San Diego State football Coach Doug Scovil and his players have run out of transition years and rebuilding seasons. The Aztecs have had four straight if-only-the-ball-had-bounced-our-way seasons. Being competitive will no longer suffice.
This is the fifth year of Scovil’s five-year plan. Coaches, players and boosters are itchy. They want wins.
“Every year, we’re closer and closer,” senior defensive tackle Mike Stevens said. “Last year, we lost a few games by a few points. This year, there is the feeling we’ll break over that line.”
When the coaches and media at the preseason Western Athletic Conference football meetings selected San Diego State to finish fifth, the normally mild-mannered Scovil was irate.
“I definitely thought we would be higher,” he said. “I thought the coaches would make us at least third or fourth.”
Most coaches prefer their teams to be underrated. It decreases the pressure. Two years ago, Scovil probably would have been relieved to have his club picked to finish in the middle of the pack. Last year, he thought fifth was a pretty accurate assessment.
But this year, the Aztecs are clamoring for respect. They are coming off a fourth-place finish (4-3-1) and a 4-7-1 season during which they lost four games by a total of 13 points.
SDSU returns six starters from an offense that averaged 22.1 points and 306.9 yards. That includes sophomore quarterback Todd Santos, wide receivers Webster Slaughter and Vince Warren and running back Casey Brown, who started occasionally. The Aztecs return seven starters from a defense that at one point last season went 13 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown.
This is the first time in Scovil’s tenure at SDSU that the Aztecs have come close to having the NCAA allotment of 95 scholarship players. Many of the redshirts are playing and many of Scovil’s first recruits are veterans.
“We’re more of a unit and a lot more confident this year,” sophomore safety Chuck Nixon said. “There is a lot of trust, and you have to trust who’s playing next to you. Otherwise, you’re hurting.”
Said Stevens: “There is a lot of coach and player camaraderie off the field and a lot of honesty between the coaches and players. More so this year than I’ve seen.”
The players have trust and talent, but they also have a difficult schedule. SDSU plays BYU, Air Force, Hawaii and Wyoming on the road. The Cougars and Falcons are probably the strongest teams in the conference, and it is always hard to win in Honolulu. The Aztecs also face UCLA at the Rose Bowl and play host to two other Pacific 10 teams, Stanford and Oregon.
Scovil relishes playing top competition, but he wishes his club had a bye sometime during the season. Instead, the Aztecs open against Cal State Long Beach on Sept. 14 and play 12 straight Saturday games.
A look at the Aztecs position by position: OFFENSE
Quarterback: Santos has a season of experience and the confidence of having throw for 2,063 yards as a freshman. “Todd came in throwing a good ball,” Warren said, “and now he’s gone through the stage of learning.” Once again, Jim Plum will be the backup. As a sophomore reserve last season, Plum completed 37 of 74 passes for 437 yards and three touchdowns. The third-string quarterback will be either senior Greg Topp or 6-5 freshman Rob Hawkins from Enid, Okla.
Running Backs: Senior fullback Brown and junior halfback Chris Hardy will move into the starting spots held by Mike Waters and Dan Gaston last season. Sophomore fullback Pat Woodruff, a transfer from Nebraska, could be the sleeper of the backs. A neck injury kept him out of contact drills in spring practice, but he did learn the system and is participating in contact drills in fall practice. “We’ll take a long hard look at him,” Scovil said. “He could come on and be an excellent running back for us.” Junior Corey Gilmore, redshirt freshman Kevin Yates from Carlsbad High and walk-on Frank White round out the running backs. “We never seem to have enough of those backs,” Scovil said.
Wide Receivers: Slaughter was Santos’ favorite target during the second half of last season and finished with a team-high 40 catches for 576 yards. Slaughter will joined by Warren at other starting receiving spot. Kenny Moore has been shifted from free safety to wide receiver, which is where he played at South Gate High in Los Angeles. Junior Brett Blanchard and freshman Colin Sumner from Miramonte High in Orinda. Sumner, the son of Oakland Invader Coach Charlie Sumner, caught 50 passes for 738 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Tight ends: Robert Awalt, a transfer from Sacramento City College, will battle incumbent Jim Laughton for the starting spot. Laughton started 11 games last season and caught 15 passes. Other tight ends singled out by Scovil include redshirt junior Harold Barlow and freshman Kerry Reed-Martin, a former linebacker.
