with Ortiz.
“After seven months I am just excited to be out on the field again,” he said.
Family Day Set For Aug. 20 At Qualcomm Stadium
Select-a-seat, Tailgate Town, kickoff dinner highlight day of activities
San Diego State’s second football scrimmage of the preseason, Family Day, will take place Aug. 20 at Qualcomm Stadium, marking the second consecutive year the event has been held in Mission Valley. Family Day will feature its traditional activities, including interactive games with Aztec student-athletes, and will also include a chance for fans to select their seats for season tickets.
The Mighty 1090, the flagship station for SDSU football, will sponsor Tailgate Town on the Qualcomm Stadium concourse. Following the scrimmage, there will be an autograph session with Aztec players and a sit-down dinner on the field.
Family Day itself, including parking, is free to the public, although SDSU will be accepting donations of stuffed animals that will be presented to Children’s Hospital. The stadium will open its gates at 1 p.m. The scrimmage is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and will last approximately 90 minutes.
The dinner is $50 per person and $500 for a table of 10, including the sponsorship of an Aztec football player. The evening program begins at 4:30 p.m. with a 30-minute reception, followed by the dinner and program.
For more information, or to make dinner reservations, contact the Aztec Athletic Foundation at (619) 594-6444.