Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009 | When new San Diego State football coach Brady Hoke wasn’t lining up recruits from Dallas to Northern California the last few weeks, he took the time to stop by Hoover High.
That’s a campus right down the street from the Hoke’s new office at the Aztec Athletic Center. Hoover doesn’t have seniors this year that can play at the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Div. I-A) level, but the Cardinals have in recent seasons. And they will again.
Hoke asked to visit with the football coach, the athletic director and the vice-principal in charge of athletics. The latter title belongs to Andy Trakas, a Patrick Henry High alum that was San Diego State’s kicker from 1989 to 1992.
“The thing that impressed me is he came by my office to visit, and he was asking us our thoughts on how things need to change at San Diego State,” Trakas said. “One of the things I told him is things can catch fire here.
“When I went to State in 1989, we were averaging 18,000 to 20,000 fans. We saw how fast that turned around. We were getting 40,000 to 50,000 fans and were on TV all the time.”
Of course, a major reason was running back Marshall Faulk’s arrival in 1991. It was the first of three straight All-American seasons that launched an NFL career that will land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It should be pointed out, though, that after the Aztecs’ 8-4-1 season in 1991 that included a Freedom Bowl loss, the Aztecs went just 5-5-1 in 1992 and 6-6 in 1993.
But the bounce from the 1991 season was still good for an average of 45,398 fans in 1992, with season highs of 56,737 vs. Brigham Young in 1991 and 50,021 against Hawaii in 1992.
By 1993, Al Luginbill’s last year as head coach, when things began falling apart on and off the field, attendance was on the decline, even with Faulk in uniform.
SDSU may have to wait another generation for the second coming of Marshall Faulk, but winning football games can generate crowds sooner.
As most Aztec fans can tell Hoke, there is no middle ground with the San Diego State football.
Wins some games and fans will turn out. Start out seasons slowly and finish with losing records and the crowd count will dwindle below 20,000.
What’s that they say about the more things change the more they stay the same?
The Aztecs are at that point once again after a 2-10 season in 2008 led to an announced crowd of 17,846 turning out for the season finale, a 42-21 win over Nevada-Las Vegas.
San Diego State and the rest of the college football world announces their 2009 recruiting class Wednesday, the first day high school seniors are permitted to sign a national letter-of-intent in football.
All indications are Hoke has put together a class stronger than expected for someone who wasn’t hired until Dec. 16. Among the featured recruits are three-star running backs Anthony Miller of Dallas Carter, Ronnie Hillman of Orange County’s La Habra and La Costa Canyon linebacker Jacob Driver.
Hoke retained all seven early SDSU recruits that committed under former coach Chuck Long, although it’s common to see athletes change schools once the coach they committed to has been fired.
Hoke is inheriting a program in far better shape academically and with more depth than the one Long took over from Tom Craft in 2006. The Aztecs’ junior and senior classes in 2008 were woefully thin on linemen.
Long made linemen the focus of his recruiting classes the last couple of years. Now Hoke is adding speed and athleticism to linemen that are entering their second and third years on campus.
Recruiting at Hoover isn’t something new for the school, since Long tried to land Todd Doxey, the multi-talented athlete that went to Oregon and drowned in a river swimming accident last summer.
But establishing a relationship with Hoover’s coaches is important because it’s one of the few schools in the San Diego Unified School District with a stable football staff that is led by head coach Mike Wright.
“With the facilities San Diego State has now, there is no reason a San Diego kid shouldn’t want to play at San Diego State,” Trakas said. “I think it’s crucial that San Diego State recruit athletes in the city. We might not have blue-chip athletes here, but we have athletes that can excel at San Diego State.
“They might need some work techniques or time to get bigger. But we have too many guys from the city that go to a junior college and then end up at a Pac-10 school.”
That last part, of course, was Trakas speaking from the heart of an alum.
“The reason I played at San Diego State was the chance to stay home and play in front of my family,” Trakas said. “Kids in San Diego need to know what a great experience that is to be part of the program in the city you grew up in. It is essential that this new coaching staff change the culture of the program.”
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to the editor.