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Tuesday, January 31, 2006 | The San Diego State fight song features a refrain about “Sons of Montezuma, we must win again” or something like that. I’m not an SDSU alumnus, and you rarely hear the song around town like you would in a Pac-10 or Big Ten town.
But there is a genuine Son of Montezuma on his way to San Diego State when Eastlake High linebacker Marcus Yarbrough signs his football national letter-of-intent Wednesday morning.
Marcus, a 6-foot, 245-pound All-CIF choice, is the son of Darryl Yarbrough, a San Diego State offensive lineman from 1978-81 by way of Morse High. Darryl, a 5-foot-11, 275-pounder on Montezuma Mesa, still looks like he could clear some running room. His shoulders are about the span of the Coronado Bridge.
“I’ve got to look into getting a suite at the stadium,” he told me. “We were 35-40 strong, with relatives coming down from L.A., just for Marcus’ high school games.”
But this isn’t really the story of a Son of Montezuma learning San Diego State football at his father’s knee.
Darryl and Marcus are close as father and son, but he wanted his Marcus to make his own decision. Plus, Darryl had grown disenchanted with Aztecs football. He never understood where the program was headed after SDSU fired his coach, Claude Gilbert.
“I loved Claude Gilbert, and I think he was a true gentleman of the game,” Darryl said. “For me, it’s been very frustrating.”
SDSU has bumbled along while hiring and firing Doug Scovil, Denny Stolz, Al Luginbill, Ted Tollner and Tom Craft. It’s tough to gain credibility with local recruits with that track record.
In Yarbrough’s era, highly recruited San Diego high school athletes went to the Pac-10 schools and didn’t consider SDSU. When Marcus Allen came out of Lincoln in 1978, Yarbrough said SDSU’s weight room “was outside on the track with a chain link fence around us.”
Nevertheless, players like Yarbrough, talented but considered too short, viewed SDSU as a place they could play winning Division I-A football.
“I heard from Air Force, and I got the usual letters,” Darryl said. “If I could have gone to USC or UCLA, I would have. But San Diego State was a well-respected program. We were 10-1 the year before I came. We played before big crowds.”
The trick for new coach Chuck Long is to merge the reputation of first-class facilities and winning football. Winning is the difference because these stories that the media trumpets about failing to keep San Diego talent at home is an old one and somewhat misleading.
Here’s a brief history of SDSU’s recruiting efforts in its backyard:
Scovil landed Helix quarterback Jim Plum, a high school All-American.
Stolz landed high school All-Americans Patrick Rowe (Lincoln) and Tommy Booker (Vista).
Luginbill landed high school All-Americans La’Roi Glover (Point Loma), Scott Hammond (Lincoln) and Darnay Scott (Kearny).
Tollner missed on too many players such as Notre Dame All-American cornerback Shane Walton (Bishop’s), but he did recruit productive players such as J.R. Tolver (Mira Mesa), Lon Sheriff (West Hills) and James Truvillion (San Marcos).
And for all the Craft bashers out there, no one has recruited San Diego talent as well as Craft and his assistants. Well, maybe John Robinson in his time at USC or now Pete Carroll.
Craft was his own worst enemy with the media, and the Aztecs’ staff opened the door to criticism when they cut back on recruiting as they searched for ways to win games and save their jobs. Yarbrough was among those who stopped receiving phone calls, and he was leaning toward Colorado State until he heard from Long.
Long’s first San Diego class includes four players from San Diego high schools – Yarbrough (Eastlake), running back Brandon Sullivan (Poway), defensive end Ryan Chohaney (Rancho Bernardo) and safety Raymond Patterson (Crawford). I like them all as recruits.
The Aztecs can’t get all the local kids because some, like Nebraska-bound Menelik Holt (St. Augustine), want to go away to college. Arizona State-bound Travis Goethel (Vista) had his heart set on a Pac-10 school.
But there are players like Yarbrough who want to stay home and noticed that more San Diego players such as Kevin O’Connell (La Costa Canyon), Russell Allen (Vista), Brandon Bornes (Rancho Buena Vista), Brett Swain (Carlsbad), Roberto Wallace (Oceanside), DeMarco Sampson (Castle Park) and Reggie Grigsby (El Camino) are thinking the same way.
Darryl Yarbrough didn’t teach his son the words to the SDSU fight song. But now he hopes SDSU might finally have the right formula to attract more San Diego recruits the way it appealed to his son.
“Coach Long shared with me that our facilities are among the Top 10 in the country, and he comes from Oklahoma,” Darryl said. “This is a bandwagon city. If he wins, the fans will come back in droves like they never left.”
After all, San Diego kids are fans before they grow into recruits.
Tom Shanahan is Voice’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at