The San Diego State University football team will kick off its 2013 season in spectacular fashion Saturday, Aug. 31, at Qualcomm Stadium by playing host to the KGB SkyShow gala. The Aztecs are hoping to produce some fireworks on the field as well.
SDSU opens the season with a non-conference game against the Eastern Illinois Panthers. Kick-off is 5 p.m., followed by the annual crowd-pleasing fireworks display.
The Aztecs, once ticketed to play in the proposed national-imprint Big East, are now back in familiar territory in the expanded Mountain West Conference, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this season. In fact, the now 12-team MW has split into two geographic divisions, with each division champion meeting in a post-season conference championship game in December.
SDSU is picked to finish second to Fresno State in the new MW West Division. Joining the Aztecs and Bulldogs as divisional foes are San Jose State, the University of Nevada-Reno, Hawaii and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
The MW’s Mountain Division includes Boise State, Air Force Academy, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah State and Colorado State.
San Jose State and Utah State are both new additions to the MW this year.
SDSU, Fresno State and Boise State shared rare honors as MW tri-champions last season as all three teams finished with 7-1 conference records.
Both the Aztecs and Bulldogs — longtime intrastate rivals — finished 9-4 last season while 18th-ranked Boise State finished 11-2.
SDSU entered training camp with 114 players and was set to trim that number down to 105 as school started this week. The Aztecs continue to recruit locally, and have a sizable number of San Diego County products on their roster, including a continued South County presence.
Three former Metro Conference standouts grace this year’s SDSU roster: sophomore offensive lineman Jonathan Henkel, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Nico Siragusa (Mater Dei Catholic) and sophomore running back Paul Sierra (Castle Park).
Siragusa stands (6-5, 315 pounds) and Henkel (6-4, 275 pounds) are both college-sized linemen with a year of experience under their cleats and appear to be groomed for the future.
Sierra (5-9, 180) is currently well down the depth chart at the running back position but injuries could see him move up down the line. Again, he appears to be someone positioned for future playing time.
Sierra rushed for 891 yards and scored 12 rushing touchdowns during the 2010 season for Castle Park. He finished the season with 14 touchdowns overall and also made a fumble recovery while playing defense.
The Aztecs’ five former East County high school standouts have received more playing time so far.
Junior defensive lineman Sam Meredith (Helix), sophomore defensive lineman Robert Craighead (El Capitan) and junior punter Joel Alesi (Christian) all return while red-shirt freshman linebacker Micah Seau (Bishop’s) and freshman defensive lineman Malcolm Jackson (Mt. Miguel) join the varsity unit this season.
Meredith appeared in all 13 of SDSU’s games in 2012 (a 9-4 overall record). He collected 21 solo tackles and 15 assists for 36 total tackles to go with 5.5 sacks.
Craighead appeared in eight games with three tackles, including two solo stops.
Alesi averaged 43.5 yards on six punts last year, with a longest punt of 56 yards.
Other San Diego County products include graduates from Mira Mesa, Madison, St. Augustine, Mission Bay, Oceanside, Lincoln, La Costa Canyon, Valley Center, San Diego, Ramona and Scripps Ranch high schools.
Red and Black
SDSU has appeared in three consecutive post-season bowl games, including last year’s 23-6 setback to BYU at the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
Aztec head coach Rocky Long said the team’s biggest question marks this season are finding a back-up running back and an offensive lineman.
“We have to find one more offensive lineman who’s able to start,” Long stated in an athletics department release. “I think we have the best running back in the league (Adam Muema), but he needs a decent backup so he doesn’t have to carry the ball 40 to 45 times a game.
“On defense, we’ve got one area of concern – at cornerback. We don’t have any corners who have proved they can play. Other than that, everything looks pretty good.”
Also on order, according to Long, will be a quality back-up to quarterback Adam Dingwell.
Muema rushed for 1,458 net yards in 2012 and scored 16 rushing touchdowns. The yardage total was the eighth most ever by an Aztec in a single season and third-highest ever by a SDSU sophomore (trailing only Ronnie Hillman’s 1,711 yards in 2011 and Marshall Faulk’s 1,630 in 1992).
