The San Diego State University football team will be well represented by 25 homegrown San Diego County players when the Aztecs take on Brigham Young University in the eighth annual San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Thursday, Dec. 20, at Qualcomm Stadium.
Kick-off is set for 5 p.m.
The Aztecs enter the game 9-3 on the season after winning a share of this year’s Mountain West Conference championship title with a 7-1 league record.
BYU is 7-5.
Four South County players are on this year’s SDSU roster, led by senior tight end D.J. Shields, a Bonita Vista High School graduate, who received the President’s Award for High Academic Achievement at the team’s annual awards banquet on Dec. 2.
Sophomore linebacker Andrew Feaster, a transfer from Southwestern College, is a graduate of Eastlake High School while Nico Siragusa (Mater Dei Catholic) and Jon Henkel (Otay Ranch) are both freshmen offensive linemen.
Shields will be making his third consecutive bowl appearance with the Aztecs. He appeared in all 12 SDSU games this season, making six catches for 56 yards and one touchdown. He was instrumental as a blocker in helping his team set a new school record with 2,750 rushing yards.
Feaster, who saw primary duty on special teams, appeared in seven games.
Shields was one of 16 Aztecs to be recognized at the team’s awards banquet on Dec. 2 by receiving the President’s Award for High Academic Achievement.
He said he and his teammates are very proud of helping SDSU qualify for its third consecutive bowl game — a first at the Montezuma Mesa school.
“It’s never been done before,” Shields said. “Last year we came out on the back side (a 32-30 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on a last-second 50-yard field goal at the New Orleans Bowl) but two years ago we won the Poinsettia Bowl. It felt great. Hopefully, we can do it again.”
The former BVHS multi-sport standout, who stands 6-4 and weighs 240, said he and his linemates have obviously taken a great deal of pride in helping the team establish the school record for single-season rushing yards.
“It shows you that football is a team game — 11 guys are working together,” Shields explained. “The tight ends had a lot to do with that.”
Shields said he will be leaving behind a lot of “great” memories when he takes the Qualcomm Stadium field against BYU in the upcoming Poinsettia Bowl.
“It’s nice to be playing at home,” he said. “This will be my last game (as an Aztec) here. It’s an awesome way to end it. I grew up here and got to play in front of all my family and friends. It will be exciting to end it here.
“I’ll be leaving with a lot of great memories.
“All three bowl games are right up there but also going up to Boise and beating them (a 21-19 SDSU victory at then No. 19 Boise State on Nov. 3). We’d never beaten a ranked team before. And beating Nevada in overtime (39-38 on Oct. 20) by going for the two-point conversion to win.”
Red and Black
Ten Aztecs were honored on this year’s All-Mountain West Conference team, including first team picks Nik Embernate, a senior offensive lineman, junior tight end Gavin Escobar and senior defensive back Leon McFadden.
SDSU’s second team all-conference selections included junior safety Nat Berhe, senior center Alec Johnson, sophomore running back Adam Muema and junior linebacker Jake Fely.
All-conference honorable mentions include sophomore defensive lineman Sam Meredith, sophomore linebacker Derek Largent and junior offensive lineman Bryce Quigley.
Ebernate, Johnson and Quigley were integral in helping SDSU set a school record with 2,750 rushing yards this season.
Muema finished the regular season with 1,391 yards (No. 8 in Aztec single-season history) and 16 rushing touchdowns while Escobar led SDSU with 41 receptions, 519 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns.
Berhe led all Aztecs with 87 tackles (62 solo), while recording two interceptions, two tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery while McFadden, who has played in every game since arriving on campus as a true freshman in 2009, set career highs this year in tackles (59), solo stops (45), interceptions (three) and forced fumbles (one), while adding two interception returns for a touchdown.
Largent had 57 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
It all added up to Aztec head coach Rocky Long being named the 2012 MWC Coach of the Year.
“We had several people on our team make all-conference which is really nice for the individual, but it's more of a statement about the program,” Long told the media at a recent press conference. “It's nice for the program to be recognized in those kinds of things.
“My feeling is that I'm uncomfortable with the award because it has nothing to do with me. It has to do with players playing well and winning games. You only get those kinds of awards if you win games.
“I think it says more of a statement about how far the players have come.”
At the team’s award banquet, McFadden earned honors as the team’s overall MVP while Muema was named the team’s Offensive Player of the Year award and senior running back Walter Kazee tabbed as the team’s most inspirational player.
Kazee ranked second on the team with 840 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs.
Like Shields, Oceanside’s Fely (the team’s Defensive Player of the Year) and Helix’s Meredith (the team’s Defensive Lineman of the Year) are two more homegrown prep products who have made an impact at SDSU.
“It’s a great reward for the team and the season we’ve had,” Meredith said in regard to next week’s bowl game. “We’re going to have a lot of fans on our side. Last year in New Orleans, we had a small section while the rest of the stadium was full of their fans.”
