Impact Performers for 2017
Head Coach Rocky Long
Rocky Long is the heart and soul of the Aztecs’ football program. Long took over as the head coach in 2011, after Brady Hoke departed to take the head coaching job at the University of Michigan. Long served as the defensive coordinator under Hoke for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He is a defensive minded coach, and has created something special in terms of the Aztecs’ defense. The past three seasons, the Aztecs’ defense ranked in the top 20 in the nation in points against. Last year they finished with the 19th best mark, while in 2015 they ranked seventh in the nation, and in 2014 they ranked 14th. That is quite outstanding considering some historically bad defenses in the past.
Rocky’s impact is felt most through his leadership qualities. Long is a hard nose that simply doesn’t take any BS. He runs a tight ship, and keeps his players in order. Rocky Long has been known to have genuine care for his players on and off the field, influencing them to be the best men they can possibly be. In January, Rocky Long signed a much-deserved five-year extension to keep him on board as the Aztecs’ head coach for years to come. Recently retired SDSU men’s basketball coach, Steve Fisher, gives tremendous praise to Long. The Aztecs’ head coach turned 67 in January and likely will retire after his five-year extension is up. When Long was asked about his interest in relocating to a bigger powerhouse school, he was quoted mentioning the color of his hair, and that he isn’t going anywhere. That is a very good sign and an exciting thing for the program.
Running Back Rashaad Penny
The thunder to fellow back Donnel Pumphrey’s lightning in 2016 is back and ready to take the number one spot on the depth chart at the RB position. Penny was seriously impressive last season, carrying the ball 136 times for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns. It will be fun to watch the numbers Penny can put up as the primary rusher. The Aztecs lost four of their five starters on the offensive line from last season, which will be an obstacle for Penny. The 5’11” 220-pound back showed he can also be a weapon as a receiver in 2016 with three touchdown receptions. Penny’s value doesn’t stop there, as he was also named the Mountain West special teams player of the year in 2016 as a kick returner. Penny accumulated 624 returning yards, averaging a tremendous 31.2 yards per return. He also took two returns to the house for a touchdown. Penny collected 1,866 all-purpose yards in 2016. It will be exciting to see what the number reaches in 2017 as the featured back. I predict Penny will follow in Pumphrey’s footsteps, and be named the Mountain West player of the year in 2017.
Quarterback Christian Chapman
The Aztecs’ quarterback threw for 1,994 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016. This year will be his second year as the Aztecs’ starting quarterback. Chapman is only a Junior and will be back again for the 2018 season. Chapman is viewed as a dual threat QB, but didn’t utilize his speed enough last season, as he rushed for only 244 yards. It will be interesting to see how Chapman plays this season. He needs to take on a bigger role as a playmaker on the offense with the departure of Pumphrey and most of the O-line. Chapman threw the ball only 251 times last season. A more involved passing game is likely this upcoming season. Chapman proved he can make mostly good decisions on the field by throwing just six interceptions last year. Chapman has the ability to make or break the Aztecs’ 2017 season. Although Chapman got the job done last year, I see a big improvement in his play for the 2017 season.
Tight End David Wells
Wells was one of Chapman’s favorite targets last season. While being a good blocker, Wells also caught the ball 25 times for 294 yards and four touchdowns. In 2017, Wells will have a large impact on the Aztecs passing game and will catch plenty of balls in the end zone.
Wide Receiver Mikah Holder
Holder led the team in receiving last year with 581 yards and five touchdowns. His 21.5 yards per catch shows his tremendous ability to be a playmaker. His massive yards per catch statistic is generated by his incredible speed and ability to burn past the defense to make a big play. He will be the primary receiver in 2017 for the Aztecs, with fellow senior Quest Truxton lining up on the other side of the field.
Right Guard Antonio Rosales
The senior is listed at 6’4” 295 pounds. Rosales is the only returning starter on the line, and it will be his job to lead the new, young offensive lineman. While he is the only returning starter, he is also amazingly listed as the smallest Aztec on the starting offensive line. The Aztecs’ projected starting line is Left Tackle Tyler Roemer (6’7”, 305), Left Guard Keith Ismael (6’3”, 310), center Nick Gerhard (6’5”, 300), and Right Tackle Ryan Pope (6’7”, 325). Wow. The Aztecs’ 2017 O-line will be very young and inexperienced, but very strong and powerful. Senior Rosales will be crucial in their development as one unit.
Running back Juwan Washington
Washington served as the Aztecs’ third string back in 2016. Washington was used in a minimal role last year, but was still quite productive, rushing for 454 yards and six touchdowns over only 56 carries. In 2017, the sophomore will be second on the depth chart. Washington figures to be used in the same way Rashaad Penny was used last year. He will see many more carries and it will be exciting to see what the young back can do. The depth the Aztecs have at such a premier position is quite remarkable.
Cornerback Ron Smith
Smith has big shoes to fill, replacing recent NFL draft pick Domantae Kazee as the number one cornerback. Smith had 57 total tackles to go along with three interceptions and three pass breakups. Smith will be covering opposing team’s number one receivers this year, and will play a large impact as one of the few returning starters on defense.
Linebacker Ronley Lakalaka
His name is as fun to say as it is to watch him on the field. Ronley will likely be the leader of the Aztecs’ defense, with linebacker Calvin Munson’s departure to the NFL. Lakalaka was second on the team in tackles with 73, trailing only Munson. Lakalaka has the ability to be a playmaker on the Aztecs’ defense and coming up in the clutch making big stops.
The 2017 Aztecs will be a well-rounded team with high expectations in the Mountain West. They are the preseason favorites to win the conference. Their goal will be to take home their third straight Mountain West conference championship, and win their third straight bowl game. San Diego State is now the city of San Diego’s primary football team. With the Chargers leaving, a successful 2017 season and a potential trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game would be exactly what football fans in San Diego need. It will be a nice gift to the fans and will put the program in some major national spotlight, which will be impactful for future recruiting. Regardless, if you are a fan of football in the San Diego area, it is great to go out and support the students working so hard on and off the field. Get ready for another exciting Aztec football season!