This week, Max Olson of The Athletic penned an article re-ranking the 2018 college football recruiting classes based on their actual performance over the past four years. He discovered that the Aztecs’ class that stood at 78th in the country in the original rankings was the 11th best group in the nation in retrospect. On the field, SDSU’s 2018 recruits outperformed their counterparts at every Pac-12 institution.
Olson’s top five players from the class were Cam Thomas, Matt Araiza, Luq Barcoo, William Dunkle, and Keshawn Banks. With all due respect to The Athletic, their list is wrong. The single most important player to enter the program in 2018 was walk-on Connor McBride.
How could a player who participated in only three career games, whose only statistical output was a kickoff return that he fumbled forward for two yards, be the most important recruit for the best class on the West Coast?
“He’s a special guy,” Elijah Kothe told EVT when asked about McBride. “At times, he’s me, Dan (Bellinger), and Jesse (Matthews)’s stress relief. Sometimes, we put our pressure onto him. You look at Connor, and he makes your day better. He’s just a guy that loves SDSU. He loves football. You see him show up every day, and he’s not complaining. Sometimes we might be complaining, so we look to Connor. He balances us out in that way.”
“He’s a great guy, someone you would want your daughter to date. He’s someone you want to be around. He’s just positive. He’s not going to get too down, and he’s also not going to get too high. He has just a good balance. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Path to San Diego State
McBride never intended his presence on the team to be “Rudy-esque.” Out of middle school, he had offers to play for the best private schools in the Irvine area but elected to play for his local public school, Woodbridge High. A four-year varsity player for the Warriors, McBride reset the school’s record books finishing his career with 777 touches, 4,966 yards, and 45 touchdowns, and earning league MVP his senior year.
Playing primarily in a “Wildcat” offense, he took direct snaps from center. Even with the most predictable system in football, he was unstoppable. Despite this production, his profile did not fit traditional, collegiate tailback molds, and he earned zero scholarship offers. Electing to play at Saddleback College instead of accepting a preferred walk-on to SDSU, McBride attempted to mold himself into the prototypical big tailback.
He slimmed down to 220, but with TCU-bound Emari Demercado playing in front of him, he rode the bench for the first time in his life. After one season, he made the choice to transfer to a university, called up former SDSU assistant coach Kevin McGarry, and asked if a spot was still available for him on the team. He officially joined the Aztecs as part of the heralded 2018 recruiting class.
Commitment to SDSU
At the time, SDSU was a two-back system that turned bigger tailbacks into bruising fullbacks. McBride redshirted his sophomore season but earned his way up the depth chart. He was next in line at the position behind Isaac Lessard. Following the 2019 season, the Aztecs transitioned to the spread offense. By the start of last season, every would-be fullback on the team had left the program, except one: McBride.
“I got to SDSU and absolutely loved the school,” McBride explained. “I loved my teammates. I loved my housing situation the social aspect of it. Leaving SDSU was never really an option for me. Nor was actually quitting. … It was definitely, a hard transition, but it was always something I chose to come here. I very much liked the team. I created relationships that I’ll always have that I didn’t want to lose. I loved being part of the SDSU Football Team. It was something I would never take for granted or get rid of, so I never really had a question on whether or not I would to play or not.”
With the opening of Snapdragon Stadium, SDSU is expected to have access to higher-profile recruits, but with that comes a danger. By moving up in the pecking order of college football, will they lose what has allowed them to excel for the past 12 seasons? After all, if higher-rated recruits had been available in 2018, would there have been room for two-star athletes like Cameron Thomas, Matt Araiza, Luq Barcoo, and Daniel Bellinger?
San Diego State has carved out a successful niche by finding unique people who carry out the mantra that at SDSU, they win by superior work ethic, not superior talent. The greatest litmus test of whether that message is truly resonating is if walk-on players with no financial incentive choose to run through the gauntlet laid down for the team by Brady Hoke and Adam Hall.
The Aztecs have had tremendous success with non-scholarship players because they treat every player on the roster the same. Walk-ons get the same gear, same food, same attention from the coaches, and if they earn it, the same playing time. Last offseason, Mekhi Shaw routinely beat every wideout on the roster in 60-yard shuttles, and he built on that to start against Towson.
— East Village Times (@EVT_News) September 29, 2021
The Crown Jewel of the 2018 class
After switching to a new position, McBride never won a role at tight end. Still, his impact on the team should not be overlooked or undervalued. Olson did not name the 2018 class one of the top in America because the players came in NFL ready. The Aztecs earned that distinction because they developed into next-level talent. When Kothe, Bellinger, Matthews, and the rest of the class of 2018 faced discouragement that threatened to take them off course, it was often McBride who brought the players back into focus.
McBride is not a household name even among some diehard fans, but in many interviews and conversations over the past few years, he was frequently brought up as an inspiration, leader, and friend. It is unfair to expect a national writer like Max Olson to know this, but for those who cover the team up close, Connor McBride is the crown jewel of the 2018 recruiting class.
The SDSU Football Podcast Episode 8
Listen to the entire conversation with Connor McBride at any of the links below.