San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas didn’t tug on a wishbone, but his wish was granted.
“I would love to be out there battling with my teammates, battling the opponent and uniting together,” Thomas said during the summer.
Thomas, a former Carlsbad High standout, is back with his red-and-black colleagues. With the Mountain West Conference giving the green light to start the season during the pandemic, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Thomas is raring to go.
That the season, which was to start Sept. 5, likely won’t get rolling until Oct. 24 is the fallout from COVID-19. Thomas and others absorbed a summer like none other, often training alone with interactions with coaches restricted to video meetings.
It was a challenge for Thomas, a defensive lineman who is coming off a sensational freshman season in which he was selected to the All-MW squad. The hype for Thomas is real and he can’t wait to show what all the fuss about.
Thomas will get that chance during the Aztecs’ abbreviated eight-game slate against MW rivals. There’s still much to be clarified and whether the MW, or any of college’s top 10 conferences, can pull this rabbit from the hat remains to be seen.
But at least Thomas, who last year had 49 tackles, nine tackles for losses and 5.5 sacks, and the squad have some hop in their hopes. A season that seemed to be on the verge of being wiped out is back riding a wave to an opening game.
“I’m very excited for our players,” said Brady Hoke, as he embarks on his second stint as the team’s head coach.
Although this time around, Hoke’s responsibilities have grown.
“I’m kind of the social-distance coach,” Hoke said. “That has kind of been my job.”
When the Aztecs punch in for practice, it comes with a different slant. Players are separated into pods, masks are prevalent between drills and instead of hand-wringing over a busted play, the focus is on hand-washing at every opportunity.
Those restrictions will be minimized as the Aztecs inch closer to their first game after going 10-3 and winning the New Mexico Bowl last year. And if it’s a home date, the Aztecs will endure a two-hour bus ride to Carson to play it.
In a season with no lack of story lines, among them is that SDSU’s old stadium in Mission Valley is being bulldozed for a new one set to open in 2022.
With the dust flying, the Aztecs are being sent to Dignity Health Stadium, the same venue the Chargers used for three seasons after fleeing San Diego.
But no one really knows how this tale will turn out. It’s one thing to present a schedule during a pandemic and yet another to see it to its conclusion.
“We’re going to go about this as safely as we can,” Hoke said.
If so, Thomas, whose brother Zachary is a SDSU teammate, will squeeze in a season that at times looked lost.
“We got a text on our phones from Coach Hoke and we immediately said, ‘Game on, let’s go,’ and everyone is just fired and excited to play,” said running back Chance Bell.
Even in a Los Angeles suburb where spectators aren’t invited.
“If we had fans it would be cooler and if we were closer to home,” said cornerback Darren Hall. “We are going to miss San Diego and all the support we had here. But we will play in Carson, Nor Cal. … We would play in Texas.”
Regardless of the locale, Cameron Thomas will two-step his way into rivals’ backfields. It was his wish to play football again and just maybe that will propel him to checking off another aspiration.
“I have an absolute passion to play in the NFL,” he said. “I will never lose that focus because it’s something I’ve always dreamed about. It would be an absolute blessing.”
Say a prayer that the Aztecs make it through the season safely.