SDSU Aztecs are dressed for success

San Diego State’s Rocky Long is a man in constant motion. With football practices starting this week, that’s not a surprise.

“We got things to do,” said Long, the Aztecs’ coach.

That includes fiddling with a mannequin?

“Look at those skinny legs,” Long said. “He’s never been in the weight room.”

Long was eyeing the dummies wearing SDSU’s fresh uniforms, which were unveiled on Tuesday. On Thursday, bodies with more smarts and girth begin workouts and Long can’t wait.

“We’re going to have a pretty good football team,” Long said.

If unfamiliar with Long, he doesn’t blow smoke. So where there are vapors there just might be an ember.

The Aztecs, 7-6 last year, come off their fifth straight season of advancing to a bowl game with swagger. They were selected the pre-season winner of the Mountain West’s conference’s West division, after claiming a share of it in ’14.

While SDSU won’t face MW powerhouse Boise State in the regular season, it shows home dates with Utah State and Fresno State. Plus stiff non-conference tests at California and Penn State.

“We have a challenging schedule, so we’ll see how it turns out,” Long said.

SDSU shows a dynamite running game with junior Donnel Pumphrey. Its secondary is stout, the linebacker unit is strong if not deep, and its defensive line, led by Alex Barrett, is ornery.

But like any squad, there are questions and a big one is key one: Hey Long, you got a starting quarterback?

“I hope to by Labor Day,” he said. “The sooner the better.”

The leading candidate is Maxwell Smith, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound transfer from Kentucky.

“He’s tall with a pretty strong arm and good touch,” Long said. “He was our most accurate quarterback in spring ball.”

And his resume reveals among the most intriguing initials in football, this side of ESPN. Y’all ready for a quarterback with SEC credentials?

“He’s played against a lot of good players, in front of a lot of people, with a lot of noise,” Long said.

That’s music to Long’s ears.

But if Smith misses a beat, don’t overlook Christian Chapman (Carlsbad High) and Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues.

“It’s going to be a competition,” Long promised.

Pumphrey, who scored 20 touchdowns last season, doesn’t fret about being bumped. His 1,867 rushing yards in ’14 was a school record and he’s primed to set defenders spinning again.

“I think we’re going to increase the pace and hit them with some different packages this year,” Pumphrey said.

Here’s a package that never stops giving: pluck the ball in Pumphrey’s gut and watch him scoot.

“We have one of the best running backs in the country in my opinion,” Long said.

As shifty as Pumphrey is, he still needs wiggle room. The Aztecs will introduce three starting offensive linemen and Long admits that can’t be overlooked.

“(Pumphrey) can make tacklers look bad in the open field,” Long said. “But if they don’t get started they can’t show you how good they are.”

Long mentioned the need for his wide receivers to step up and his linebackers to stay fit.
What never healed was last year’s finish.

The team ended 5-3 in MW play, just missing on playing Boise State for the MW title and a Fiesta Bowl berth. Then it squandered a late lead to Navy to get sunk in the Poinsettia Bowl.

“We got to come back and redeem ourselves,” said cornerback J.J. Whittaker (Oceanside High), an All-MW preseason pick.

Long isn’t picky about his players’ Saturday outfits. He shrugs about the snazzy state-of-the-art uniforms.

“Hey black-on-black with a red helmet and let’s go,” Long said. “But the players told me they are cool. But there’s no coolness to me, I wouldn’t know.”

What’s black-and-white is the Aztecs opening against the University of San Diego on Sept. 5.

“It’s going to be here in a hurry,” Barrett said.

Maybe that’s why Long, who’s no football dummy, is on the move.


+ Contact Jay Paris at Follow him on Twitter @jparis_sports.



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