San Diego State is prepping for a football season that has as many question marks as answers.
No. 1 is if the Aztecs can stick to their schedule as the pandemic finds another gear. Their opener against New Mexico State on Sept. 4. will again be in Carson, but this year with fans being allowed.
It’s SDSU’s last season up north, with its splashy new Mission Valley venue opening next year.
Aztecs coach Brady Hoke is optimistic the games will be a go after nearly two years of the college football landscape being battered by changes and chaos.
COVID-19 caused an abbreviated season last year as the Aztecs went 4-4 and tried to stay one step ahead of the virus.
During the offseason there was talk of conferences being revamped, one-time transfers jumping schools and players being allowed to monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL).
“It’s been a unique year and a half,” Hoke said, “let’s put it that way.”
It’s the NIL caveat that got us thinking about SDSU standout Cameron Thomas, the former Carlsbad High star.
The two-time All-Mountain West Conference defensive end is on every national watch list as being among the best at his position and, of course, he’s a preseason All-MW Conference selection.
There’s no mystery in what direction the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Thomas would lean if choosing his endorsement options.
“l like food a lot so anything in that category will work for me,” he said.
Thomas knows about effort, which is the word Hoke most often uses in describing this mountain of a man eager to reach the quarterback. It was in the Rockies last year, against Colorado, where Thomas collected career-highs with 14 tackles and four tackles for a loss and added a 12-yard sack and four quarterback hurries.
Thomas’ engine knows but one speed and it’s full steam ahead.
“I always considered myself an effort player,” Thomas said. “The more effort I put in, the better positions I can put myself in.”
Thomas’ drive is inspiration for others and it’s his technique in getting others to follow his path.
“I hope it rubs off on my teammates,” he said. “I lead more by example than by being vocal and my effort plays a large role in that.”
The veteran defensive line that Thomas anchors is a team strength with its versatility and talent. The secondary has a gem in cornerback Tayler Hawkins.
The Aztecs at some point will anoint a quarterback. The unit features running backs Greg Bell and Jordan Byrd, tight end Daniel Bellinger and kicker Matt Araiza (Rancho Bernardo High).
The offensive line is paced by another Thomas, Zach. The senior tackle is older than Cameron, a junior, and like his brother, Zach is a preseason All-MWC pick.
“Zach is someone I look up to,” said Thomas, who also played with him at Carlsbad. “When I was presented with the opportunity of playing with him again in college it was something I took right away. He is a great brother, a great teammate and a great friend.”
A certain Carlsbad taco shop has a pal in Thomas. Maybe Valerie’s on El Camino Real will secure him to shill for its burritos, the ones that make Thomas’ eyes glisten.
It would be a perfect marriage of NIL and hot sauce.
“They know what they are doing there,” he said.
The same rings true for SDSU coaches when seeking an Aztec to make a key defensive play. There’s no doubting that Thomas is their guy.