Muema, along with senior safety Nate Berhe and junior linebacker Jake Fely, each received selection to the MW preseason all-conference team.
The team held its annual Red/Black scrimmage Aug. 17 at Qualcomm Stadium, with the Black squad defeating the Red squad 24-14. Colin Lockett caught two early touchdowns — one each from Dingwell and Quinn Kaehler — while Chase Price scored on a seven-yard run and quarterback Chad Jefferies hit Jemond Hazely for an 11-yard scoring pass.
Dingwell finished the scrimmage by completing six of 10 passing attempts for 197 while running backs Dwayne Garrett collected 60 yards on eight carries and De’Shaan Hardwick (Madison) rushed for 47 yards on 11 carries.
Lockett finished the scrimmage match-up with four catches for 227 yards, including scoring passes of 70 yards from Dingwell and 55 yards from Kaehler.
The Red squad’s two touchdowns came on a 41-yard interception return by Billy Vaughn Jr. and another pick for six by Rene Siluano (Oceanside). Cody Galea later sacked Kaehler in the end zone for a two-point safety.
Overall, the SDSU defensive performance was impressive. Besides scoring the two defensive touchdowns, the Aztec defense combined for 10 tackles for losses to go with six pass break-ups, three sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Jake Fely (Oceanside) recorded five unassisted tackles, including two for a loss, while Vaughn Jr. finished with five tackles, including four unassisted tackles. Tony Bell also made an interception while Alex Barrett recovered a fumble.
SDSU 2013 Football Schedule
After hosting Eastern Illinois, SDSU will play a key road game at Ohio State on Sept. 7 in a game to be televised by ABC-TV. The Aztecs then return home for a high profile encounter against Oregon State slated for Sept. 21. That game, which will feature a 4:30 p.m. kick-off time, will be telecast by the CBS Sports Network.
SDSU travels to New Mexico State for a Sept. 28 encounter and will host Nevada on Oct. 4 in its first divisional encounter.
The Aztecs play at Air Force on Oct. 10 in a rare Thursday match-up. SDSU then hosts Fresno State in an important divisional encounter on Oct. 26 before tackling visiting New Mexico on Nov. 2.
South County prep standouts catching on with USD Toreros
The University of San Diego Toreros have a pair of South County standouts on their 2013 football roster. Eastlake High School grad D’Angelo Barksdale is listed as a redshirt junior receiver while Calvary Christian Academy alum Justin Harrison is listed as a freshman linebacker.
Barksdale (6-1, 187) is a fourth-year Torero. He had seven receptions for 57 yards last season after appearing in seven games in 2011 with five catches for 61 yards. He sat out the 2010 campaign as a redshirt.
Barksdale, played quarterback at EHS, earning first-team all-league honors and second-team All-CIF recognition as a senior year when he completed 108 passes for 2,400 yards with 15 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
He received second-team all-league recognition as a junior after passing for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns against just three picks.
Harrison (6-1, 225) is a first-year player at USD. His presence on the squad speaks volumes for his talent after playing for one of the smaller programs in the county in high school. He helped lead the Royal Knights to a perfect 4-0 finish in Citrus League play last year as CCA finished 8-3 overall with a trip to the San Diego Section Division V playoffs.
Harrison rushed for 1,862 yards, scored 28 rushing touchdowns, totaled 2,041 all-purpose yards and made a team-leading 65 tackles while earning first-team all-league honors as a senior. He rushed for 1,473 yards and scored 10 rushing TDs as a junior.
Harrison also lettered in basketball four times and once in track. He earned all-league honors in basketball as well.
Both Barksdale and Harrison are business majors at USD.
The Toreros, who compete in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) kick off the 2013 college season Saturday, Aug. 31, with a non-conference game at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before returning home to host Western New Mexico (Sept. 7) and Harvard (Sept. 21).
The Toreros play in the national imprint Pioneer League, which in 2013 will receive an automatic bid into the FCS Division I playoffs.
USD shared last year’s PFL championship title with Butler and Drake after sharing the 2011 title with Drake.
Overall, the Toreros have won five PFL championships since 2005. Dayton has the most with 11, followed by Drake with six.