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Story by Liz Alper
Videos courtesy goaztecs.com
For videos of Christian Chapman, Ronley Lakalaka and Stacie Terry's portion of the press conference, click "read more" and scroll down.
October 10, 2017 (San Diego) - San Diego State football is 6-0 and ready to open conference play at home against Boise State this weekend. Head coach Rocky Long and juniors Christian Chapman and Ronley Lakalaka sat down with the media at this week's press conference. In addition, women's basketball head coach Stacie Terry talked about her team opening the season next month.
“Well, we’ve got an important game this week and they get more important as the season goes along," Long opened with. "We’re playing a very good football team that has some very talented players that seemed to get everybody healthy and hit their stride last week when they beat BYU. These two teams were the two preseason picks to win their sides of the conference so both of our teams coming into the season were expected to be good and both teams are good so it’s probably going to be a great game.”
There seems to be a consensus among Aztec nation that the Broncos are the Aztecs' rivals. Long doesn't think so. “No, I don’t think the two schools have played each other enough to have developed a rivalry to this point. I mean, to develop a rival, you have to play each other a lot of times and I think we’ve played each other four times total. That’s a long way from being a rivalry. I would say our rivals are Fresno State.”
Boise State has been touted as the face of the Mountain West. That doesn't phase Long. “I don’t think it’s any different than any other game. I think both teams will be highly motivated, both teams want to win, both teams want to win the conference championship. It’s no different than every league game that we play.”
Boise State has two very good quarterbacks, the leader of which being senior Montell Cozart. Long gave the scouting report on him as well as junior Brett Rypien. “They have some quarterback-designed runs with him (Cozart), which basically gives them an extra blocker. They will run stretch plays and zone plays and power plays with him as the primary ball carrier so that means the back in the backfield can flare out of there and take a defender out of the box or they can use him as a blocker so they outnumber you. As soon as the quarterback becomes the primary ball carrier, they outnumber you at the line of scrimmage and they have several running plays where he’s the quarterback.
“It makes it more difficult to get ready to play them because both quarterbacks are very good players and both quarterbacks have a little different expertise. So when they alternate them and bring them in, it’s not an entirely different offense but what they emphasize on offense is different depending on which quarterback is in there. Basically, you’re getting ready for two teams in the same week.”
Lakalaka also said that going up against two quarterbacks would be "very difficult." "Boise State’s offense has a lot of personalities and they run multiple offenses. They can go under center from the gun but you have two quarterbacks. One is more of a pocket passer and one is more of a dual threat so seeing the mix of those two guys makes it very hard for us. At the same time, it’s like another game. We’ve faced quarterbacks like that before, Northern Illinois and UNLV, so it’s no different from any other week.”
Long described Rypien as "one of the better dropback thrower quarterbacks in the country."
Long compared the Broncos' young offensive line to the Aztecs'. “I thought they were kind of like our team. Our offensive line is getting better and so is theirs. I thought their offensive line played well against BYU and BYU has some big guys up front – a big, strong front seven – and they did a nice job against them.”
On the status of the Aztecs' offensive line and senior Antonio Rosales: “I think our progress has been slowed because of injuries...At times we’re a lot younger than we started out to be, but we’re making progress. Even when we substituted the guys in for injuries and stuff, they played okay. They played pretty well.
“He’s (Rosales) playing alright on a bum ankle. Obviously he’s not playing as well as he could when he’s healthy, but having his experience in there makes a difference. At least we’re targeting the right way in pass protection and he does a pretty good job when he pulls, he’s just not as strong at the point of attack as he would be if his ankle were healthy...He doesn’t practice very much, he just plays in the game. I’m sure if he had a whole week off of not doing anything and not playing in the game, he might be well but we gave him almost a whole week off two weeks ago and he was a little bit better. He’s a little bit better than he was at this time last week but it’s a slow process when you actually play in the game.”
Long is still not happy with the Aztecs defense despite being 6-0. “I think we’re very inconsistent on defense. I think at times we play well and at times we don’t play well. In this day and age when you give up a big play or two, that’s kind of normal in this day and age...But we’re still making a lot of mistakes like assignment mistakes that put us in a bad position, but we’re getting better on that side of the ball, too.”
