If Joe Lee Dunn is the father of the 3-3-5 defense, former Aztec head coach Rocky Long is the formation’s godfather. He was in the room when Dunn began crafting the tactic and helped build its principles from the ground up.
As Long succeeded with the scheme over more than two decades, he created disciples that have spread the 3-3-5 gospel across college football. With this diffusion has come a slow evolution, changing some of the tenants of the teachings.
Long made his mark at New Mexico and San Diego State, two programs where attracting top high school athletes was impossible. Instead, he gathered a motley crew of “tweeners” who did not fit the mold of players in traditional defenses.
Today, multiple teams in Power 5 conferences run the scheme. Their ability to attract a different level of athlete allows the 3-3-5 to be employed in ways Long rarely could with the Lobos and Aztecs. With SDSU likely joining the ranks of the elite in college football, the 3-3-5 under defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix is showing the same trajectory. The Aztecs are bringing in elite, hybrid players.
Four of the five early commitments to the class of 2024 are on the defensive side of the ball. The one characteristic they all share is versatility. They have the ability to excel at multiple positions and aspects of the game.
Bishop Alemany defensive back Foster Slaughter is the perfect example of the type of athlete thriving in 3-3-5 defenses around the country. He committed to SDSU on his official visit on March 31.
“It felt great just knowing you’re home,” Slaughter said on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Podcast. “Knowing you’re safe. You don’t have to worry about anything else happening. It literally feels great. It’s home.”
On film, Slaughter profiles as an ideal aztec safety. Last year, at Bishop Amat High School, he played all over the field, with his primary role in the center of the defense. Bishop Amat took advantage of his unique skill set, selling out to cover the pass at times and trusting Slaughter to prevent huge plays by making tackles in the open field.
Slaughter responded. Despite rarely lining up inside the box, he was fourth on the team with 68 tackles. He made stops from sideline to sideline. The degree of difficulty in bringing down a running back arriving at the second level with a full head of steam or tracking down a receiver on a screen pass across the field could go unnoticed because he made them look routine.
Living up to his name, the powerful DB didn’t just tackle his opponents, he slaughtered them. Arriving at the ball carrier with the Aztecs’ patented “bad intentions,” he devastated anyone he got his hands on. Most impressively for a player his age, Slaughter wrapped up and showed good tackling technique instead of just delivering a blow.
“You’re going to see a slaughter,” he said when asked to describe his game. “Every time I’m in a play, somebody is going to be on the floor. I’m always going to be there with the tackle. He could be all the way on the other side of the field. I promise you, if I don’t get him, I’m going to be right there. No plays off. I’m going to keep going until I can’t run no more.”
The new age hybrid 3-3-5 athlete is not just able to play against the run and pass from the traditional positions but can also be employed across multiple positions. Between now and the time he arrives on campus, Slaughter is mastering this role as well.
One of the top receivers in the Class of 2025 is Slaughter’s teammate, Phillip Bell. They compete against each other in practice. Bell is making Slaughter better in coverage. Bishop Alemany is also planning to use Slaughter in the box, where he will need to shed blockers to make tackles. Slaughter should arrive at SDSU with a wealth of experience.
“It’s fittin’ to be dangerous this season,” Slaughter said. “Man-to-man defense is way better. You’re going to see that a lot from me. … You’re going to see a whole different Slaughter, a more aggressive one, and a smarter one. Not just the one that goes around to go hit.”
With a skill set like Slaughter’s, his offers from across the country are not surprising. That he chose the Aztecs over multiple SEC, Big 10, Pac 12, and ACC options is. Slaughter had turned his recruiting attention away from San Diego until his cousin, Stacy Bey, asked him to give SDSU another look.
Upon closer inspection, Slaughter saw a program just a short drive away that will allow him to develop his entire game instead of utilizing only one of his many talents. More than anything logical or analytical, Slaughter chose the Aztecs because it felt like home.
“All my trust is to him,” Slaughter said when describing Bey. “I don’t know. There’s just something about that type of person; who he is. You can barely meet him, and you could trust him. He’s just that type of person. Knowing him, he’s going to tell you the real and not tell you the fake. He’s going to be straight up with you.”
Next January, Slaughter plans to join Bey in enrolling early at SDSU. The two were teammates at Bishop Amat and always dreamed of playing with each other at the next level. Together, they will tackle the rigors of school, weight training, and competing to earn a spot on the field. Slaughter, who has no plan to redshirt, said beginning in the winter of 2024 will allow him to correct the mistakes all young players make in time to fully compete for a spot his true freshman season.
Mattix has more than filled Long’s shoes since taking over as defensive coordinator in 2020. While keeping the framework and principles of the 3-3-5 intact, Mattix has gone beyond Long’s designs. As one of America’s best football minds and with access to better overall athletes, Mattix has identified and utilized hybrid players in ways his predecessor was not able to.
Slaughter is a perfect example of someone who should thrive under Mattix. He and the other hybrids the Aztecs are bringing to the Mesa will allow SDSU’s defensive coordinator to take his creativity and ingenuity to new levels.
On successive plays, Mattix could ask Slaughter to cover a WR man-to-man, drop into the box in run support, play deep over top, and then rush the passer. The young DB can excel in all of those areas and is working to master them to an even greater degree.
SDSU’s Class of 2024 is off to a marvelous start.
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.