Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Aztec Football Season Starts Saturday. How Good Will We Be?

We know Rocky Long has built a solid program with good depth. No one class that does well and then fall back. Last two seasons went 11-3. Bowl game every year – the last two very impressive.  3 MW Conference titles. Post season honors for multiple players. Ranked #25 in both polls after 2016 season.

Will all this continue in 2017? There are challenges. A tough schedule. Loss of key players – DJ Pumphrey, Damontae Kazee, Nico Siragusa and more. But plenty of talent to take over, and the same proven coaching staff.

One challenge we face is our offensive line. Lots of departures. Lots of talented young newcomers but with little or no experience. Happily, our OL Coach Mike Schmidt has met a similar challenge successfully, year after year. The test is hardest in the early going, when the youngsters are still learning.

An interesting schedule. Unlike the usual 6-6 split of a 12-game schedule, this season we have 7 home games. Even more amazing, 5 games will be played in September! Heck when I first got into Aztec sports, Fall practice didn’t start till about Labor Day.

Christian Chapman (Ken Ables)
Let me single out one Aztec who I think doesn’t get enough credit – QB Christian Chapman. Most seem to think he’s good but not special. Where are the big passing stats that were traditional for Aztec QBs? But here’s what’s impressive…

In 2015, an inexperienced Freshman, he had to take over for injured Maxwell Smith to lead the Aztecs against Air Force in a tough Mountain West Championship game and he won. Then he spearheaded the Aztecs’ impressive 42-7 win over Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl.

Last year, in Laramie’s elevation and cold weather, he QB’d the Aztecs to a hard fought 27-24 win over Wyoming for the Mountain West tile again. Then, in the Vegas Bowl, he was at the helm for one of the greatest victories in Aztec football history – a come-from-behind 34-10 win over highly regarded and favored Houston. And did it after suffering a painful thumb injury early in the game.That does it for me. Keep winning, Christian.

Rashaad Penny (Ernie Anderson)
One Aztec to be sure you keep an eye on is Rashaad Penny. As DJ’s back-up - in addition to his talented kick-off returns – Penny ran for more than 1,000 yards. It marked the first time in NCAA history that a team had both a 2,000- and 1,000-yard running back. It will be exciting to see how he does as the #1 back this season.

The Aztecs are favored to win the West Division; Boise State, the Mountain Division. Boise is pretty good and we play them here Oct. 14 in Aztec Warrior Stadium. But their reputation for “dominating” the Mountain West is not true. They have won only one outright Mountain West title, and one split 3 ways with SDSU and Fresno State. It will be interesting to see what happens, so be sure you are there to support our Aztecs!

If I may inject a personal note, this season (my 72nd) will be a challenge for me, too. Since mid-March and a hospital battle, I’ve been in rehab with mixed results. As recently as August 7, thinking I could do more than I can, I wound up taking a hard fall. Luckily, no real damage, but a painful reason not to try too much. So, I know I will make all our home games, but I can’t be sure I’ll make all the road games. Even if I do, can I stand on the sideline with my team through a whole game? Believe me, my dedication has not slackened, just my physical well being. Trust me. I will be trying!

If you are an Aztec fan you probably already have seen, and may have a copy of my book, GO AZTECS! Now there is a new edition. The cover features an Ernie Anderson photo of DJ Pumphrey's 15-yard run in the Las Vegas Bowl that upped his total to an all-time NCAA record. Inside, all records have been updated, there's a full chapter addition to the Rocky Long Era, and more of Ernie's photos. 

GO AZTECS! is available on Amazon and shopaztecs.com.

Purchase tickets through GoAztecs.com.