A look at America’s finest Aztecs.
When news broke that Mario Cristobal was leaving the University of Oregon to take over as head coach for the University of Miami, it sent shock waves across college football.
Arguably, the effects of his decision to exit Eugene were felt most by the 2022 recruits, who had pledged their commitment to Cristobal and the Ducks. Among them were three San Diegans, Jahil Florence, Gracen Halton, and Jalil Tucker. Florence re-opened his commitment. Halton and Tucker reaffirmed their commitments to Oregon but left the door open to departing like Cristobal did by choosing not to sign during the early signing period.
On Monday, San Diego State received their most significant recruiting talking point for players who call America’s Finest City home. Matt Araiza, William Dunkle, and Cameron Thomas were named to the AP All-American Teams. Araiza brought home a First-Team honor, while Dunkle and Thomas were members of the Second-Team. Each of the three, like Florence, Halton, and Tucker, prepped at local San Diego high schools. The recognition proves definitively that local products do not have to leave their area. They can achieve the heights of personal success on the Mesa.
William Dunkle is from the South Bay. He prepped at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista. A two-time Team Captain with the Titans, Dunkle’s leadership and stellar play helped flip Eastlake’s record from 2-9 his junior season to 10-2 his senior year. Though he had the opportunity to play in the Big-10 at Illinois, he chose to stay close to his family and represent his city with the Aztecs. Dunkle was rewarded for his choice Monday, and if he chooses to forgo his final year at SDSU, the NFL could soon award him a chance at professional football.
Cameron Thomas’ rise from a three-star prospect with only three offers coming out of Carlsbad High School before turning into a potential first-round selection is a story that has turned convention on its head. SDSU, known more for developing skill position players than defensive linemen, has turned into one of the best places for defensive lineman to improve their craft.
Following a stint with the Carolina Panthers as a defensive line coach, Brady Hoke returned to the Mesa in the same capacity for one year before taking over as head coach in 2020. Hoke spends more time personally coaching the group than any other. The work Hoke and defensive line coach Jordan Thomas have done with the unit is incredible. The huge improvements along the defensive front, particularly from Thomas, Jonah Tavai, and Keshawn Banks, are difficult to miss.
Thomas is projected as a late first-round selection by most draft experts. His ascension into the ranks of college football elite is proof SDSU can develop talent at any position. Already competing in recruiting against Power Five schools at every position, look for the Aztecs’ reach to grow in attracting top talent at the defensive line.
With all due respect to Bryce Young bringing home Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy from a QB in the modern era (1967), the biggest story in college football was Matt Araiza. Araiza added to his list of accolades Monday with his first-team selection. SDSU was already a haven for specialists looking to improve their trade in San Diego’s year-round, temperate climate. Araiza’s rise to fame will only add to the attraction. The pride of Rancho Bernardo High’s only FBS offer was from his home school, and that only came in the eleventh hour. What Araiza’s claim to fame proves is if you are transcendent enough, it is possible for a player from SDSU to upstage anyone in the country, even a record-setter from the Crimson Tide.
SDSU’s three first or second-team AP All-American selections are tied with Michigan for fourth-most in the nation, just one behind Young’s Alabama. There is no indication that Florence, Tucker, or Halton are even considering playing in front of their friends and family in Snapdragon Stadium. Still, Monday’s news should go a long way to convincing the top talent in the county that there truly is no place like home.
Wednesday is early national signing day, with the Aztecs expected to bring in a talented and impressive class. In particular, SDSU is bringing in an exceptional group of linemen. Drew Azzopardi, La’akea Kapoi, and Rambo Mageo are expected to bolster the position on the offensive line. The defensive front is adding talented players Marshon Oxley, Ryan Henderson, and Trey White. As their names appear on the committed list, Aztec Nation will be wondering which of the high school phenoms will grow into the next stars for the team. From Hometown Hero to AP All American, Dunkle, Thomas, and Araiza are America’s Finest Aztecs.