Fely, a second team All-Mountain West Conference selection, ranked second on the team with 86 tackles, including a team-high 11.5 tackles for a loss. He also led the Aztecs with seven sacks, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
Meredith, an honorable mention All-MWC pick, chalked up 31 tackles, including 16 unassisted stops, 4.5 sacks, one pass deflection and one fumble recovery. He led all Aztec defensive linemen in tackles.
Also among the locals, punter Seamus McMorrow (St. Augustine) received the Outstanding Freshman Award at the team's awards banquet after averaging 41.9 yards on 35 punts, including a punt for 56 yards and six touchbacks.
Defensive scout team players of the year included sophomore Kenny Galea’i (Oceanside) and junior Kevin Campano (Scripps Ranch).
Meredith said his biggest adjustment in making the jump from the high school to collegiate ranks was in the speed of the game.
“It’s much faster (in college),” said Meredith, who earned accolades as the 2010 Grossmont Hills League Defensive Player of the Year. “Playing in my first game as a freshman, it was a shock how fast the game was. I had to adjust to it by playing faster.
“Here (in college) you’ve got to fight for you place on the team; in high school there were only a few among the elite.”
SDSU enters this year’s Poinsettia Bowl game with a seven-game winning streak.
The Aztecs are making their second trip to the Poinsettia Bowl after defeating Navy, 35-14, in 2010.
Overall, SDSU will be making its third consecutive bowl game appearance after the Aztecs finished runner-up to Louisiana-Lafayette by a 32-30 score in last year’s R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
"Let me say how excited we are to be here,” Long said. “When we got to the point that we were bowl eligible, we were hoping we were going to get to stay here at home for a lot of reasons."
The bowl game appearance will be the 31st overall for BYU, a former nemesis of the Aztecs in both the Western Athletic Conference and MWC.
The Cougars withdrew from the MWC to become an independent in 2011.
BYU won the 1984 national championship and last year defeated Tulsa, 24-21, in the Armed Forces Bowl.
How strong is this year’s Cougar squad? BYU lost, 17-14, to current top-ranked Notre Dame on Oct. 20.
"This is a great day for college football in San Diego," 2012 Poinsettia Bowl President John Wertz said in a prepared statement. "We're excited to renew a longtime rivalry between the Aztecs and Cougars in this year's bowl. This most certainly will be a game to remember for many years to come."
Tickets for the game can be purchased by calling TicketMaster at 1-800-745-3000 or by visiting www.poinsettiabowl.com.
The 35th annual Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl will pit UCLA and Baylor on Dec. 27 at Qualcomm Stadium. For more information, visit www.holidaybowl.com.
Peter Kluch contributed to this story
Considering the rush hour kick time, fans are encouraged to arrive early or take the trolley. The Qualcomm Stadium parking lot opens at 11 a.m.
MTS Trolley’s Green Line provides direct, frequent service to Qualcomm Stadium from the downtown 12th & Imperial, Gaslamp, Convention Center, Seaport Village, and Santa Fe Depot stations through Old Town and Mission Valley and from stations east of the Stadium to Santee.
The Green Line’s normal 15-minutes service will be enhanced (between downtown and Qualcomm Stadium as well as between 70th Street and the stadium) starting at 12:30 p.m. until kickoff, and then again after the game.
Regular Green Line service will continue to operate during the game. Fans may connect to the Green Line from all other Trolley lines and the Coaster. Blue and Orange Line riders should transfer at the 12th & Imperial station.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling TicketMaster at 1 (800) 745-3000 or by visiting TicketMaster.com. They can also be purchased at Qualcomm Stadium, window F on game day beginning at 9 a.m.
SDSU Aztecs Football Team
San Diego County Locals
•Andrew Feaster (Eastlake), linebacker, sophomore
•Jon Henkel (Otay Ranch), offensive lineman, freshman
•D.J. Shields (Bonita Vista), tight end, senior
•Nico Siragusa (Mater Dei Catholic), offensive lineman, freshman
•Joel Alesi (Christian), punter, sophomore
•Robert Craighead (El Capitan), defensive lineman, freshman
•Malcolm Jackson (Mt. Miguel), defensive lineman, freshman
•Sam Meredith (Helix), defensive lineman, sophomore
•Kevin Campano (Scripps Ranch), defensive back, junior
•DeSean Hardwick (Madison), running back, freshman
•D.J. Hunter (Mira Mesa), linebacker, freshman
•Eric Judge (San Diego), wide receiver, freshman
•Mahbu Keels (Mission Bay), defensive back, sophomore
•David Lamar (Madison), defensive back, sophomore
•Seamus McMorrow (St. Augustine), kicker/punter, freshman
•Josh Wade (Point Loma), defensive back, senior
•Hunter Christensen (La Costa Canyon), long snapper, freshman
•Jacob Driver (La Costa Canyon), linebacker, junior
•Jake Fely (Oceanside), linebacker, sophomore
•Kenny Galea'i (Oceanside), defensive lineman, sophomore
•King Holder (Oceanside), defensive back, sophomore
•Kwayde Miller (Ramona), offensive lineman, freshman
•Osmond Nicholas (Oceanside), wide receiver, junior
•Rene Siluano (Oceanside), defensive back, junior
•J.J. Whittaker (Oceanside), defensive back, sophomore