By John Philip Wyllie
The practice fields of Montezuma Mesa were filled with optimism this week as the San Diego State Aztecs prepared to take on UCLA in their home opener at the “Q” Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.. While the Aztecs come into the game a seven point underdog, there is good reason to believe they may be able to muster more than the 10 points they scored last October when they fell to their long-time rival 33-10. The question is: how many points will their young defense allow?
Veteran Aztec defensive lineman Kurt Kuhui believes the Aztec defense will jell in time.
“I have been here four years and our defense is young this year. I am not the biggest or strongest man on this team, but I am trying to be the big brother out here and lead them by example and show them what is possible.”
Due to injuries, Kuhui may be lining up at least occasionally as a tackle this season, moving inside from his regular defensive end position. Aztec coach, Tom Craft likes Kuhui’s versatility. Kuhui likes the way the defense is progressing. There will be some big shoes to fill, especially at linebacker where last year’s starters have moved on to the NFL. Although inexperienced, the Aztec defense will be substantially faster than last year’s edition.
Kuhui is not concerned about the Aztecs’ previous record against the Bruins (0-19-1) or the seven point spread.
“I like the underdog role. We are going to fight to the last whistle. I am looking forward to playing UCLA. I don’t focus on our previous records. We focus play by play, key by key.”
One thing the Hawaiian-born Kuhui is looking forward to, is playing at the University of Hawaii December 3 before his family and friends. By then, he hopes the Aztecs will have a bowl game invitation locked up.
Kuhui is not the only Aztec thinking about a bowl game. Sophomore running back Lynell Hamilton is back after sitting out the 2004 season while recovering from a broken ankle.
“This is going to be an exciting year. My ankle feels so good right now. There is no soreness or tightness at all. I’ve been icing it everyday after practice, but I have no worries about it at all.”
A healthy Lynell Hamilton is great news for Aztec fans. Before injuring himself late in the 2003 campaign, Hamilton rushed for an incredible 1,087 yards, second in the nation among all 2003 freshman. This time around he has a big, experienced offensive line in front of him and a couple of very capable teammates (Brandon Bornes and Michael Franklin) that can shoulder some of the ball carrying duties.
“We have a lot of weapons. We have so much skill when it comes to our receivers, tight ends and running backs that I expect coach Kraft to use everybody in this offense. If they need me (to be the marquee running back) I will do that, but I am expecting that he will use everybody in this offense.
Highly mobile Aztec quarterback, Kevin O’Connell, has emerged the victor in his preseason battle with Darren Mougey for the starting quarterback role. His experience combined with his accurate arm and unique running ability should create problems for opposing defenses.
Hamilton knows the Aztecs will have their work cut out for them when they play host to the Bruins on Saturday night, but he is looking forward to the challenge.
“Any team is beatable. It will come down to who wants it more and who is better prepared for the game. We are going to be prepared.”