A look at San Diego State football as we learn more about The Aztec position.
While hype and fanfare surround the quarterback competition, arguably the most important battle this spring is on the defensive side of the ball at the Aztec position.
SDSU has built its program on the strength of dominating defenses and terrific tailbacks. Since future Aztec Hall-of-Famer Ryan Lindley left the Mesa, SDSU has defeated Cal, Stanford, Arizona State (x2), and UCLA from the Pac-12 went to nine bowl games. They have also won three conference championships and all this without an elite signal-caller.
What the team has never done in that span is have a dominant defense without a dominant defender manning the Aztec.
“Having DJ (Dwayne Johnson), you get spoiled a little bit.” Coach Hoke said, “The young man the year before DJ, #33 (Parker Baldwin). You had two pretty good guys there that really had a great feel from being in between a linebacker and being a safety.”
Who better to ask about the position than the last two players who played it so well?
The East Village Times reached out to Dwayne Johnson and Parker Baldwin to learn what makes the position so special and what to look for in the players vying to be this year’s Aztec.
“It was definitely a great honor to play a position named after our mascot,” Baldwin said. “We’re all Aztecs out there, but I’d like to think as the Aztec, you need to embody what it is to be an Aztec. To be clear-minded, alert, and disciplined, to be the predator and never the prey, and to play with unyielding effort exactly how the Aztecs fought in battle. No one should ever play harder than the Aztec because you embody what San Diego State is all about.”
“It meant a lot (to play the Aztec),” Johnson added. “The first thing they told me was the Aztec has to be the best athlete on the field mentally and physically, so it was all about preparing, and that position holds a lot of weight. Think about the great Brian Urlacher.”
Urlacher, of course, is the former Chicago Bear great, whose storied career ended with enshrinement in Canton. Before taking the NFL by storm in the Windy City, Urlacher was a monster at the University of New Mexico under former SDSU head coach Rocky Long. He helped refine the position to give it that the definition it has today.
“Heavy enough to play backer and loose in the hips enough to cover and play DB,” is how Johnson summed up the ideal Aztec. No one could not have summed up Brian Urlacher better!
At SDSU, the position has been handed down like a baton from one player to the next. Nat Berhe, the first great Aztec, handed the position to Na’im Mcgee. Mcgee passed it to Parker Baldwin, who gave it to Dwayne Johnson.
“Na’im taught me to be a mentor and a teacher to the younger guys coming up,” Baldwin said. “Even though we’re competing for the starting position, he still gave me advice every single day when he didn’t have to. In turn, I did the same thing for the young guys who were behind me. It’s about leaving a legacy for the next guys coming up and wanting them to do better than you. In my opinion, that’s the legacy of a great player.”
With players of exceptional quality on and off the field, SDSU has not had a letdown at the position since Berhe was named the starter in 2011.”That position is very unique, and it’s very unique within this defense,” Defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix said. “That’s why this defense has had the success through the years. They have been able to find that guy.”
As we enter 2021, the past decade of dominance should be celebrated, but the question remains. Having been spoiled for ten years, can the coaching staff find the next great Aztec?