Line: The line is undergoing a rebuilding season with the losses of starting tackles, Rich Moran and Mike Neary, and center Walt Voorhis. “We’re bigger than we’ve been,” Scovil said, “but we could be a little deeper.” A number of positions are being closely contested, but Scovil said his starting line will probably consist of senior Jim Dennis (6-2, 250) at center, returning starter Doug Aronson (6-3, 275) and Dave Audick (6-2, 245) at the tackles. Dan Knight (6-5, 275), a starting guard, has been moved to tackle. Scovil said Knight will be joined by either Rob Reisinger (6-5, 265), Dave DesRochers (6-5, 255) or Bill Dowd (6-5, 260) at the other tackle spot.
Kicker: Chris O’Brien missed a last-second 44-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the UCLA game. That and a 46-yard miss against Hawaii were the only blemishes on an otherwise very successful season. O’Brien made 11 of 13 field goal attempts, including his last eight, and connected on eight of eight inside 40 yards and two of two beyond 50 yards. DEFENSE
Line: Stevens (6-3, 265), a first-team All-WAC selection last season, and nose guard Levi Esene (5-11, 260) are the givens. Stevens was third on the team with 71 tackles, including 16 for losses. Esene led the team with eight sacks. Junior tackle Duane Pettitt was slated to start at tackle, but he broke his left leg during fall practice and will miss the season. Greg Williamson (6-5, 260), Mike Hooper (6-3, 255) and Craig Skaggs (6-5, 260) will battle for the other tackle spot.
Linebackers: Six returning linebackers each started at least one game last season. Inside linebacker Todd Richards (6-2, 230) will be joined by Steve Svitenko (6-1, 220), Richard Brown (6-2, 235) and walk-on Randy Kirk (6-2, 225). Kirk is a transfer from DeAnza College. Outside linebacker Brett Faryniarz (6-3, 210) will be joined by Kirk Belcher (6-4, 220), Chris Davis (6-2, 230) and Jack Eaton (6-0, 220).
Cornerbacks: Despite the loss of Tory Nixon, Scovil believes the secondary will be one of the team’s strengths. The season opener against Long Beach’s Doug Gaynor will provide some fast answers. Starter LeRoy Wardell (6-1, 180) returns. Scovil said the return of sophomore redshirt Clarence Nunn (5-10, 165) is “a great addition.” Nunn missed last season with torn knee ligaments. Junior David Price (6-2, 185), who played for the Aztecs during his freshman season, transferred back to SDSU after attending Santa Monica City College. Others include freshman redshirt Mario Mitchell (5-10, 180), junior Ellis Powers (6-2, 175) transfer Stan Williams (6-0, 180) of Sacramento City College.
Safeties: Starting strong safety Steve Lauter (6-1, 190) and free safety Chuck Nixon (6-0, 175) return. Scovil said he plans to take a good look at freshman John Wasselman (6-2, 210) of West Torrance High. Wasselman had seven interceptions last season and was named to the all-Southern Section first team.
Punter: As a freshman walk-on last season, Wayne Ross averaged 42.8 yards a game and had an average above 40 yards in 11 of the team’s 12 games. SDSU SCHEDULE
DATE OPPONENT TIME Sept. 14 *LBSU 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at UCLA 7 p.m. Sept. 28 *Colorado State 7 p.m. Oct. 5 *Stanford 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at Brigham Young 1:30 p.m. Oct. 19 *Utah 7 p.m. Oct. 26 *Oregon 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at Air Force 1 p.m. Nov. 9 at Wyoming 1 p.m. Nov. 16 *Texas-El Paso 7 p.m. Nov. 23 *New Mexico 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Hawaii 7:30 p.m.
* at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium All times PDT.