Chapman commented on the seniors and how they affect him. "A lot. This is a senior-driven program and it’s been that way since I’ve been here. The guys above kind of lead us and they know what’s going on. Coach (Long) is more one-on-one with them so they provide us with that guidance and what is expected and what the vibe is around. They lead us in that way and like I said it’s been like that since I’ve been here. This is their year, it’s their time to be seniors and they are taking that as a big responsibility on them and pushing us to be the best that we can.”
Lakalaka echoed, “As a junior and watching the seniors lead all the young guys, it helps me learn how to treat all the younger guys and to give them confidence. There are really good players that we have and all they need is guidance so the main thing for me as a junior is to follow how the seniors lead. Hopefully so far it’s been working.”
Chapman says the Aztecs have learned not to be complacent and get too comfortable with their record. “...I think it’s implanted in all of us now that we can’t look past any team we play and we have to treat every team every week like they are the big dog and this is it. One week when you’re slouching, you’re going to get hit in the mouth and it might cost you. We’ve got to approach every week like it’s the championship week if we want to reach our goals. I think the guys know that now, know what we have to do and know the expectations.”
SDSU takes on Boise State at SDCCU Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Terry is excited for Aztecs women's basketball's new season, which starts in November. “This is a really exciting time for us, the start of our season. As of this morning, we have seven practices under our belt and I’m really happy where we are now as a team. We had a great summer. We really spent some time in the weight room, getting in shape and getting stronger. We’re looking forward to see what November brings us. I’m really excited about this team. We have six seniors. We have a lot returning. We have almost 80 percent of our scoring coming backs so I’m confident that we’ll be very effective on that side of the ball. Our practices are much more competitive, which has pushed our seniors to get better. We’re excited about our freshman class. We bring in five young women who were really excited to be Aztecs. They were ranked nationally, 23rd nationally overall and number one in the Mountain West so we expect big things out of our freshman class so we expect them to contribute early and often. The two things that we’ve identified that we need to improve upon is no secret: our defense and rebounding. That’s been the emphasis and the point of concern all throughout the summer and the first week of practice. I’m happy with where we are. Obviously we have a lot more to improve, a lot of things we can improve on in those areas, but we’re looking better there so I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to score the ball and hopefully, we’ll be able to stop it a little bit, too. But I’m excited about where we are and am looking forward to this next week of practice and where that takes us.”
Terry says there's one thing about the defense that makes her a lot more confident. "Attitude. We’re trying to create a culture where that’s our identity. I’m confident we’ll be able to score the ball but sometimes, those shots don’t fall. What can we rely on? We’ve talked a lot about relying on each other and focusing on the defensive end. We’ve done some team bonding, and team-building stuff about ‘tough’ and ‘together’ because we have to play that way at all times. We have 17 young women on our roster with two walk-ons so there is going to be a lot of opportunity, which I alluded to in the competition in practice, and we have to take that mentality every time we step onto the floor that we’re going to out-work them and we’re going to defend and rebound. Changing that mindset has been our focus thus far. It’s probably more mental than physical, changing how we’ve done things in the past. It’s been a huge part of our progression as a team and our kids are really buying in. I think you’re going to see a much-improved defensive effort and rebounding effort on the floor.”
Terry also talked about what the team has been doing away from the court to build its toughness and togetherness. “We challenged our seniors and our captains to do a lot of it and we have the best leadership that we’ve had here and I think just that alone is going to equate to a couple more wins. They’ve done a lot as a team. We have monthly meetings with my captains and me and we talk about what we’re going to implement that month in their weekly meetings with the team so letting them lead -- because when it’s all said and done, they’re on the court and they’re playing together and they have to do it for each other so teaching them how to lead in those adverse moments is what we’ve been focusing on. We had a team meeting the other day. I had them write paragraphs about what toughness means to them, what togetherness means to them and then they had to identify sentences in those essays that speak to them. Talking and sharing and opening up and letting them know that we’re all in this together. I think if we can do this as a unit, we might surprise some people this season.”