Seventy players, including 38 recruits offered by SDSU, took in the first game at Snapdragon Stadium this past Saturday. The invited high school athletes treated their families to the historic event bringing the total number of VIPs hosted by the Aztecs to upwards of 200 people.
“It was good to talk to them before the game,” SDSU head coach Brady Hoke said at the weekly press conference. “They were on the field. It was a good group. Obviously, a lot of hometown heroes, and that’s important to us.”
Two of the players on hand for the occasion were Isaiah Buxton and Anthony McMillian. Buxton is a four-star recruit and one of the top cornerbacks in the state of California. McMillian is a three-star running back and also one of the top players in the state at his position.
They are teammates at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Chula Vista. Both are national recruits with offers and interest from universities around the country. Members of the class of 2024, SDSU is working hard for their services.
“It means a lot to say I saw the very first game in Snapdragon stadium,” Buxton said.
“I think it means a lot because this is the first game in the new stadium and shows how much time was put into it,” McMillian added, echoing his teammates’ thoughts.
Outside of the stadium, signs on sandwich boards guided the recruits to a special gate on the northwest corner. Once inside, they were allowed to watch the Aztecs warm up from the field. It was a vantage point that impressed the South County duo.
“The stadium was beautiful, brand new, nice, and just fresh,” McMillian said. “SDSU hospitality is a 10/10. (They) made me feel welcome and at home.”
“New stadium, bigger and better environment,” Buxton said, offering his thoughts of SDSU’s new home. “It was a good thing for the San Diego State Aztecs football team. The hospitality was nice. They showed me around. It was a good vibe overall.”
With SDSU forced to play its home games in Carson the past two seasons, there was something missing from the San Diego football community. Generations of players, whether they played at the next level or not, had the opportunity to watch the highest level of college football. That was taken away over the last two years. Now, with the opening of Snapdragon Stadium, the tradition is renewed.
“I personally didn’t (come to a game in high school),” SDSU LB Caden McDonald said Tuesday. “Being from Texas, it’s kind of a long way to go. … I definitely am jealous of those recruits that got to come to Snapdragon to check out the atmosphere. That was an awesome thing for sure.”
“Same thing, I’m from New Mexico, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to go out there and see games or stuff like that,” SDSU RB Jordan Byrd said right after McDonald. “It was really nice for (the recruits) to see the stadium, to see the game, to see the atmosphere of what they’ll get if they come (to SDSU).”
The Aztecs’ new home opens at a perfect time for the program. Changes to the Name Image and Likeness (NIL) rules have completely revamped college football. SDSU was already a recruiting outlier, choosing to build its program around players who love football without the glitz and glamour seen at other programs. Now, with the national landscape changing, the Aztecs’ new home allows them an opportunity to carve out a new identity in these uncertain times. They hope Buxton, McMillian, and players like them will want to call the newest stadium in America “home.”
Sounding like a running back, the grass on the field is what stood out to McMillian. Buxton appreciated his conversation with Football Recruiting Coordinator Nik Embernate, the recruiting lounge, and envisions a loud home-field advantage for the Aztecs. Both plan on returning for more games this season, with Buxton adding that he will only come back for a night game.
As much as anything, McMillian and Buxton’s visit to SDSU showed how connected the local football community is. Most of the invited athletes will not become Aztecs, but they were treated with the same hospitality as the Mater Dei stars. Conversely, no matter where the recruits ultimately end up, SDSU is always going to be their hometown school.
“It was SDSU’s first game of the year, and we all ride for State, so we went out there and supported,” McMillian explained, summing up the event perfectly.