By John Philip Wyllie
There will be a lot of new faces on the field when the SDSU Aztecs play their first home game on September 14. That is why new head coach Tom Craft will be counting on established veterans like Raul Gomez to lead the Aztecs out of the depths of the Mountain West Conference as they try to improve upon last year’s 3-8 record.
“We don’t have one leader or two leaders, we have a lot of leadership that comes from the entire senior class,” Gomez said. “That makes things a lot easier and helps to bring us together as a team. I do my part by trying to set an example for the younger guys. It’s part of my responsibility and I take it very seriously.”
The appointment of Craft as the team’s new head coach has brought about many changes, changes that Gomez believes will improve the team in the long run.
“Coach Craft expects a lot more out of us,” said the versatile 6’3" 305 pound offensive lineman. “This is a brand new offense and system.”
Craft is looking for a team that plays with a quicker tempo and a lot more energy, according to Gomez. This requires an increased commitment on the part of his players. “It’s been a difficult camp, but overall, I feel like the team has been getting better every day,” Gomez said.
While he has been impressed with his new coach, Gomez believes it will take time for the Aztecs to develop into a team that can compete for a conference title. Craft at least, appears to be on the right track.
“I noticed that he brought in a pretty good freshman class,” Gomez said. “That should be big for us later on and in the coming years. We also got a couple J.C. (junior college) transfers who had a pretty good camp. They should help us out too.”
Rather than lamenting the loss of many teammates and friends from last years’ team, Gomez used the off-season to develop into a more complete player. With a reputation as a stronger pass-blocker than a run-blocker, Gomez focused primarily on his run-blocking.
“I’ve been getting better at that all through camp. I know I can pass-block, but I still have to work hard at that. To be a more complete player, I have to run-block more consistently.”
One of only a few Hispanic players on the team, Gomez credits much of his success to his tight knit family.
“If I hadn’t gotten an academic scholarship or an athletic scholarship, I probably wouldn’t be here in college,” Gomez said. “My parents always stressed getting good grades. That was the number one thing. Both of them supported me greatly in both academics and whenever I would play sports. My parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents all come watch me play. Coming from a Mexican background, everybody is tied together and somebody is always there for you.”
***After opening on the road, Thursday night, at Fresno State the Aztecs visit the University of Colorado on Sept 7 in a game that will be televised on Fox Sports Net at 4:00 p.m.