Tuesday, August 02, 2005 | Kevin O’Connell hears the noise of a college football town, and he’s not talking about disgruntled rumbling.
San Diego State’s third-year sophomore quarterback has been around San Diego sports long enough, as a highly recruited high school quarterback at La Costa Canyon and as the starter for last year’s final five games, to believe fans in this town care about seeing the Aztecs finally realize their potential.
He’s confident in what he senses because he doesn’t have to be in a football setting to hear the noise.
“I’ve been going to local gyms to play basketball since I was a little guy,” said O’Connell, a 6-foot-6, 220-pounder who also starred on the hard court at La Costa Canyon. “The biggest thing I’ve been hearing is everybody wants us to do well. Guys are always telling me, ‘I hope you guys do well and get it together.’ This is my hometown, and I know it’s a different type of sports town. If we win, things will be exciting around here.”
O’Connell and his classmates, who begin fall camp Monday and open the season Sept. 3 against UCLA at Qualcomm Stadium, represent head coach Tom Craft’s first true recruiting class since taking over the program in 2002. Craft inherited a bare cupboard and a stacked schedule, but this is the first year his recruits are mature enough to provide depth and compete in a Mountain West Conference.
The Aztecs finished last season winning at Air Force and at home against UNLV, with the two wins needed to finish an injury-riddled season with a 4-7 record. Against Air Force, O’Connell showed his dual threat ability. He completed 17-of-32 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and ran for 82 yards.
“Those wins were huge for us,” O’Connell said. “They were difficult circumstances for us at Air Force, but coach Craft had a good game plan and (running back) Brandon Bornes and other guys stepped up. We look at ourselves as being on a two-game winning streak. We want to build on what we learned last year and apply veteran leadership.”
Despite O’Connell’s incumbent status, he will have to win the starting job in fall camp after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum that kept him out of spring ball.
“By opening up the job to Darren and giving Matt another chance, I think it’s only fair,” O’Connell said. “I wasn’t able to compete last spring and this is a crucial year for us. We have to get production out of the quarterback position, and if I’m the guy so be it. If it’s Darren or Matt that will best help us win, I’m all for it.”
Bornes, a sophomore from Rancho Buena Vista, is another local recruit Craft has managed to keep home. One of O’Connell’s two touchdown passes against Air Force was to tight end Eric Miclot, a true freshman last year from Vista. With O’Connell, Bornes, Miclot and other marquee local recruits, the Aztecs have a core of recognizable names that have stayed home.
“We know this city breaks down as a football town,” O’Connell said. “They want to watch a winner, and justifiably so. Look at what happened with the Chargers when they started winning last year. Now you can’t buy a ticket or find a bad word written about them. If we can put together a winning streak, there are a lot of San Diego State fans waiting in the woodwork.”
Maybe that’s creating the rumbling noise O’Connell says he hears around town.
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at